The new centralized system of assessments, the SQE which every person seeking to be a solicitor in England and Wales must pass comprises four stages. The first stage is the possession of a degree (or equivalent) in any subject. The second stage is the successful completion of the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. The third stage is the completion of a minimum of two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). The fourth stage is to show you are of satisfactory character and suitability. It is the third stage that we are primarily concerned about, what constitutes a Qualifying Work Experience.
What is QWE?
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) defines a QWE as a full-time (or equivalent) experience that provides aspiring solicitors with experience in legal work and the opportunity to develop some or all of the competencies needed to be a solicitor in England and Wales. Continuing, the SRA holds that a valid QWE must involve the provision of legal services. Consequently, determining if an experience is a QWE will be dependent on two factors. One does the activity involve the delivery of legal services and the second one is whether some or all of the SRA’s competencies are involved or touched upon in the course of the activity.
What will not count as QWE?
Before looking at what counts as QWE it makes sense to look at what is not QWE.
Following the information provided by the SRA, if someone works in a law firm, in-house legal team or other legal services provider in a role that does not include the provision of opportunity to experience carrying out or delivering legal work/services, it will not count as QWE. Furthermore, in a situation where there is the delivery of legal work but no opportunity to develop at least some of the required competencies then such experience will most likely not count.
Simulated legal services, where the experience of the delivery of legal services resembles an actual real experience do not also account as the experience must be real life.
Thirdly, while the SRA regulations do not require an aspiring solicitor to develop all of the competencies for their experience to count as QWE; the acceptable minimum number is two. If the experience is one where the role involves only a single competence, even though it may be an activity that involves providing legal services, it will not count as QWE.
What will Count as QWE
In replacing the recognized traditional method of training – the training contract – the QWE was designed to be flexible to accommodate a wide range of scenarios. The flexibility of the QWE is seen in the fact that apart from taking the QWE once, you can take experiences gained from up to four different organizations to be used to satisfy the QWE requirement.
The QWE is most likely going to be welcomed with open arms because another thing it has going for it is that candidates can gain QWE before, during or after they sit the SQE assessments. They can also use experience from previous roles. Furthermore, QWE need not take place in England or Wales as experiences abroad can also count. The QWE also does not need to cover English and Welsh law. In light of this, QWE that counts can be paid or volunteer work which may include time spent:
- on placement during a law degree
- working in a law clinic
- at a voluntary or charitable organisation or community law centre
- working as a paralegal
- working as an apprentice
- on a training contract.
How to determine if an Experience is QWE
The SRA has repeatedly said that it will not be the one directly involved in determining if a candidate’s experience counts as QWE. Instead, it provides for a confirming solicitor or Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP) to help determine this with the candidate. The issued guidance for solicitors is a tool that the confirming solicitor can use to arrive at the right decision. The questions are accessible to candidates and QWE providers who may be anxious to see if a previous role counts as QWE. The questions are
- Does or did the activity involve providing legal services?
- Does or did the job, role or experience involve real-life legal services provision rather than stimulated legal services provision?
- Has the individual been exposed to at least two competencies in the Statement of Solicitor Competence?
- Has or will the job, role or experience be carried out in no more than four organisations?
- Has or will the job, role or experience be at least two years full-time or equivalent? We will not prescribe what full-time (or equivalent) means.
- Has or will the job, role or experience be confirmed by a solicitor or COLP?
If the answer is ‘yes’ to all of them, it is likely to be QWE.
Who confirms what activity counts as QWE
QWE must be confirmed by a solicitor of England and Wales or Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP), but they do not have to hold a practising certificate.
In a typical situation, the confirming solicitor will have worked in the same firm as you. However, it can also be a solicitor that does not work for the same organisation as the candidate but is willing to confirm. This last scenario will most likely arise when the QWE has taken place in an organization abroad or within the UK but there exists no solicitor who is able and willing to confirm the individual. When seeking an external solicitor to confirm your QWE, it is mandatory that the external solicitor reviews the work during the relevant period of experience and receive feedback from the person that supervised the candidate’s work. These requirements are particularly important because the SRA may contact the confirming solicitor with follow-up questions, as such he or she will need the information necessary to be able to successfully answer the SRA.
It should also be noted that a barrister of England and Wales or a different type of qualified lawyer (foreign lawyers, CILEX lawyers and the like) cannot confirm you unless they are also a solicitor or COLP that is regulated by the SRA.
Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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