updated on 13 April 2021
With the official introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in September 2021, prospective lawyers and firms are quickly adapting to this new route to qualification in England and Wales. BARBRI has already seen a large volume of delegates signing up to its 40-week SQE1 Prep course which launched this January. Yet, one persistent question remains – “How can I get my Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)?”. Like the SQE exam, this is new territory for many and differs from the current requirements for trainees to complete a two-year training contract with one provider. Victoria Cromwell, director of UK Programmes for BARBRI explains the different avenues that can be explored when working to fulfil the QWE requirement.
What is QWE?
SQE candidates will need to complete a minimum of two years’ full-time (or equivalent) QWE. This can be gained when providing legal services that help to develop some or all of the competencies required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to practise as a solicitor and can be obtained in England, Wales or overseas. It doesn’t have to be completed in one consistent placement, but instead, it can be achieved through multiple roles – up to four as a maximum. A solicitor on the roll in England and Wales, or compliance officer for legal practice will be required to confirm a candidate’s QWE. However, the SRA has specifically stated that this does not mean that they will confirm whether a candidate is competent to practise – this will be determined by successful completion of the SQE1 and SQE2 exams.
How can I get QWE?
As the main criteria is to gain experience that develops the skills and knowledge to practise as a solicitor, it does not matter whether QWE is obtained through paid or unpaid placements. However, QWE isn’t fixed to the typically firm-based experience required of a trainee solicitor via the current route. Instead, candidates can look at wider opportunities. This could include:
There is much more flexibility in the QWE model, and this will help candidates to better determine which area of law is preferable to them. After all, if you can secure four very different placements, it can offer you a more well-rounded view of the areas of law on offer. Plus, if you’re a recent graduate or new to the industry, by undertaking work experience you can benefit from exposing yourself to the realities of the industry and the expectations of a solicitor.
When should I undertake QWE?
QWE can be undertaken before, during or after undertaking the SQE assessments. For those who haven’t yet signed up to the SQE, the SRA has highlighted that you can start gaining experience now and ‘bank’ it ahead of your SQE assessments – just make sure you keep the correct records and obtain that all-important confirmation mentioned above. Paralegals, for example, may want to consider utilising the Flex Legal resources, including its Flex Legal Journal, which records your QWE against the SRA’s competency framework.
Also, it’s important to remember that you have the opportunity to make the timing work for you. For graduates looking to enter the legal industry, there is the option of using the June to December gap post-graduation to get ahead with your QWE ahead of BARBRI’s 20-week SQE Prep course which starts in January. Also, with BARBRI there are a variety of full-time (10-week) and part-time (40-week) preparatory courses on offer, starting from June this year, so you can gain your QWE while you study if you so choose. Use this flexibility to your advantage and look to obtain QWE that not only meets your competency requirements but helps you to make informed decisions about your career in law.
What if I’m a foreign qualified lawyer?
The SQE will soon replace the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) route to qualification for lawyers who have qualified overseas and are looking to cross-qualify in England and Wales. So naturally, there have been questions around how the QWE element will impact them. But rest assured, if you hold a legal professional qualification in a recognised overseas jurisdiction, you will not have to undertake separate QWE placements if you meet certain requirements. This includes demonstrating that you meet the competencies in the Statement of Solicitor Competence (SoSC), and knowledge of the law in England and Wales as set out in the Statement of Legal Knowledge. This can be met through a mapping exercise agreed by the SRA or through the successful completion of the SQE. You must also have a degree or equivalent, and meet the character and suitability requirements outlined by the SRA.
Although the QWE has been met with some initial reservations and confusion, it will ultimately allow candidates greater flexibility and wider opportunities within the industry.
For more information on the SQE visit BARBRI’s website.