Candidates for the qualifying work experience (QWE) component of the new solicitor’s qualification process will not have to gain it in an English law jurisdiction, it has emerged.
Meanwhile, a major venture seeking to encourage a greater diversity of opportunities through which aspiring solicitors can obtain their QWE launches today.
LawQWE, a specialist careers portal, said its research showed widespread uncertainty among people hoping to qualify as solicitors about where they were going to obtain QWE.
“Too few candidates are aware of the wide variety of opportunities for training out there in the legal profession and the different career paths that are open to them,” it said.
QWE has replaced the highly regulated two-year training contract. It allows employers to train legal talent in the work they need them for, without needing to ensure they covering specific areas of law.
But LawQWE said that, to date, few employers have realised the possibility that this new system offered and shifted their approach to recruiting trainees, apprentices and paralegals.
A candidate can obtain their two years of full-time QWE (or equivalent part-time) with up to four separate organisation that provide legal services.
At a virtual Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) conference last week, policy manager Richard Williams clarified that, “theoretically”, all the work experience could take place in a foreign jurisdiction.
However, he stressed that both parts of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam exclusively focused on English law.
Mr Williams said the SRA’s perception survey, carried out among candidates and employers, showed that a third of candidates reported it was “relatively easy” to find QWE placements.
Almost two-thirds of candidates felt requirements on how to complete QWE were clear and that a similar number agreed it helped to develop the competencies needed to be an effective solicitor, he went on.
Further, a majority believed the introduction of QWE would lead to more diverse organisations offering it.
Michelle Dobson, head of legal resources management at top-tier law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, confirmed her firm would continue to offer an eight-seat, two-year training contract scheme as usual, alongside QWE.
She said: “We as a firm think that the benefit of the two-year programme outweighs anything else at the moment in terms of signing off QWE, because we want to make sure that the associates we take on as newly-qualifieds have got a depth and breadth of experience.”
She added that paralegals at the firm who passed their SQE and qualified for QWE would not necessarily be employed as solicitors at Freshfields, although they were free to apply for solicitor roles.
LawQWE is launched by the professional services consultancy Hook Tangaza. Its survey of 192 students found that more than 90% said they did not know how they were going to obtain the QWE they needed to qualify.
The LawQWE portal hopes to “unlock a wider range of opportunities across the country for candidates who struggle to access traditional training contract-type arrangements – such as those from low-income households, career switchers or later-life trainees – and by expanding awareness of the rich variety of career paths open to solicitors”.
Among the employers involved with development of the site are Macfarlanes, Sintons, Scott-Moncrieff & Associates, Sherrards, Virtuoso, Law by Design, Cambridge University Press, Needle & Partners and a regional Citizens Advice.
LawQWE also provides candidates with tools to promote self-reflection, resilience and career planning.
In addition, low-cost courses to support skills development, mentoring and a QWE recording tool are all being developed “so that aspiring solicitors who are building their own portfolio of work experience, can gain the kind of support that they would enjoy if they had a two-year training contract with a single employer”.
LawQWE will also help organisations new to the entry-level careers market – including in-house teams – with selection and onboarding.
LawQWE co-founder Alison Hook said: “The SQE has opened up a lot of opportunities for both aspiring solicitors and employers but it is early days and there is still a lot of uncertainty about how things will evolve.
“Our ambition is to demystify the new training regime and create a marketplace which supports a profession of more diverse individuals in a wider range of careers.”