Students report difficulties getting QWE signed off

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By Legal Cheek on

16

Lack of understanding among employers


Research shows that some aspiring lawyers are struggling in securing approval for their qualifying work experience (QWE), as training organisations either lack understanding of the new system or opt to keep candidates as paralegals rather than qualified solicitors with higher salaries.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) annual QWE survey found that 17% of students described the sign-off process as “difficult” or “very difficult”, marking a 4% point increase from the previous year.

The three main reasons given by candidates who found the process of getting their QWE confirmed difficult were: the QWE provider did not understand the requirements they needed to meet to confirm QWE; the provider did not want to confirm their QWE because they did not want to employ them as a solicitor (rather than, for example, as a paralegal); and they had completed QWE in a previous role, making it hard to get in touch with the relevant organisation or individual.

Introduced alongside the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), the changes to on-the-job experience allow aspiring lawyers to bypass the traditional training contract process. They can now complete two years of qualifying work experience (QWE) with up to four different employers, including law firms, in-house legal teams, and law clinics.

SQE Employability: Discover how to make QWE work for you

QWE must be signed off in accordance with the SRA’s requirements, typically by the compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) or a qualified solicitor within the firm, business or clinic.

In more positive news, the regulator found that nearly three-quarters of respondents considered the process of getting their QWE confirmed “easy” or “very easy,” marking a 7% point increase from last year’s findings.

Elsewhere, 41% of students said it was “easy” or “very easy” to secure QWE, up 10 percentage points from last year’s survey. However, just over 20% said it was “difficult” or “very difficult,” with common reasons being high levels of competition, lack of knowledge about QWE among firms and businesses, and struggles finding QWE in their local area.

Regarding where candidates are completing their QWE, more than 80% said they did so in law firms, and nearly two-thirds did so in other private sector organisations. Nearly half undertook elements of their QWE in public sector organisations, while 28% completed some QWE in a student law clinic.

The SRA’s survey received 280 responses.

16 Comments

Anon

My previous supervisor refused to sign off my QWE even though I had sold my soul to him as a Paralegal earning pittance and wading through the unrealistic workloads he gave me whilst he sat and benefitted from being the highest biller in the department off my hard work.

I took all the evidence, went to the SRA and showed them how he was acting and they got in touch with him and basically said, “sign it off or we will launch an investigation on your dishonest behaviour.” He signed it off that same day.

I would recommend people do this if their supervisors are being difficult.

Anon

You did the right thing. I hope the SRA does its best to make sure people know that this is the right thing to do in this situation and that people know they can’t refuse to sign off valid QWE.

Anon

I had a similar experience and also complained to the SRA. The firm signed off on QWE within a week of SRA reaching out to them. I suggest others who are having difficulties do the same – the more complaints the more the SRA will see a pattern and hopefully changes will be made.

Aa

And there we have it…this idea of getting QWE and then just like your a newly qualified solicitor might not be as easy in practice

QWE Dilemma

Silver circle firm – We have a few paralegals who have been rejected for traineeships purely on the basis that they aren’t good enough/haven’t developed enough but now want their QWE signed off.

Difficult position to be in as the partners are effectively being asked to sign off someone as good as a trainee trained by the firm when they know that not to be the case. The firm don’t want the name tarnished by having these people in the market as “trained” by us.

Hmm

Except it’s not signing off. It’s confirming QWE. This is literally the point – complete lack of understanding by employers.

Anon

The SQE exams assess whether or not candidates demonstrate the full range of competences to be admitted as a solicitor, not QWE.

It is for the SRA to determine competence not the law firms. Hence, for experience to count as QWE, you only need to meet 2 competences (not the full range – that is what the exams are for). If a law firm is saying that the applicant must have met more or all the competences in order to qualify QWE sign-off, they are wrong. I strongly urge people with this issue (or any issue relating to law firms gatekeeping QWE) to contact the Professional Ethics team at SRA for intervention.

Frankly, it is sickening to think that a law firm is able to control who is able to qualify as a solicitor when the whole point of the SQE is to give that control to the SRA.

Nonsense

“The firm don’t want the name tarnished by having these people in the market as “trained” by us.” Well the law firm name will be on these paralegals CVs so….? That is what future employers will see, not who signed off QWE. I don’t know a single person who was asked in interview where they had QWE signed off.

