SQE Focus – What is Qualifying Work Experience?

Kathryn Newton The College of Legal Practice

Kathryn Newton, Programme Leader at The College of Legal Practice

By Kathryn Newton, Programme Leader at Legal Futures Associate The College of Legal Practice

In this article, Kathryn offers a guide to the QWE and the requirements to complete for the regulator.

Practical training has long been a part of the route to qualifying as a solicitor. The idea is that real life experience of providing legal services is essential to acquire the necessary skills for practice. Such training has had various names, most recently ‘period of recognised training, before that ‘training contract, before that, ‘articles of clerkship’ and in its latest guise, ‘Qualifying work experience’ or QWE as it is widely known. Whatever it’s been called, it has been necessary to complete a period of practical training in order to satisfy the regulatory requirements for entry to the roll of solicitors.

QWE is a new type of practical training. In regulatory terms, the requirements are simply stated:

  • it must be undertaken over a period equivalent to 2 years full time
  • it can be done in up to 4 institutions (there is no specified minimum or maximum duration at any one), and, crucially, to satisfy the regulator
  • it must be ‘experience of providing legal services that offers a candidate the opportunity to develop some or all of the competences needed to practice as a solicitor’.

The positive side of the simple requirements is that it offers a wide range of possibilities for experience in a workplace to amount to QWE – including paralegal work in a legal practice or in an in-house legal department and also for example, in the voluntary sector or in a university law clinic.

However, there are two key factors that make any workplace experience count as QWE:

  • first that the organisation offering the placement is involved in the delivery of legal services,
  • and secondly, that what the trainee does while they are there gives them the opportunity to ‘develop some or all of the competences needed to practice as a solicitor’.

The competencies are a reference to the SRA Statement of Solicitor Competence which has three parts:

  1. Statement of Legal Knowledge – this is the knowledge required at the point of qualification – demonstrated by passing SQE1
  2. Competences in relation to
    1. A: Ethics, professionalism and judgement
    2. B: Technical legal practice
    3. C: Working with other people
    4. D; Managing self and own work
  3. Threshold standards – there are 5 thresholds. Threshold 3 is the threshold standard you must meet at qualification – demonstrated by passing SQE2.

While the route to qualification does not require trainees to do any or all of their QWE before attempting SQE2, it is clear that the aim of QWE is to expose trainees to real life experiences in the workplace to prepare them for SQE2 assessments.

Firms and students need to bear in mind then, when looking for opportunities for experience, that if they want it to meet the criteria for QWE (and for it to be acceptable to the SRA when the student asks to be entered on the Roll) their experience in the workplace must expose them to tasks/activities that develop their skills in Competences A-D at threshold standard 3. The bottom line is what the trainee does when at an organisation is important.

This article is taken from a three-part series from The College of Legal Practice on QWE. You can access Part 2 and Part 3 on our website.


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