August 7, 2023
Interested in being admitted as a solicitor? Developing your legal skills requires more than SQE exams – qualifying work experience (QWE) is another requirement.

What Is The SQE Route?

The route to qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales is changing. Previously, candidates were expected to complete the LPC, then participate in a relatively standardised mode of on-the-job experience which was often found in the format of a training contract at a law firm

The new route, the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination) is similar in some ways, but different in others. You will still, in most cases, be attending law school for a year to complete your exams (often two years if enrolling part-time), and are expected to gain work experience afterwards. 

However, there are some noticeable differences: 

What Is QWE?

QWE is the SQE route’s term for qualifying work experience. You still need two years of on-the-job experience to be approved as a suitable candidate for the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority). However, this does not need to be the traditional training contract at a law firm for two years. 

The new QWE simply involves working at an organisation offering legal services – this could be an in-house legal team at a normal business, for example. The SRA requirements for QWE state that:

“QWE is designed to be flexible so that it can take place in a wide range of organisations providing legal services.”

There are a few other interesting points to note. It can also be gained in up to four organisations (rather than one, as would be the case with a training contract minus any client secondments). It does not need to be paid work either, and thus volunteering at a pro-bono clinic, for example, is certainly acceptable. Paralegal work is also satisfactory.

The period of QWE can be carried out at any time (e.g. during a law degree) – not after the SQE exams are finished (this is particularly relevant to solicitor apprentices). The work doesn’t even need to be carried out within England and Wales (although those jurisdictions are naturally the focus of SQE exams).

The full list of questions that candidates are expected to ask themselves regarding whether their work counts towards their QWE, as per SRA guidelines, is as follows:

  • 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 are unfortunately not willing to advise on whether a role suits QWE requirements on a case-by-case basis, but the questions above should provide some useful guidance.


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Choosing The Right Provider

The first step to maximising your experience during your QWE is, undoubtedly, choosing the right provider in the first place. 

The initial step, of course, is to check that your provider is able to offer you an experience that satisfies the SRA’s requirements (see above). This is a non-negotiable and should be taken very seriously. 

However, there is more to your choice than simply what ticks the box on paper. In order to maximise your experience (and not simply complete it), you also need to choose a provider that suits your own individual preferences and needs.

For example, while you could complete your QWE as a paralegal at a pro-bono clinic abroad, it is worth thinking carefully about the extent to which this will appeal to an elite US law firm during an interview for an Associate role if that’s your ultimate goal afterwards (even if it does satisfy SRA requirements to qualify you as a solicitor). In cases like this, applying for a training contract (perhaps via a vacation scheme) may still be the most logical option.

If you are considering a law firm, you’ll also need to decide which type of law firm best suits you. Our easy online quiz is a great place to start – you should be considering factors such as work-life balance and salary, of course, but there are also some factors specifically relevant to the idea of maximising your QWE. 

For instance, are you particularly interested in going into banking or finance law after qualifying? It’s a good idea to secure your QWE at a firm that has a specialism in this area, and thus will likely expose you to some of this work at a more junior level. Team sizes go hand-in-hand here, and are something else to consider in regard to the kind of experience you’ll be gaining.

During Your Work Experience

Once you have secured your QWE, you will want to ensure that you make the most out of it during the two-year period. Here are a few top tips to consider in that regard:

  • Make sure you are aware of which individual at the organisation is responsible for signing off your QWE (especially if that changes throughout the placement). You should be aiming for regular meetings with them too, in order to ensure that you are both on the same page with regards to meeting SRA requirements.
  • Ask for regular feedback. This will allow you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, growing your skills as a lawyer.
  • Network where possible. Even if you don’t stay at your current organisation after qualification, having a strong network is extremely important in the legal industry, where co-workers will often become clients and vice-versa. 
  • Get involved in a range of tasks. While it can be useful to demonstrate you have developed a particular proficiency in a specific area, you will also want to be able to demonstrate your versatility post-qualification.
  • Understand how your work fits into the bigger picture. You will be taking on more responsibility post-qualification, and need to understand the strategy of a deal or case from a macro perspective – QWE work can easily become a process of completing seemingly insignificant tasks without understanding how they contribute to the overall goal of the project.

Conclusion: Key Takeaways

  • Understand the detail in the changes made between the old LPC and new SQE routes.
  • Look for organisations offering QWE who satisfy the SRA requirements.
  • Think carefully about what type of QWE organisation will suit your career post-qualification.
  • Make the most out of your experience once it starts by showing an enthusiastic willingness to network, ask for feedback, request a range of work, and understand the context of your contributions.


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