The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has changed the route leading to qualification as a solicitor. What is known as the Legal Practice Course (LPC) route is being replaced by the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route.
The LPC route requires:
- Having a qualifying law degree or passing the Common Professional Examination
- Passing the LPC
- Completing a two-year period of recognised training (a training contract)
- Completing the Professional Skills Course
- Passing the SRA’s character and suitability requirements.
The SQE route requires:
- Having a degree in any subject or equivalent level 6 qualification
- Passing both stages of the SQE assessment
- Completing two years’ full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience (QWE)
- Passing the SRA’s character and suitability requirements.
This article focuses on the third requirement of the SQE route – completing two years’ full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience (QWE).
What is QWE?
QWE is any experience in providing legal services. It must:
- be experience of providing legal services in a real-life environment where a candidate does actual legal services work
- provide a candidate with the opportunities to develop some or all the competences in the Statement of Solicitor Competence
- be at least two years full-time or equivalent (the SRA does not prescribe what “full-time or equivalent” is: employers are expected to take a common-sense view)
- be in no more than four separate organisations, not necessarily law firms, providing legal services (for example, an in-house legal team or law clinic), whether an organisation is regulated by the SRA or not, with no minimum or maximum length prescribed for each period of QWE
- be confirmed by a solicitor or compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) whom the SRA regulates.
QWE can be obtained in England or Wales or overseas. It does not need to cover English and Welsh law, since knowledge of this will be needed to take both stages of the SQE assessment.
It can be obtained in a current or previous role.
QWE is like a training contract. While, however, firms are required to provide training to a trainee, which will satisfy the SRA’s Practice Skills Standards, which are quite detailed in what experience is required, the rules applicable to QWE are outcomes-based and firms are left to decide what experience the candidate should receive. Despite the change of approach, it is reasonable to assume that, providing QWE of a nature and in a manner that would have satisfied the rules applicable to training contracts, will satisfy the rules applicable to QWE. To see the full Practice Skills Standards, click on the following link:
On the other hand, whereas a training contract has almost always been spent with a single organisation over two years, full-time, or over a longer period, part-time, with the most notable exception being a firm which could not provide experience in one of the prescribed skills and which seconds the trainee to another firm to provide a missing skill, QWE may be spent with up to four different organisations, full-time or part-time, if the periods amount to two years in aggregate. Thus, a candidate might work for one organisation for one year, full-time, and two other organisations for a year each, both half-time, giving a total of two years’ experience but spread over three years.
Confirming work experience
The following must be confirmed by the organisations with which a candidate has undergone QWE:
- that the length of work experience was carried out
- that it provided the opportunity to develop some or all the competences outlined in the Statement of Solicitor Competence (see section 4 below)
- that no issues arose during the work experience that raises questions over the candidate’s character and suitability to be admitted as a solicitor.
The SRA expects solicitors and COLPs to take reasonable and appropriate steps to confirm any retrospective requests. These might include:
- talking to the human resources department to confirm details of the experience or to obtain a job description of the role being claimed as QWE
- speaking to the person who supervised the individual to get more information on what the work experience included.
The SRA recognises, however, that in some cases it may be legitimate for a solicitor or COLP not to confirm QWE if, for example:
- records have not been kept
- the retrospective request goes beyond the organisation’s data retention period
- there are no individuals still at the organisation who can verify the candidate’s experience.
The Statement of Solicitor Competence
This document is detailed. Its main headings are:
- Ethics, professionalism and judgment
- Technical legal practice
- Working with other people
- Managing themselves and their own work.
Each may be summarised as follows:
A.Ethics, professionalism and judgment
A.1 Act honestly and with integrity, in accordance with legal and regulatory requirements and the SRA Standards and Regulations.
A.2 Maintain the level of competence and legal knowledge needed to practise effectively, taking into account changes in their role and/or practice context and developments in the law.
A.3 Work within the limits of their competence and the supervision which they need.
A.4 Draw on sufficient detailed knowledge and understanding of their field(s) of work and role in order to practise effectively.
A.5 Apply understanding, critical thinking and analysis to solve problems.
B.Technical legal practice
B.1 Obtain relevant facts.
B.2 Undertake legal research.
B.3 Develop and advise on relevant options, strategies and solutions.
B.4 Draft documents which are legally effective and accurately reflect the client’s instructions.
B.5 Undertake effective spoken and written advocacy.
B.6 Negotiate solutions to clients’ issues.
B.7 Plan, manage and progress legal cases and transactions.
C. Working with other people
C.1 Communicate clearly and effectively, orally and in writing.
C.2 Establish and maintain effective and professional relations with clients.
C.3 Establish and maintain effective and professional relations with other people.
D. Managing themselves and their own work
D.1 Initiate, plan, prioritise and manage work activities and projects to ensure that they are completed efficiently, on time and to an appropriate standard, both in relation to their own work and work that they lead or supervise.
D.2 Keep, use and maintain accurate, complete and clear records.
D.3 Apply good business practice.
Collectively, these are the topics which it would be expected that a trainee solicitor would cover during their training contract.
Click on the following link to read the full statement:
As compared with a training contract, QWE provides more flexibility in terms of timing and the number of organisations in which work experience may be obtained. This may suit candidates more than it suits law firms or other organisations providing legal services. For example, it may take a candidate up to, say, three months to settle into a new organisation and to become a reasonably effective member of the staff. Where the QWE is spread over four organisations with six-month periods at each, a disproportionate time in each may be spent in “settling in”. This is likely to be exacerbated if the QWE is done part-time as opposed to full-time.
On the other hand, the contents of the Statement of Solicitor Competence remain the same. The result of this is that candidates completing QWE in more than one period, or perhaps two, may gather less actual practice experience than if QWE were spent with one organisation. Thus, the end product (the candidate), after QWE, may not as seamlessly move into a qualified role as one who has spent the whole QWE with one organisation.