updated on 15 August 2023
Reading time: 11 minutes
This article has been produced in collaboration with The University of Law.
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.
Where can you undertake QWE?
What are the competencies you’re required to develop?
When do I complete the QWE stage?
Can QWE be ‘backdated’?
How’s QWE recorded?
How do you register QWE?
How’s QWE confirmed?
Should I register my QWE as soon as possible?
Can QWE be completed overseas?
Can QWE be in just one area of law? And do you have to specialise in that area once you qualify?
How do I apply for QWE?
How are employers approaching 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)).
You can undertake QWE anywhere that meets the criteria set out by the SRA. This can be in the UK or overseas and, as you can obtain QWE in up to four organisations, you can combine experience in a number of organisations to build up the required two years’ experience.
As well as working in a law firm, other types of experience can count towards 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 at the organisation who’s had direct experience of your work, a Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP), or, failing the first two, a solicitor outside the organisation who’s had direct experience of your work.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that QWE represents your opportunity to obtain the experience, skills, insight and training you need to succeed at the start of your career, and in the area of law or type of organisation you want to specialise in. You should therefore think carefully about what portfolio of QWE will work best for you: building up a range of experience in different organisations or qualifying via a single, structured, two-year position with a single legal organisation.
If you intend to build up a range of QWE, you’ll need to consider how any opportunities will meet your wider career objectives:
• Does it fit with your overall career plan?
• Is it focused on competencies or does it overlap with experiences you already have?
• Does it relate to areas of law you don’t wish to practise in or experience you don’t think you need to develop further?
For more information on what type of work counts as QWE, head to LawCareers.Net’s Oracle.
The competencies expected are set out by the SRA and cover essential qualities required of a solicitor, such as the ability to:
It’s important to remember that the SQE examinations assess your skills, legal knowledge and competence. The only requirement of QWE is that it provides you with the opportunity to develop two or more of these competencies. You can find detailed information about the competencies on the SRA website.
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’s 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’ll probably finish SQE1 and SQE2 before the QWE stage. This is the schedule that many firms look set to prefer.
What does it take to pass the SQE? Hear first-hand from Colin Hornby, a solicitor at Taylor Rose MW.
LawCareers.Net encourages 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.
What’s the difference between a solicitor and graduate apprenticeship? Find out in this LCN Says.
Yes. Experience gained with a former or current employer can be used as QWE, as long as it meets the criteria and can be signed off as required. The SRA encourages a positive response when such requests are made, but there can be challenges if the individual being asked to sign off on your experience has no record of the work you undertook.
If you're intending to use historic work experience for QWE purposes, it could be useful to speak to the organisation before submitting any details to the SRA, to find out who might be best placed to confirm your experience in case, for example, a former manager or supervisor has since left.
There’s a risk that those being asked to confirm your experience may be unable to access records about your work in the future. Therefore, you should keep records of your own QWE and think about the competencies you’re developing. Your organisation may have its own template for recording QWE and competency development. Where this isn’t available, the SRA also has a template you can use.
QWE must be recorded by the candidate so 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’ve met the competencies in the Statement of Solicitor Competence.
Candidates should regularly check in with their confirming solicitor to ensure that they’re 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.
To have QWE confirmed you’ll need to submit details of the experience via the MySRA website. You’ll be asked to provide details of the organisation at which you worked, the type of experience gained, the length of time worked, and the name and SRA number of the solicitor who’ll be able to confirm this experience.
The SRA has detailed information on its website along with a helpful video.
QWE must be signed off by a solicitor who’s qualified in England and Wales, but the solicitor doesn’t 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.
Read LCN’s guide to SQE preparation courses for details of the SQE courses on offer.
A barrister can’t confirm QWE unless they’re also qualified as a solicitor.
The confirming solicitor doesn’t 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:
You can only register work experience that’s been completed, and need to do this only when you’re applying for admission as a solicitor. Therefore, it’s not a requirement to record QWE as soon as you complete it, and it may be in your interest not to do so as you may wish to choose which experience you subsequently use as QWE.
However, you’ll need to balance this against the difficulties of seeking confirmation of QWE undertaken some years ago (see ‘Can QWE be ‘backdated’?’ above).
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.
Find out more about qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales if you’re an international student in this Oracle.
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 most solicitors end up specialising in an area they’ve 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, the 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’ve 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:
Much will depend on the type of QWE you're applying for. You can apply directly for legal roles, such as a paralegal position, which may subsequently count as QWE. Alternatively, you may intend to apply for the graduate trainee roles in law firms (what some will still refer to as a training contract). If you're applying for these latter positions, you'll need to understand the timetable of applications – which can be two to three years in advance of when you intend to start as a trainee. Obviously, you might obtain a position, such as a paralegal role, and use this as a springboard to apply for a trainee position rather than register the paralegal work as your QWE.
Due to the flexibility around QWE afforded by the new qualification route, there’s no one set approach the legal profession appears to be taking at this time. Over time, we expect this to change and greater clarity to emerge with the consolidation of the SQE route from 2023. For now, where there may be a lack of clarity about an employer’s position regarding a specific opportunity or situation, it may be necessary to discuss your queries with them. Firms have also been adding their SQE plans to their LawCareers.Net profiles and featured Meet the Recruiter firms talk about their plans during their interviews on the website.
As this is a developing area, and as each student will have a different portfolio of experiences, we recommend that current students at The University of Law discuss their specific queries with their employability team as the information in this FAQ is only intended to be a general introduction. Students considering The University of Law can access this support when they accept a place at the university and may also seek help from their current institution.
Interested in studying at The University of Law? Find out whether there’s an open day coming up!
Catch up on news and tips about the SQE via LCN’s dedicated SQE hub.