What Will 'Count' As Qualifying Work Experience For The New SQE
As of September 2021, the SRA created a new avenue for aspiring solicitors to qualify known as the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination). This is a centralised assessment and is part of a new four-stage route to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales. Part of that four-stage route involves a minimum of two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
The QWE is designed to be flexible and therefore it can be completed with up to four different organisations that must be signed off by a Solicitor or Compliance Officer. Additionally, while there is no specified duration, candidates and firms will need to consider if the placement was long enough to have experienced any of the competencies required to set out in the statement of solicitor competence. The aim is to aid in progressing individuals in their legal training and preparing them for a career as a solicitor.
Considering applicants must spend a considerable amount of time gaining experience the question then is what constitutes QWE?
QWE can be undertaken face-to-face or digitally such as videos and virtual meetings. The experience must provide real-life legal services allowing you to develop the necessary competencies to become a solicitor. In order to see what is recognised as providing legal services, you can turn to the Legal Services Act 2007 (s.12)
Experience can be gained in England, Wales, or overseas and does not need to cover English and Welsh Law. While knowledge of this kind of Law is needed for your SQE assessment, you are not exclusively limited to English and Welsh law for QWE.
The types of work you can undertake include contentious work, non-contentious work, or a combination of both. Alongside a formal training contract, the SRA lists the following as options that are considered QWE.
- Paralegal work
- Law clinic work
- Legal apprentice work
- Volunteering or charity legal work
- Work placement during a law degree
- Interning in a legal department of a company
As part of the new SQE these all count as qualifying work experience to the same degree as a training contract.
Paralegal work especially in outside London gives the opportunity to be later recruited as trainees and such trainees may be able to use the work they have done thus far as ‘time to count’ to qualify early. This effectively carries over to the SQE. What this means is that assuming someone has paralegeled a considerable amount of time at a firm but not yet up to the minimum required time for QWE, could effectively just spend the remaining time as a trainee before qualifying as a solicitor if they pass the SQE examinations. It is also possible to gain the whole 24 months of experience exclusively from working as a paralegal.
QWE also does not have to be paid work experience as clarified by the SRA so long as a qualified solicitor has signed off what you have done.
This makes voluntary work or assisting legal clinics or legal charities such as a law centre or Citizens Advice as valid forms of experience contributing towards the 2-year requirement. These are also more likely to be shorter-term opportunities.
Work experience as part of a law degree placement is also a valid form of experience. These are often available before the fourth year of study and can be found in various universities across the UK. Individuals who utilise this route could rely on that as a year’s worth of experience before even receiving their undergraduate degree.
It’s important to note that there is still a difference between what is considered qualifying work experience and what legal employers consider useful legal work experience. The responsibilities and tasks you take on as a paralegal or in a legal clinic are very different from typical trainee tasks. City Law firms in particular hire directly from newly graduated classes and are unlikely to hire paralegals into two-year training contracts and very unlikely to allow prospective paralegal hires to count their experience and qualify early.
Other important things to highlight are that while the SRA regulations do not require you to develop all the competencies for their experience to count as the QWE, the minimum number is two. However, a role only involving a single competence will not count as QWE even if it provides legal services. The SRA also does not prescribe which competencies you should aim to be exposed to.