Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) is the two years of work experience required to qualify as a solicitor via the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route. QWE must consist of providing legal services that allow a candidate to develop various solicitor competencies.
It can be conducted at up to four different organisations, without any limit on the length of each period of work experience, though it must amount to two years altogether. This doesn’t have to include a law firm, but it needs to be an organisation that provides legal services. So volunteering at a legal charity, for example, would be acceptable.
Many law firms are still offering two-year training contracts, which also constitute QWE. However, aspiring lawyers don’t need to complete training contracts to qualify as a solicitor any longer, with QWE offering different types of recognised training.
QWE should afford SQE candidates the opportunity to develop relevant legal skills and knowledge by engaging in a variety of tasks.
It should also include regular performance reviews with a supervisor to allow candidates to focus on their development – such as highlighting areas of potential growth.
Anyone undertaking QWE should keep in mind the SRA competencies they are expected to develop during this period.
There are a number of different areas, and you should try to demonstrate a broad range of these, rather than focusing on one specific area.
The general areas of the competencies outlined are:
If you have confirmed and completed an SQE placement, you should create an account on the SRA website and complete an application to notify the regulator.
You must have two years of QWE recorded to be admitted as a solicitor.
While you are undertaking your QWE, you should record how you are meeting the SRA competencies and review meetings with your supervising solicitor. The SRA has provided a suggested template that can be used for training purposes, but this isn’t a required format.
Some training providers or employers may have their own structure and processes regarding the recording of SQE. It’s important to note you won’t have to submit this when applying to record and confirm any QWE with the SRA.
Your selected SRA-regulated solicitor or COLP will need to confirm retrospective requests. They may not confirm it if, for example, there aren’t adequate records of your QWE placement, or former colleagues can’t confirm your placement with the relevant organisation.
They might speak to the HR team or line manager at the organisation for insight into work conducted, and to assess whether it has supported your development of SRA competencies.
If you are undertaking your law degree (or any other degree), you can even begin QWE during this time via suitable placements that meet the criteria outlined above.
Some degrees may have QWE integrated into their programme. For example, if you complete ULaw’s LLM (SQE1&2), you’ll receive four weeks guaranteed Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) within their Legal Advice Clinics.
The main restriction on taking your QWE is that it must all be completed to be admitted as a solicitor.
With this new flexibility, you might want to consider what works best for you.
You may may have the opportunity to undertake a placement at university that fulfils the criteria for QWE, giving you a head-start on accumulating experience before your prepare for SQE1.
Alternatively, you may want to wait until you have taken your exams before looking at fulfilling the QWE requirement.
It’s useful to keep in mind that SQE2 measures practical application of legal knowledge, so completing some QWE in advance of this exam may help you prepare, as you will likely gain some experience of this during your placement or employment.
As there are a number of different roles (voluntary and paid) that could satisfy QWE requirements, you could find suitable opportunities for legal assistance or researcher positions, for example, on job posting sites. There will also be employment opportunities at law firms, such as paralegal jobs.
Another option is to work at a voluntary or charitable organisation, or do a placement that includes ‘the provision of legal services’ (such as with an in-house legal team). There are a variety of legal employers to choose from, so it’s advised to do some research about what works best for your circumstances.
Most law firms are retaining the training contract model, with four seats over two years forming the trainees’ QWE.
Some firms are keeping some length of compulsory ‘training’ for those who have completed some or all required QWE, but have applied for a training contract. This is often to help get new joiners acquainted with the firm’s culture and approach to working, as this can vary considerably.
You can find out more information on the specific training contract structures from the law firms themselves.
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