Qualifying work experience for employers

For people qualifying via the SQE after 1 September 2021

What is qualifying work experience?

All candidates will need to complete at least two-years full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience. This is the work experience part of qualifying as a solicitor after 1 September 2021 when the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is introduced.

Qualifying work experience 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.

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.

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.

A solicitor must confirm a candidates’ qualifying work experience. They are not confirming whether a candidate is competent to practice. The SQE will assess this.

Confirming work experience

Qualifying work experience must be confirmed by a solicitor, but they do not have to hold a practising certificate.

In a law firm, it could be the COLP or another solicitor as you will no longer need to have a training principal. However, it cannot be barrister of England and Wales unless they are also a solicitor. It also cannot be a foreign qualified lawyer, again unless they are also a solicitor of England and Wales.

In organisation 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.

What is being confirmed?

For each placement, 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.

What counts?

Qualifying work experience is designed to be flexible so that it can take place in a wide range of organisations providing legal services

Our approach allows firms to tailor their qualifying work experience in line with their business and without unnecessary regulatory interference.

It can be gained in one block of time or in stages (in up to four organisations). It can be paid or unpaid 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 during or after they sit the SQE assessments. However, it must be completed by the time they apply for admission. They could even start gaining the necessary experience now and 'banking' it for when SQE comes in on 1 September 2021.

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.

Solicitors working as paralegals

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.

Tips for employers

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.
  • Qualifying work experience means you can recruit through lots of different routes – align it with your business objectives.
  • 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.