Qualifying work experience for trainees
10 December 2020
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.
This is unless you’re already on your way to becoming a solicitor and can still qualify through the current route. Find out more about who can still qualify this way. Or you are a qualified lawyer, in which case we will recognise the knowledge, skills and competences that they have gained through professional qualifications and professional experience.
In light of current working arrangements, you might want to consider how you gain 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.
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.
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 or compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) will sign off a candidates’ qualifying work experience. They are not signing off whether a candidate is competent to practice. The SQE will assess this.
Qualifying work experience is any experience of providing legal services that offers the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge needed practice as a solicitor.
It 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 unpaid 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 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.
We have information on how to get the best out of your qualifying work experience.
We also have a useful template that you can use to record your work experience and how it meet our competencies.
Demonstrating work experience
Qualifying work experience must be signed off 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. It also cannot be a foreign qualified lawyer, again unless they are also a solicitor of England and Wales.
If you plan to use your current experience, you should start to think about how you will record it and who will sign it off.
For each placement, the following must be signed off:
- the details of the work experience 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.
The solicitor signing off your qualifying work experience is not deciding whether you have met the prescribed competences for solicitors. SQE assesses whether meet our standards.
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 sign off your record and resolve any issues with during your work experience. We cannot accept records that have not been signed by an appropriate person.