Qualifying Work Experience: What it is, and what it is not

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By Legal Cheek on

Legal Cheek explains…

The past few years have seen significant changes to the route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales. Not only have we had the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), but we’ve also seen Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) emerge as an alternative to the traditional training contract path. But what does QWE actually mean in practice, and how can you take advantage of it? Here’s a short explainer to answer your burning questions.

What’s so great about QWE?

QWE is a feature of the recently introduced SQE route to qualification. Under the previous Legal Practice Course (LPC) regime, candidates wishing to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales had to undertake a two-year “period of recognised training” — in other words, a training contract. But as we know, the hunt for training contracts is becoming increasingly competitive, raising barriers for entry into the legal profession. In response to this, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) introduced QWE as an alternative to the TC route, which required candidates to complete their entire period of recognised training at just one organisation.

In contrast, the key benefit of QWE is that it provides a more flexible approach to qualification. Candidates are able to complete their two years’ full-time (or equivalent) QWE at up to four different organisations, in paid or volunteer work. The SRA notes that this could include time spent on placement during a law degree, working in a law clinic, time as a paralegal and time in an in-house legal department. Additionally, the traditional training contract route also remains open as an avenue to gaining QWE.

Moreover, such QWE can be obtained overseas — there is no requirement for it to be gained in England and Wales (although knowledge of English and Welsh Law is required for the SQE assessments).

SQE Employability: Discover how to make QWE work for you

It can also be obtained before, during or after the SQE assessments, allowing candidates the option of studying and working simultaneously as they prepare for the SQE exams. You can read about Holly and Maab’s experiences of balancing work and study as they completed their QWE alongside the SQE1&2.

What counts as QWE?

If you’re wondering whether a certain period of work you’ve undertaken counts as QWE, the SRA indicates that answering ‘yes’ to all of the following questions likely indicates that it is QWE:

  • Does or did your job, role or experience involve providing legal services? The Legal Services Act 2007 (s. 12) defines legal activity.
  • Does or did your job, role or experience involve real life legal services provision rather than stimulated legal services provision?
  • Have you been exposed to at least two competences in the Statement of Solicitor Competence?
  • Has or will your job, role or experience be carried out in no more than four organisations?
  • Has or will your job, role or experience be at least two years’ full time or equivalent? We will not prescribe what full time (or equivalent) means.
  • Has or will your job, role or experience be confirmed by a solicitor or Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP)?

The SRA also advises that candidates must “have the opportunity to develop a wide range of competencies” in order for them to make the most of their QWE. While the SRA does not prescribe the competencies that individuals should be exposed to, it does indicate that a minimum of two competencies is required for an experience to count as QWE. Here is the statement of solicitor competence to indicate what the range of competencies that the SRA looks for are.

Speaking to Legal Cheek at a QWE-focused event, panelists urged aspiring lawyers going down the QWE route to not view it as a tick-box exercise. Rather, it’s crucial to focus on accumulating well-rounded experiences with a view to what shape one would like their future career to take. Hence, despite the SRA indicating a minimum of two competences, it’s good practice to maximise the number of competences you can demonstrate, in order to boost careers prospects as a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor.

Recording QWE

The SRA provides guidance on who is eligible to sign off on a candidate’s QWE. Essentially, it must be a solicitor of England and Wales or a Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP), and there is no need for them to hold a practicing certificate. While a solicitor outside of the candidate’s organisation can also sign off on their QWE, they need to have reviewed their work during the relevant period and received feedback from the candidate’s supervisor.

The SRA also provides a training template to help candidates record their QWE, in the event that a candidate’s organisation does not provide a mechanism for keeping track of their QWE, or otherwise, to supplement their organisation’s resources.

The SQE Hub: Welcome to the home for all things SQE

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