Qualifying work experience for employers

For people qualifying via the SQE after 1 September 2021

From September, all aspiring solicitors  will need at least two-years full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience if they want to qualify through the new SQE route. They will not need a period of recognised training like on the current LPC route.

This is unless they are already on their way to becoming a solicitor and could still qualify through the 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. Under our rules, it must:

  • be experience of providing legal services in a real life environment where a candidate does actual legal services work
  • provide a candidate with the opportunities to develop some or all of the competences in the statement of solicitor competence
  • be at least at least two years' full time or equivalent – we will not prescribe what full time or equivalent is. We expect QWE providers/employers to take a common-sense view of what they mean by full time
  • be in no more than four separate organisations – these do not have to be law firms as it can be anywhere that is providing legal services such as a law firm, in-house legal team or law clinic
  • be confirmed by a solicitor or compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) we regulate. They are not confirming whether a candidate is competent to practice. The SQE will assess this.

Work experience can be obtained in England or Wales or overseas and it does not need to cover English and Welsh law. A candidate will need knowledge of this to take the SQE assessment, but they do not need to gain this specifically through their work experience.

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Anyone can claim QWE so long as it meets our requirements (see above) and there is no time limit on when QWE must take place. Candidates can gain experience during or after they sit the SQE assessments.

Candidates only need to register their two years' 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.

Candidates cannot qualify through the SQE 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.

QWE must be confirmed by a solicitor or COLP, but they do 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.

The following must be confirmed:

  • confirmation that the length of work experience was carried out 
  • 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.

In organisations we do not regulate, it will be a solicitor who works there or one that is willing to confirm who has:

  • reviewed their work during the relevant period of work experience
  • received feedback from the person or persons supervising their work.

Confirming QWE is an important regulatory step and solicitors must be satisfied through their own knowledge of the candidate, or their organisation's processes, to confirm to us that it has been completed.

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

We have information for law firms and QWE providers on what they may wish to consider when thinking about their approach QWE. For example, who will confirm QWE – each supervising solicitor or one in a more central role such as the COLP?

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

Read our guidance for Solicitors and COLPs confirming qualifying work experience

QWE is designed to be flexible so that it can take place in a wide range of organisations providing legal services. 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 or a law centre
  • working as a paralegal
  • on a training contract.

QWE must be grounded in legal work. So, if someone is working or training in a non-legal role in an organisation, it is unlikely to be QWE. For example:

  • working in admin, IT, marketing, finance - albeit within a law firm or legal services provider
  • doing a placement that involves a single, repetitive and limited task.

Also simulated legal services cannot count as QWE – it must be real life experience.

Firms we regulate who are offering qualifying work experience are reminded of their regulatory obligation to make sure employees are competent to carry out their role, and keep their professional knowledge and skills, as well as understanding of their legal, ethical and regulatory obligations, up to date.

We have a useful template that could help your candidates record their work experience and how it meet our competencies. They do not need to be competent in all of these - competence to practise as a solicitor will be assessed through the SQE assessments.

If an individual is admitted as a solicitor, they can still be employed by an organisation as a paralegal. They will, however, still need to have a practising certificate. The title of their role is a matter for the organisation. We would not interfere provided that it is not misleading to clients.

As with the current approach to qualification, organisation will want to have conversations with individuals about the potential roles and opportunities available after admission.

You may want to think about:

  • Take advantage of the new flexibility – this could be an opportunity for you to offer work experience where you might not currently be able to provide a full training contract.
  • QWE means you can recruit through lots of different routes – align it with your business objectives.
  • How the QWE you offer can be used to help your staff pass the SQE2 assessment and become a qualified solicitor.
  • How you align qualifying work experience with our requirement to supervise staff effectively. This could be through:
    • regular 121s
    • opportunities to ask questions
    • learn from more experienced solicitors
    • feedback and reviews of work.