Getting the best out of your qualifying work experience
10 December 2020
This information can help you understand how you can get the best out of your qualifying work experience (QWE). This could be helpful to aspiring solicitors who have started preparing for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) and who are currently doing their QWE or looking to start it.
It can also help with conversations before and during your placement or employment and tells you what we expect from organisations offering QWE.
Individuals wishing to be admitted as a solicitor, once the SQE is introduced, need to complete QWE. This is a work placement which meets the following criteria:
- It involves experience of providing legal services which enables an individual to develop some or all of the competences outlined in the Statement of Solicitor Competence, including professionalism and ethics.
- It may be obtained in England or Wales or overseas.
- In total it must be at least two years working full time or the equivalent on a part time basis.
- It can be obtained in up to four separate organisations providing legal services. There is no minimum or maximum prescribed length for each individual placement.
- It is confirmed by a solicitor or Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP), or a solicitor outside the organisation (in which case there are some additional requirements which we explain below).
- It can be obtained in an organisation we do not regulate.
- It can be obtained in a current or a previous role.
QWE can be completed in a range of organisations. This includes law firms we regulate as well as organisations that we do not regulate, for example in-house legal departments, university law clinics or voluntary or charitable organisations such as Citizens Advice or law centres.
Any experience that meets these conditions counts as QWE and should be confirmed by a solicitor or COLP in accordance with our requirements.
We have outlined what we expect from organisations we regulate and do not regulate offering QWE. This includes:
- exposing people who are doing QWE to a wide variety of tasks and legal matters which help them to develop some or all of the competences we specify in the Statement of Solicitor Competence
- enabling those doing QWE to learn from experienced practitioners how to behave ethically and in accordance with the Codes of Conduct
- providing opportunities for those doing QWE to be effectively supervised and to reflect on their work and feedback to help them identify their strengths and areas where they still need to develop
- confirming QWE as long as it meets our criteria. QWE can be confirmed by a COLP (where the organisation offering QWE has one) or a solicitor within the organisation where you work or, where neither of these are available, your QWE can be confirmed by another solicitor outside the organisation so long as the individual has:
- Reviewed your work during the relevant period of work experience
- Received feedback from the person or persons supervising your work.
When deciding where to complete your QWE, you might want to think about the types of work that different organisations can offer. QWE placements are an opportunity for you to develop the competences set out in the Statement of Solicitor Competence, as well as developing ethics and professionalism. It can also help you prepare for SQE2 by providing an opportunity to develop and practise the legal skills assessed.
Before you start your QWE, you might find it helpful to think about the following questions and discuss them with the organisation where you might do your QWE:
- What opportunities are available for you to gain diverse and varied experience? A placement that mostly offers repetitive and limited administrative tasks and legal transactions is unlikely to help you develop the specified competences or provide you with the best chance of passing SQE2.
- What are your expectations, and what expectations does the organisation have of you? From the outset, it might be helpful to know if the placement is intended to be or can constitute QWE. It can also be helpful to discuss your career aspirations with the organisation and seek clarification on what support they can offer you if you wish to qualify as a solicitor.
- If your placement is within a regulated firm, who is the solicitor or COLP responsible for confirming your QWE? The organisation offering the placement should make this clear from the outset. If there is not a solicitor in your organisation, you will need to identify a solicitor outside the organisation who can confirm your QWE. This must be someone who has direct experience of your work. And in confirming your QWE, they will need to:
- review your work during the relevant period of work experience
- receive feedback from the person or people supervising your work.
- Who will be responsible for the day to day supervision of your work? You may find it helpful to ask the supervisor:
- how they will satisfy themselves about the quality of your work
- how they will provide formative feedback
- how they will check that you are getting access to a good range of tasks
- how they will make sure you are learning how to behave ethically and in accordance with the Codes of Conduct.
- Your placement should offer opportunities for regular reflection to help you identify both strengths and areas of development. This could involve your supervisor or somebody else with knowledge of the work you have done and could include:
- appraisals or one-to-one meetings
- asking for feedback from a range of internal and external sources
- receiving feedback from a tutor, in a student law clinic setting.
Both you and your supervisor should reflect on your performance and consider what opportunities there are for further development.
- Your placement should also help you develop your professionalism. An important part of professionalism is behaving ethically. During your placement or placements, you should develop an awareness of standard procedures in relation to, for example:
- conflicts of interest checks
- anti-money laundering checks
- information security.
- You should also have the opportunity to learn from experienced role models by seeing how they behave ethically and in accordance with the Codes of Conduct in difficult cases.
- If you feel that your QWE is not going well, you should discuss this with your supervisor or another colleague who is involved in your training. If the issue relates to the work you are doing, you could ask for opportunities to do different tasks or types of legal work.
- You could also think about supplementing your QWE by gaining additional experience elsewhere, for example by volunteering at a law clinic. Remember, your QWE can be gained in up to four organisations and can be paid or unpaid.
You should record your QWE to make sure you can demonstrate how it has provided an opportunity for you to develop some or all of the competences in the Statement of Solicitor Competence, and over what time. In doing so, you should consider:
- whether the organisation has a system or process in place to help you record your experience. If not, you can use our training template to help you. Your organisation should support you with collating your evidence.
- how the evidence you record demonstrates the work you have done and how the work you did provided an opportunity to develop some or all of the specified competences.
You should regularly talk to the solicitor or COLP confirming your experience so that you are both clear on how you have evidenced the competences. You could do this through your one-to ones or appraisals.
It is important that you know the name of person confirming your experience, as well as their position and SRA number. Please keep a record of this information as you will need it when you apply for admission as a solicitor once the SQE is introduced.
The role of the solicitor or COLP is to confirm:
- details of your placement, such as where and when it took place
- whether it provided the opportunity to develop some or all of the specified competences
- that no issues arose that raise questions about character and suitability to be admitted as a solicitor, or if such confirmation cannot be given, then details of any issues that did arise.
The solicitor or COLP is not assessing your competence.
You should be clear from the outset of your placement which solicitor or COLP is responsible for confirming your QWE. If this changes, your organisation should tell you and identify another individual who is able to confirm your experience.
We expect solicitors and COLPs to comply with our Principles and Code of Conduct to act honestly, fairly at all times, to supervise effectively and not to abuse their position by taking unfair advantage of individuals. We may act against a solicitor or COLP if they refuse to confirm QWE that meets our criteria or where they have breached our Principles and Code of Conduct in the way they have provided QWE.
You can also contact us if you have completed your QWE but have not been able to get sign off by your organisation due to exceptional circumstances. This might be, for example, if you have been working with a sole practitioner who is no longer a solicitor.