SQE Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
The route to qualifying as a solicitor has fundamentally changed with the introduction of the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination) on 1 September 2021. Under the SQE, all candidates will need to have completed a minimum of at least two years full-time SQE Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) in order to become a qualified solicitor.
What counts as work experience for the SQE?
SQE qualifying work experience can be obtained in a number of ways, as opposed to having to acquire this experience via full-time work in a solicitors office.
The variety of ways that the QWE can be gained ranges from working as a full-time paralegal, to summer placements in a solicitors office or a barristers chambers whilst at university for example.
Neither does the work have to be paid work, it can be unpaid voluntary work in the right environment. In addition, digital, virtual and video meetings, contentious and non-contentious work is acceptable but it must involve the competencies required to practice as a solicitor.
All SQE qualifying work experience must meet the Solicitors Regulatory Authority’s (SRA) minimum requirements.
SQE Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) Requirements
First of all, SQE qualifying work experience has to add up to two full years in total. It can be obtained over time or in a solid two-year block of work. There is flexibility as to how the work is completed, but a qualified or nominated solicitor or a Compliance Officer for a Legal Practice (COLP) will be needed to confirm that the length and details of the SQE qualifying work experience are all complete.
The work, if it is to qualify, can be completed at a number of different organisations (for which there is no minimum time required to be spent for each of the placements). However, there is a maximum of four placements that a candidate can undertake. A placement may be at the same organisation and on more than one occasion. A candidate should be aware, though, that a very short placement could be considered insufficient in length, as the time spent may be seen as inadequate to have gained the required experience.
The type of organisations which would be acceptable for SQE qualifying work experience are:
• Solicitors firms or barristers chambers;
• Law centres such as voluntary walk in charities;
• The legal department of a large commercial firm; and/or
• Legal clinics – such as The Citizens Advice Bureau.
To be allowable for SQE qualifying work experience, the work must give an opportunity for the candidate to develop as much broad legal experience across as many areas of law as possible, in line with the requirements set out in the “Statement of Competence”.
SQE Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) Competencies
New competency standards were introduced by the SRA at the same time that the SQE qualifying work experience was introduced as a requirement to become a qualified solicitor.
The basis of these competencies are, ultimately, to ensure that today’s newly qualified solicitors are better prepared than under the old articled clerk or trainee system.
The SQE qualifying work experience (QWE) must include what is recognised by the SRA as the competencies which a trainee is expected to have understood and developed to the level acceptable over the two years of the QWE.
These competencies are:
• Written and spoken advocacy;
• A standard of legal knowledge, which is maintained, to an acceptable level;
• The ability to deal with issues as they arise and problem solve;
• Document drafting;
• Legal research; and
• Negotiation capability as well as working with other solicitors and clients.
• Effective and clear communication capability; and
• Proper and reasonable relationships with both clients and colleagues.
• Plan and prioritise work on a daily basis;
• Accurate record and time keeping; and
• Proper business practices.
Professional Judgement and Ethics
• Obtain a proper level of legal knowledge and undertake continuous professional development;
• Show an aptitude for problem solving;
• Act at all times with integrity; and
• Maintain client confidentiality.
SQE Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) Template
Here are the details which must be completed for the SQE qualifying work experience (QWE) template:
1. QWE placement details
Organisation name: name of the organisation that your placement or work has taken place and the department(s) you worked in.
Start date: the date on which your work placement began.
Hours: how much of the time spent that should count toward the overall SQE qualifying work experience.
Department: you must show evidence of the relevant work and what you have learned through your work experiences. It will also be helpful for you to also explain what additional experience you feel you need.
The more information and detail you provide, the easier it will be for the assessor to understand and agree to your hours.
2. Ethics, professionalism and judgment
Competence: detail, as fully and honestly as possible, how competent you feel on the subject.
Experience: give details of your experiences and explain how you made decisions and judgements on the evidence put before you.
Evidence: explain how to catalogue evidence and whether or not you used the evidence and how. Show how you used critical thinking to make those decisions.
Area of law: explain all the areas of law you used, and which areas you felt you needed assistance with, did you do research and if yes, what and how did you obtain the information.
Further work: explain where you felt you had knowledge gaps and what you intend to do to fill in those gaps.
3. Technical legal practice
Competence: detail, as fully and honestly as possible, how competent you feel on the subject. List the areas where you feel you need more experience, i.e. face to face with clients, how to properly research or how to reference cases.
Experience: give details of your experiences and explain how you used the materials to back up your findings. Case law, past judgements, which authorities you intend to reply upon.
Evidence: explain how to catalogue evidence and whether or not you used the evidence and how. Show how you used critical thinking to make those decisions. Detail how you came to any decisions and why you made them.
Additional work: go through old similar work or cases and show how they influenced your decision making.
4. Working with other people
Communication: explain who you met, how and why. Their relevance to your training and the QWE. Example – attending court with a solicitor or barrister, the clerk of the court, did you understand their role? Did you speak to them? The ushers, finding an interview room.
Professional relationships: how where you introduced, did you introduce yourself, how did you assist, what did you learn from the meeting.
Future ongoing professional relationships: how did you ensure that relationships would be maintained into the future.
Experience: explain in detail what the experience gave you in terms of understanding the role of a solicitor within the circumstances of the interaction.
