What is Qualifying Work Experience?
Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) is a compulsory element to your qualification process via the SQE, which is a minimum of two years required in up to four different legal positions, paid or unpaid. This experience would have to be signed off by a qualified solicitor and you may be exempt from this requirement.
We answered the most frequently asked questions on QWE below.
- professionalism and judgement;
- technical legal practice;
- working with others;
- managing yourself at work.
Qualifying Work Experience can be gained in a single two-year block or in stages across a maximum of four organisations. Some of your QWE can come from prior experience, before starting an SQE Prep course. This time can be ‘banked’ or even combined with your studies. It is also possible to complete your QWE between sitting your SQE1 and SQE2 exams.
You can also obtain QWE in different roles within the same organisation. This applies when each role gives you an opportunity to develop a different competence.
QWE can be paid or unpaid work and could include time spent:
- on placement during a sandwich degree;
- working in a law clinic;
- at a voluntary or charitable;
- organisation such as Citizen Advice or a law centre;
- working as a paralegal (either in a law firm or an in-house legal department);
- on a training contract.
Splitting your QWE across a maximum of four organisations is a flexible, new approach. However, if you chose to do this across multiple organisations, please mind the chosen area of law you eventually want to specialise in. The more aligned each role is to the area of law you want to practise, the better.
Remember your end goal is to secure a newly-qualified solicitor position. On top of the competences set out by the SRA, your experience should also aim to give you exposure to the practice area(s) you are interested in.
The same also applies to the types of clients you work with, and if appropriate, the sectors and industries they operate in. For example, if you aim to become a commercial solicitor, you may choose paralegalling in a commercial law firm over volunteering in a law clinic.
The legal job market is competitive, so you would need to ease your way into a role that is the closest match to the type of solicitor you want to become.
What is refreshing about the new qualification is that achieving the required QWE quota is much more flexible than the previous LPC. This flexibility allows for parallel part-time study in preparation for the SQE assessments. Considering the SQE is more affordable than the current route, this promises a new generation of solicitors from a diverse range of backgrounds and circumstances. This can only benefit clients from all walks of life who want to identify with and draw upon the experiences of the counsel that represents them.
Equally, those who prefer to work part-time while studying for the SQE exam-based elements are also able to do so. They would have to be sure that their employment opportunities can count towards the QWE. See below what can count as QWE.
QWE under the new qualification system is more flexible than the traditional training contract route. In obtaining QWE, the aim is for aspiring lawyers to have the opportunity to develop the solicitor competencies required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). It can include voluntary work and is not limited to work in one organisation. And, unlike a traditional training contract, QWE does not require experience in three different areas of law. The qualifying legal work experience can be accumulated over a maximum of four different positions and does not need to be done consecutively.
QWE can be undertaken before, during, or after the SQE1 and SQE2 exams. This means that you could already have, or be in the process of accumulating, your time for QWE since it is possible to claim it retrospectively. If you acquire the necessary two years’ worth of QWE before the introduction of the SQE in 2021, all that would remain for you to complete qualification is to pass the two-stage SQE.
The benefit of QWE is that you have more options for acquiring the necessary experience without the obstacle of trying to secure a training contract within a very competitive environment. More firms will likely offer a wider range of options for obtaining QWE outside of a traditional training contract.
- a solicitor of England and Wales in the organisation you are working for;
- another nominated solicitor of England and Wales, outside your organisation, who has direct knowledge of your work;
- the Compliance Officer for Legal Practice, or COLP, (if your organisation has one) can confirm your experience.
No, but from an employability perspective, it would be sensible to avoid a lengthy gap between passing your SQE exams and your QWE. If you complete your QWE with more than one organisation, then a short gap between each role is unlikely to put you at a disadvantage. However, you must try to avoid lengthy periods away from work or studies. This is a risk as it makes you less attractive as a candidate, particularly for competitive roles with high-profile employers.
QWE can be paid or on a pro bono basis. Pro bono work is when someone needs help but doesn’t qualify for legal aid and can’t afford to pay for legal advice. As a student, you can give free advice to the individual in question, under supervision. In return, you get the opportunity to put your skills and theory into practice. Plus, you will be able to meet qualified professionals working in this area and extend your network of contacts.
If you’re in a position to undertake voluntary work on an unpaid basis, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau partners with many legal organisations so that students can deliver pro bono advice to those in need.
There is also the opportunity to work with initiatives such as StreetLaw, which originated in the US and now operates across the globe. It links local community groups, such as schools and prisons, with students who can research and deliver workshops on a particular area of interest to them. Many universities also have free legal advice clinics where you help members of the public, while guided by qualified lawyers. Universities also often partner with miscarriage of justice programmes and other initiatives. It’s worth getting in touch with your legal career centre to find out what are the options.
If you are a lawyer from outside England and Wales, qualified overseas, your professional experience can be taken into account by the SRA. It would still have to:
- meet the competencies set out by the SRA; and,
- be signed off by a solicitor of England and Wales, or a COLP.
You may also need to prove English language proficiency through a test. You can contact the SRA directly for any further information on this.
There is also the possibility to apply for exemptions for the SQE exam-based elements. You can find out more information on this here.
So, there you have it – that’s SQE’s Qualifying Work Experience explained. If you have any further questions you can visit our QWE FAQs. Or if you would like more information about our upcoming SQE Prep courses, speak to our team here.
QWE has to be signed off by a qualified solicitor or a compliance officer, within or outside of the organisation, who has knowledge of your work. The purpose of this is not to assess the competence of the skills demonstrated, but rather ascertain the time of the experience, whether it developed any of the competencies outlined by the SRA, and that there are no character and suitability issues that arose.
You can work in up to 4 different places, over 2 years to build up your Qualifying Work Experience. All your experience has to relate to the SRA’s statement of solicitor competence and be confirmed by a solicitor, that is a lot of competencies to cross check and confirmations to manage. The Flex Legal Journal will let you record your experience, manage approvals, and track your progress online against the SRA’s framework.
Wondering how to secure QWE?
We have joined up with The SQuarE Route to develop QWE Kickstart, an opportunity for our students to secure legal work experience.
Entries are now open for all BARBRI SQE1 40-Week Prep Course students who are preparing for the July 2024 SQE1 exam!
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