updated on 25 April 2022
Most students will know that the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) was introduced in September 2021, and understandably, many candidates still have questions about how the new system works.
This article focuses on the qualifying work experience (QWE) aspect of the SQE – read on for answers to some of the frequently asked questions that LawCareers.Net has been hearing from students.
What is QWE?
To qualify as a solicitor, all candidates must complete two years’ full-time (or equivalent) QWE. QWE is one of the four stages that must be completed before someone can qualify as a solicitor (the others are passing SQE1, SQE2 and the character and suitability requirements set out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)).
QWE can be completed at up to four different organisations, although it may also be completed continuously in the same role (eg, a two-year training contract or graduate solicitor apprenticeship). Other types of experience can count toward the two-year total, such as:
To count as QWE, the SRA says that work experience must be “any experience of providing legal services” that “provides a candidate with the opportunities to develop some or all of the competences”. This means that work experience must meet as many of the requirements set out in the SRA’s Statement of Solicitor Competence as possible to count as QWE.
QWE must be confirmed by a solicitor or Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP) to be eligible.
For more information on what type of work counts as QWE, head to LawCareers.Net’s Oracle.
When do I complete the QWE stage?
QWE can be completed before, during or after a candidate passes the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments, but it must be completed before the candidate applies to the SRA for admission as a qualified solicitor. And as QWE can be completed in up to four separate periods of work experience, there is real flexibility for candidates throughout the process.
However, if a candidate secures a training contract at a commercial law firm (particularly the larger firms), they will probably finish SQE1 and SQE2 before the QWE stage. This is the schedule that many firms look set to prefer.
LawCareers.Net is encouraging future lawyers to explore the plans set out by their shortlisted firms. The way firms are adopting the SQE differs from firm to firm with some continuing to offer two-year training contracts and others replacing the traditional model with a graduate solicitor apprenticeship.
How is QWE recorded?
QWE must be recorded by the candidate so that it can be confirmed by a solicitor. The SRA first advises candidates to check with the organisation offering QWE and what systems or processes are in place to help them record their experience. This could be a training diary, learning development record or a work portfolio.
If nothing is available, candidates should use the SRA’s QWE training template to record their work experience. The template enables candidates to record physical evidence (eg, copies of documents) as well as descriptions of how the candidate feels they have met the competences in the Statement of Solicitor Competence.
Candidates should regularly check in with their confirming solicitor to ensure that they are both clear about how the competencies are being evidenced. This could be done in a regular meeting or appraisal.
For more information on how to get your QWE accredited, read LawCareers.Net’s advice in The Oracle.
How is QWE confirmed?
QWE must be signed off by a solicitor who is qualified in England and Wales, but the solicitor does not need to have a practising certificate. This means that, for example, law lecturers who are qualified solicitors and are involved in university law clinics can confirm QWE.
A solicitor can confirm QWE without directly supervising a candidate’s work, but they must have reviewed the candidate’s work during the relevant period of work experience, and they must have received feedback from the person/people who supervised the candidate. The confirming solicitor can either work within the organisation in which the candidate did the work experience, or outside the organisation. However, if the confirming solicitor works outside the relevant organisation, they must have direct experience of the candidate’s work.
A barrister cannot confirm QWE unless they are also qualified as a solicitor.
The confirming solicitor does not decide whether the candidate is competent or suitable to practise as a solicitor – this is assessed by the SQE and the character and suitability threshold. Instead, the solicitor must confirm:
Can QWE be completed overseas?
QWE can be completed overseas, as well as in England and Wales – as long as it meets the requirements set out in the Statement of Solicitor Competence.
Can QWE be in just one area of law? And do you have to specialise in that area once you qualify?
QWE can cover a single area of law or multiple practice areas. Technically, on qualifying, a solicitor could specialise in a different area to anything they covered in their QWE, although the majority of solicitors end up specialising in an area that they have already experienced during their training.
It’s important to understand the distinction between qualifying as a solicitor and having a job as a qualified solicitor. For example, if a candidate completes all their QWE at a law clinic, passes the SQE and qualifies as a solicitor, but then applies for a newly qualified role at a large corporate law firm, that firm is under no obligation to hire them or accept that the candidate’s QWE makes them suited to corporate work.
For this reason, candidates who have already completed some or all of the QWE requirements before applying for training contracts at commercial firms may have to accept that some firms will still require them to undertake a full two-year training contract before they can progress to associate level.
For recent SQE news, read:
Interested in studying at The University of Law? Find out whether they have an open day coming up!
Read LCN’s guide to SQE preparation courses for details of the SQE courses on offer.
Catch up on news and tips about the SQE via LCN’s dedicated SQE hub.