Also, name and shame this silver circle firm.

Anon

I appreciate it might seem awkward, but partners are not being asked to sign-off against their competence. The SRA states:

“This is what is being confirmed:

-the length of work experience

-that it was providing legal services and the candidate had the opportunity to develop some or all of the competences for solicitors (minimum of two)

-that no issues arose during the work experience that raise questions over the candidate’s character and suitability to be admitted as a solicitor.

Confirming QWE does not involve deciding whether an individual is competent and suitable to practise. Competence is determined by passing the SQE assessments rather than by a confirming solicitor at the end of a period of QWE. We assess a candidate’s suitability to be a solicitor when they apply for admission. Therefore, solicitors should confirm the experience if it meets our criteria.”

bronze circle

Very worrying that a ‘silver circle’ firm cannot understand basic SRA rules.
The SRA states it clearly (on their website in plain view):

Confirming QWE **does not involve deciding whether an individual is competent** and suitable to practise. Competence is determined by passing the SQE assessments rather than by a confirming solicitor at the end of a period of QWE. **We** (SRA) assess a candidate’s suitability to be a solicitor when they apply for admission. Therefore, solicitors should confirm the experience if it meets our criteria.

This is what is being confirmed:
*the length of work experience
*that it was providing legal services and the candidate had the opportunity to develop some or all of the competences for solicitors (minimum of two)
*that no issues arose during the work experience that raise questions over the candidate’s character and suitability to be admitted as a solicitor.

Your partners are not as you say ”effectively being asked to sign off someone as good as a trainee trained by the firm when they know that not to be the case. ”
They are merely reviewing and confirming work experience. That’s it.

The people did the the work and the SRA will decide on competency.
As it should be but perhaps this democratising of qualification will spoil the old boys club vibe..

https://www.sra.org.uk/become-solicitor/sqe/qualifying-work-experience-candidates/

Anon

It’s because firms have always controlled the qualifying narrative and do not want that to change. It’s got nothing to do with the firm not feeling comfortable with saying a Paralegal is as good as a trainee, they just don’t want to relinquish the power they have had to dictate people’s careers. This way of qualifying undermines the whole system that the law firms have firmly entrenched into the profession for many years.

If the firm does not want to give them a qualified role with them then fine that’s entirely up to their discretion, nobody is owed a job. But the idea that they want to go a step further and get in the way of you qualifying because they don’t think you’re ready is ridiculous. If you have done your 2 QWE passed the SQE and there are no other issues, you should be able to qualify.

The Training Contract system that we operate in this country is flawed in my opinion and is based more on arbitrary factors than actual merit. Even though I predict that the SQE is going to be scrapped and redone due to the amount of issues that surround it, the part that places qualification in the control of the individual as opposed to the law firm is one of the only things that should stay.

Good luck

Much of what you say is correct, however the effect is simply move the ‘pinch point’ from applying for training contracts to actually getting genuine NQ solicitor jobs.

I don’t know whether people who, under the old system, were rejected from training contract applications, are actually objectively any better off simply because they have the title ‘solicitor’.

If anything, I think the three risks are:

1. The term solicitor is degraded (much like how barristers who never completed pupilage and secure tenancy, are not really barristers).

2. De facto paralegals waste years of their lives assuming that employers care about the ‘solicitor’ title, while continuing in low-end disposable jobs.

3. The superficial ease with which the title solicitor is available encourages yet more people to enter the profession – when not only is there no increase in real solicitor jobs, but automation and large language models are reducing demands for junior associates.

Anyway, I’m 5 PQE, and just grateful to have escaped this clusterf**k. Good luck, everyone!

Anon

This sort of rhetoric does tend to be from those such as yourself who are far into the profession and merely do not want to accept the change in status quo.

For some reason the new route is seen as the “easy” route to qualifying and in turn besmirches the good name of a Solicitor. This stance stems from ignorance more than anything. The SQE route is absolutely not the easy route and in actual fact is the more difficult route.

Look at it this way, the new route has taken away one factor to qualifying i.e. the Training Contract but has introduced a whole new set of factors i.e. two very challenging exams replacing a simplistic course that you could pass quite easily.

