Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) is the two years of work experience required to qualify as a solicitor as part of the SQE. The main criteria QWE must fulfil is that it should consist of providing legal services that allow the 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, however it must amount to two years altogether. These organisations don’t have to be law firms, but needs to include the provision of legal services. This may include volunteering at a legal charity, for example.
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 – be it noting areas of strength or 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 it’s advised to try and demonstrate a broad range of these, rather than focusing on one specific area.
The general areas of the competencies are as follows:
Ethics, professionalism and judgment
Technical legal practice
Working with other people
Managing personal workload
If you have confirmed and completed an SQE placement, you should create an account on the SRA website to complete an application to notify the regulator. You have to have your two years of QWE recorded in order 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 supervisor. 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 examples, 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 in your development of SRA competencies.
QWE offers aspiring lawyers the flexibility of undertaking work experience before, during or after SQE1 and SQE2. If you are at university, you can even begin QWE during this time with suitable placements that meet the criteria outlined above. The main restriction on taking your QWE is that it must all be completed in order for anyone pursuing the SQE to be admitted as a solicitor.
With this new flexibility, you might want to consider what works best for you and your circumstances. 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 contribute in helping 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 can find suitable opportunities for legal assistance or researcher positions, for example, on job posting sites. There also may be employment opportunities at law firms, such as paralegal jobs.
Another option would be volunteering at a legal charity or undertaking a placement that includes ‘the provision of legal services’, such as with an in-house legal team.
Most 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 broadly. You can find out more information on the specific training contract structures from the law firms.
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