Qualifying Work Experience FAQs

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As part of your SQE journey, you will need to complete a period of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). We answered the most frequently asked questions on QWE below. If you have any more questions, feel free to reach out to our team here or directly to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) here.

QWE is the ‘work experience’ part of qualifying as a solicitor. This will be introduced in September 2021 along with the launch of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). It involves at least two years’ full-time (or part-time equivalent) Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
 
The competences list is extensive and includes:
  • ethics;
  • professionalism and judgement;
  • technical legal practice;
  • working with others;
  • managing yourself at work.
Your QWE must be signed off by a solicitor or a Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP). They will have to be either be working in the organisation where the QWE is obtained or have direct knowledge of the candidate’s work.
 
If you are unsure whether a role will cover all or any of these competences, you should ask your current employer, line manager or the hiring organisation for confirmation. You should also get their buy-in on signing-off your experience because, without this, you will not be able to apply for admission as a solicitor.
Qualifying Work Experience can be gained in a single two-year block or in stages across a maximum of four organisations. Some of your QWE can come from prior experience, before starting an SQE Prep course. This time can be ‘banked’ or even combined with your studies. It is also possible to complete your QWE between sitting your SQE1 and SQE2 exams.
 
You can also obtain QWE in different roles within the same organisation. This applies when each role gives you an opportunity to develop a different competence.
 
QWE can be paid or unpaid work and could include time spent:
  • on placement during a sandwich degree;
  • working in a law clinic;
  • at a voluntary or charitable;
  • organisation such as Citizen Advice or a law centre;
  • working as a paralegal (either in a law firm or an in-house legal department);
  • on a training contract.
No. That is one of the main attractions of the SQE route into qualifying as a solicitor. You can split your experience across four different organisations.
 
The roles could include:
  • a placement during a sandwich degree;
  • volunteering in a law clinic or other charitable organisation;
  • paralegalling (both in-house and in private practice); or
  • a training contract.
Splitting your QWE this way is a flexible, new approach. However, if you chose to do this across multiple organisations, please mind the chosen area of law you eventually want to specialise in. The more aligned each role is to the area of law you want to practise, the better.
 
Remember your end goal is to secure a newly-qualified solicitor position. On top of the competences set out by the SRA, your experience should also aim to give you exposure to the practice area(s) you are interested in.
 
The same also applies to the types of clients you work with, and if appropriate, the sectors and industries they operate in. For example, if you aim to become a commercial solicitor, you may choose paralegalling in a commercial law firm over volunteering in a law clinic.
 
The legal job market is competitive, so you would need to ease your way into a role that is the closest match to the type of solicitor you want to become.
In theory, yes. However, your experience must be signed-off by one of the following:
  • a solicitor of England and Wales in the organisation you are working for;
  • another nominated solicitor of England and Wales, outside your organisation, who has direct knowledge of your work;
  • the Compliance Officer for Legal Practice, or COLP, (if your organisation has one) can confirm your experience. 
Please note that barristers are not eligible to take on this role of signing off.
 
If you are already a qualified lawyer overseas, then you do not need to evidence QWE and can proceed with the assessment stages. For more information on that, please visit the SRA website here.

No, but from an employability perspective, it would be sensible to avoid a lengthy gap between passing your SQE exams and your QWE. If you complete your QWE with more than one organisation, then a short gap between each role is unlikely to put you at a disadvantage. However, you must try to avoid lengthy periods away from work or studies. This is a risk as it makes you less attractive as a candidate, particularly for competitive roles with high-profile employers.

The SRA has transitional arrangements for the gradual phasing out of the LPC and training contract. During this period, many law firms can continue offering training contracts. SQE prep students will, in theory, be eligible to apply for such roles because a training contract counts as QWE. In fact, completing your QWE with a single employer may enhance your chances of securing a newly-qualified solicitor role.
 
However, there is a significant practical consideration regarding timing. Some of the larger commercial law firms hire their trainee solicitors two years in advance of their start dates. They are unlikely to have immediate openings on their trainee solicitor recruitment programmes. SQE Prep students are therefore likely to be more successful in securing training contracts with smaller firms or in-house legal departments that recruit their trainee solicitors one year ahead or with an immediate start.
 
If in doubt, consider contacting your target firms’ graduate recruitment teams. This way you can confirm their position on current SQE student applications. This can also help determine whether a law firm is ready to receive SQE students or is favouring the old LPC route. This may be the case, although it will only last a short-term until the SQE is fully adopted.
You can get QWE in various settings, including private practice, in-house legal departments, law clinics, and other charitable organisations. It can also include paid and non-paid experience, including paralegalling or a training contract. There is no preference for a specific type of organisation, the choice is yours. However, it is useful to think ahead to the area(s) of law you want to specialise in and the environment you want to work in, in the future.
 
For example, if your QWE comes from the not-for-profit sector, switching to the private sector, as a newly-qualified solicitor (NQ), may prove to be difficult.
Yes. The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) requirement is for two years, or equivalent gained on a part-time basis. The SRA has not defined what full-time (or equivalent) means and expects employers or those signing off QWE to adopt a common-sense approach.
In theory, this should be possible. We recommend discussing this with your employer. Your QWE must be signed off by a solicitor or Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (or COLP). They will have to be either be working in the organisation where the QWE is obtained or have direct knowledge of the candidate’s work. They will need to check your day-to-day responsibilities and how these have helped you to develop some or all of the SRA competences. From your perspective, you will need to keep an appropriate record of your experience.
The work carried out by paralegals can vary. Some roles involve more admin and have less exposure to the law and fewer interactions with clients. If you are currently applying for paralegal roles, pay particular attention to the job specification or description.
 
Consider discussing your needs with the recruiter in advance. This can help manage both of your expectations.
Yes, but only if the work you did helped you to develop some or all of the SRA competences.
 
You would still need to record the experience and find a solicitor of England and Wales or COLP, with direct knowledge of that experience, who can confirm and ‘sign-off’ the QWE. It may be more challenging to achieve this retrospectively.
 
Though there is no limit to how far you can go back, it is important to remember that QWE is only across a maximum of four organisations. Finally, historic experience may carry less weight for roles seeking newly-qualified solicitors.

General SQE FAQs

For all our general enquiries about the SQE Prep courses, exam, costs, and more, please visit our BARBRI SQE Prep FAQs here.

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