5. Management of your work load
Work load: explain your work load and how you manage it. For example, ensuring you have documents organised in a folder ready for a meeting, the right number of copies and ensuring they remain confidential even when photocopying.
Benefits of organisation: Look at the organisation you are with and see where else you could spend time which would benefit you in the requirements for the QWE. In a large organisation, ask to move departments if that is possible, or volunteer to spend time in another department if they have a member of staff absent or on holiday.
Projects: take on some project work, there is always an over loaded case worker/solicitor. Offer to take some of the workload from them.
Records: Keep records of all of the work done and experiences you have gained whilst with the organisation.
Why SQE Qualifying Work Experience?
One of the main benefits of SQE qualifying work experience (QWE) is for the candidate to experience what it is like to work as a solicitor, including the ethics, conduct and professionalism required to make a competent solicitor when qualified. It would be such a waste if, upon qualifying, there was a realisation that you did not like the work or the people you had to work with. It enables candidates to understand what areas of law they prefer and/or which type of law they are best suited to.
For some candidates, coming from school into the work place can be a difficult transition. The SQE qualifying work experience route offers a taste of the work place so that the individual can understand what working in law will be like.
More than anything else, it prepares a candidate for the practicality of the job, which most academic studies do not provide. It gives an insight into what it will be like on a day-to-day basis and that offers the opportunity to confirm that it is the right career path.
SQE Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) Overseas
The SQE qualifying work experience does not have to cover the laws of England and Wales, but obtaining SQE qualifying work experience outside of the UK can raise some difficulties.
If there is no English solicitor where you are hoping to do your SQE qualifying work experience (QWE) you will need the assistance of a competent person to ensure your work is in line with the SRA requirements, to ensure that it is accepted and logged toward your SQE qualifying work experience time.
You can agree to an external solicitor (Nominated Solicitor – who is UK qualified) who will work with your place of work or placement, who you can report to and who would then be able to provide confirmation to the SRA that you have been given the experience in the relevant competencies needed and for the hours to qualify toward your SQE qualifying work experience time. It is always best to have this in place before you begin the work if at all possible.
SQE Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) Jobs
There are a whole range of options which would allow a candidate to obtain their SQE qualifying work experience (QWE), and there isn’t a correct or preferred way to do this. The flexibility of the scheme is the key to its success. It brings the possibility of qualifying as a solicitor to many more individuals than ever before. Gone are the days when all law students could talk about was whether or not they had been offered a training contract.
First and foremost, you can now request past experience be accepted for SQE qualifying work experience, so if a candidate decides half way through their training as a paralegal that they would like to become a solicitor, then all of the time spent working as a paralegal can be accepted for SQE qualifying work experience (QWE).
SQE qualifying work experience can also be undertaken after the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination) exams have been taken, or during the time you take to complete them, such is the flexibility of the new regime.
All of the SQE qualifying work experience must be signed off by a COLP, qualified solicitor, including a non-SRA registered solicitor or a nominated solicitor with direct knowledge of the QWE work.
We have already covered the type of jobs that can be accepted for SQE qualifying work experience (QWE). It is perhaps also helpful to know what will not be accepted, this includes:
• Working in a non legal department at a firm of solicitors such as the HR or finance department;
• Proofreading legal documents; and/or
• Simulated legal services.
SQE Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) Sign Off
It is the SRA who stipulate the requirements for SQE qualifying work experience and the qualified, nominated solicitor or COLP that is usually responsible for signing off the candidate’s QWE as eligible toward the two-year requirement.
The person responsible will be asked confirm work that they directly supervised, work that they did not oversee and even placements at organisations or firms where they were not present.
SQE qualifying work experience (QWE) must be confirmed for any trainee to qualify as a solicitor, so it is vitally important that this is done.
The person responsible must be able to confirm:
• The duration of the SQE qualifying work experience;
• That the trainee acted in a legal services role; and
• There were no character or suitability issues raised during the time reviewed.
There is no judgment made about the work undertaken and how the competencies were undertaken, the SQE2 exams are there to provide that information and ensure that any trainee meets those standards.
Record keeping is hugely important here. Many firms have systems in place for this but it is still, ultimately, the responsibility of the candidate to keep proper and detailed records for themselves and to be able to present them in order to serve as evidence that they have fulfilled the required hours for the SQE qualifying work experience (QWE).
The additional factors which also carry importance and should not be overlooked, are a candidate’s:
Confidence – a set of well-kept records show to the person responsible for signing-off that you are confident in the role you have worked in and have the capability to keep records of the work undertaken and also that you have fully engaged with the training and experiences you have had whilst working toward QWE time.
Quality – the records you keep will also confirm the quality of the work you have undertaken. This will allow any prospective employer to see the level of your competency.
Time Saving – if your records are complete you will save time, as confirmation will go through more quickly and without any questions being asked which could delay the sign off.
Registering SQE Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
SQE qualifying work experience (QWE) must be registered with the SRA, but as explained, SQE qualifying work experience can take place prior to registration. Your QWE can also be registered at any time before, during or after you take your SQE exams but you will not to be admitted as a solicitor until your SQE qualifying work experience (QWE) is completed and signed off.
Keeping clear and concise records of your experiences in all of your placements will ensure that you minimise the time it takes for you to complete the SQE qualifying work experience and have it signed off, so that you can start your career as a solicitor as quickly as possible.