Qualifying work experience for candidates

For people qualifying via the SQE after 1 September 2021

All candidates looking to qualify through the SQE route will need to complete two years' full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience after September 2021.

This is unless they are already on their way to becoming a solicitor and could still qualify through the current LPC route. Or they are a qualified lawyer, as the qualifying work experience requirement does not apply to them.

What is qualifying work experience?

Qualifying work experience (QWE) is any experience of providing legal services that offers a candidate the opportunity to develop some or all of the competences needed to practise as a solicitor. Work experience can be obtained in England or Wales or overseas.

A solicitor or compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) must confirm, a candidates’ qualifying work experience.

We will not prescribe what full time (or equivalent) means. We expect QWE providers/employers to take a common-sense view of what they mean by full time.

What counts?

QWE can be gained in one block of time or in stages, so long as it is in no more than four organisations. It can be paid or volunteer work and could include time spent:

  • on placement during a law degree
  • working in a law clinic
  • at a voluntary or charitable organisation such Citizen Advice or a law centre
  • working as a paralegal
  • on a training contract.

Candidates can gain experience before, during or after they sit the SQE assessments. They could even start gaining the necessary experience now and 'banking' it for when SQE comes in on 1 September 2021. There are also no time limits on when someone can claim experience as QWE.

We have a useful template that candidates can use to record their experience and how it meets our competencies.

Candidates only need to register their two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE) by the time they apply for admission as a solicitor. However, a candidate can now register any completed QWE if they need to. This might be because they are due to leave a role shortly or because they want to use a past role as QWE.

You cannot qualify through the SQE route before September 2021 at the earliest. In practice, this is likely to be substantially later, as the first assessments will run in November 2021 and April 2022.

Find out more on how to get the best out of your qualifying work experience.

Demonstrating and confirming work experience

Qualifying work experience must be confirmed by one of the following:

  • the COLP (if the organisation has one)
  • a solicitor of England and Wales in the organisation, or
  • another nominated solicitor of England and Wales outside the organisation but with direct knowledge of the candidate's work.

The solicitor does not have to hold a practising certificate.

It cannot be barrister of England and Wales unless they are also a solicitor or a COLP. It also cannot be a foreign qualified lawyer, again unless they are also a solicitor of England and Wales.

For each placement, the relevant solicitor is confirming:

  • the details and timescale of the work experience 
  • that it provided the opportunity to develop some or all of the prescribed competences for solicitors
  • that no issues arose during the work experience that raise questions over the candidate's character and suitability to be admitted as a solicitor.

The solicitor confirming your qualifying work experience is not deciding whether you have met the prescribed competences for solicitors. SQE assesses whether meet our standards.

In light of current working arrangements, you might want to consider how you gain your qualifying work experience. For example, this could be using digital tools, such as videoing call and virtual meetings, to continue exposure to the competencies.

Using qualifying work experience and SQE2 to qualify

If you already have the Legal Practice Course, you can also ask us to recognise the combination of qualifying work experience and successfully passing SQE2 as equivalent to a period of recognised training (training contract). This might be used, for example, if someone was not able to get a training contract and means you were still admitted as a solicitor under the current route, not the SQE.

Please be aware that the first sitting of SQE2 will be April 2022. Find out more about the assessment.

Tips for candidates

  • Taking advantage of the new flexibility about how and where you can gain work experience – using this to demonstrate you have had opportunity to develop some or all of the prescribed competences for solicitors.
  • Talk to your current or prospective employer about what training and opportunities are in place for you to develop some or all the competencies in the Statement of Solicitor Competence.
  • Talk regularly to the solicitor who will confirm, your record and resolve any issues with during your work experience. We cannot accept records that have not been signed by an appropriate person.