The Training Contract process has turned into a talent show, assessment centres have you jumping through hoops that Graduate Recruitment monkeys create that have little bearing on your potential to become a Solicitor. Other firms use it as a way to string along poorly paid Paralegals and Legal Assistants only to more often than not arbitrarily take the carrot away at their leisure.

Many such as you seem to be confident that those going through this new route will be of poorer quality than those who train in 4 areas of law for six months each and end up only practicing in one of those areas and immediately forget the other three. I would be interested to see if this actually is the case, though I highly doubt it is.

Above all else, if you think that this is the easy way to qualify, go ahead and try taking the SQE, because I assure you as someone who has taken both the SQE and the LPC, they are night and day.

In

What isn’t mentioned here is that the SRA has also said that you may use an external SRA regulated solicitor to confirm your QWE. I have now helped over 100 people this way from all over the world. The SRA requires an external confirming solicitor to do more than if it is your internal supervising solicitor, namely: to confirm that we have seen the work and to confirm that we have obtained feedback from the aspiring solicitor’s supervisor.

Curious

But how does this work in practice? Because the solicitor signing off QWE will need to see examples of work and not everyone keeps examples because work product belongs to the law firms not the individual and so cannot be shared externally. Also, QWE usually requires a solicitor to confirm that what the applicant is saying did in fact happen ie they did help Joe Blogs with their witness statement, so how could an external solicitor sign-off on this?

London

These issues were anticipated half a decade ago. See comments under https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/childs-play-unprepared-15-year-old-scores-half-marks-in-super-exam/5103230.article (order by Most Liked):

“SQE is a pitiful abortion of a social engineering project which has at its heart the unevidenced assumption that if you create new, almost certainly inferior, routes to qualification then (a) more solicitor jobs will be created (they won’t: market demand won’t change, if anything it will worsen as the qualification degrades); and (b) more diverse candidates will get through (they won’t: firms will rightly become more risk adverse, and prefer Oxbridge candidates or rich Singaporeans, etc. for ‘diversity’, to the even greater exclusion of candidates who previous could have demonstrated their ability in clear competition on a simple playing field).

Employers will become exponentially more powerful, because the SRA have eliminated the ‘safe assumptions’ about candidates which could previously have be inferred from the qualifying law degree (“QLD”)/graduate diploma of law (“GDL”), and legal practice course (“LPC”). Any muppet can now purport to jump through SQE1 hoops, then play at doing trivial, notionally legally-related work, and then tick boxes in SQE2. The solicitor qualification, per se, will be worthless. What will matter – and the *only* thing that will matter – will be the name of the law firm in which people started their careers, both (1) because it will be assumed that experience in Linklaters, A&O, Kirkland & Ellis etc. is *exponentially* more valuable than in ‘Ditcher, Quick & Hyde’ divorce lawyers; and (2) credentialism – the concept that people are judged by certain achievements as an ‘filter’ rather than for their actual value per se – will be even greater (i.e. at the moment, if you have a BCL you stand out, not because you need a BCL to practice, but it’s a useful filter for law fim HR. By eliminating the QLD, GDL and LPC, you will force employers to find substitutes. Oxbridge and US/Magic Circle law firm names on your CV will be ever more important).

What is so perversely tragic about this is that working class and BAME candidates who are less likely to have access to decent careers advice will be more likely to cluelessly believe the hype that ‘all solicitors are equal’, and that SQE1/2 will put them on the same playing field as US NQs earning £150k (the lack of realistic careers advice is one of main reasons for different levels of achievement now: less academic middle class children are sensibly deterred from going into law).

Sorry kids, the SRA has lied to you, because (a) it was fooled itself by a charlatan who is now seeking to exploit the disaster he’s created himself by becoming a ‘consultant’; and (b) it lacks the courage to admit that it made a mistake. What a mess.

The SRA’s lobotomised pursuit of the SQE is an immense discredit to it, and it suggests a regulator which is either too incomptent to realise its failure or too arrogant to admit it. Can we now – please – put a stake in the SQE?

In an attempt to conclude on a positive note: the SRA has rightly recognised that law school quality is highly variable, and that this should be addressed. There is a very simple alternative to the SQE, though: centrally-set and assessed LPC exams. This would preserve the best parts of the current system, while providing quality assurance. How about it, SRA?“

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