How to get the most out of your SQE qualifying work experience
With the first round of SQE examinations fast approaching it is important to understand and get excited about the flexibility that the SQE brings. In case you didn’t already know, all SQE candidates must complete a minimum of two years full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience (QWE). It’s easy to fall into the trap that this is essentially a training contract in disguise. Whilst large City law firms are likely to adopt something similar to a training contract for the SQE, this is not the only option that students can now consider because of the flexibility of QWE. This blog article explores the work experience opportunities, beyond the traditional City law firm training contract, that candidates can take advantage of whilst working towards their SQE.
How flexible is QWE?Firstly, let’s highlight how flexible the SQE’s QWE component truly is! QWE can be completed at up to four different organisations, meaning candidates can gain experience from a large variety of providers. Additionally, candidates can complete their QWE on a full-time or part-time basis; this allows candidates to continue to work alongside their QWE. Obviously, if a candidate chooses to complete their QWE part-time, it will take them longer than two years to complete. Candidates can also choose to embark on their QWE before, after, or in between the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. Finally, QWE does not need to be paid; volunteer work also meets the SRA’s requirements. Therefore, the SQE makes gaining legal experience easier than ever by providing considerable flexibility compared to the previous training contract route.
How will the SQE affect in-house legal work opportunities?Before the introduction of the SQE, in-house legal teams were often prevented from taking on junior team members due to the SRA’s requirements for organisations providing training contracts. The SRA requires training contract providers to give trainees some contentious experience, which isn’t always easy in an in-house setting. This means in-house training contracts have generally been scarce, to say the least. Now, in-house legal teams can contribute to students’ legal training, without having to offer a full two-year training contract involving contentious work.
But what are the benefits of gaining some in-house legal experience? In-house teams are often considerably smaller than City law firms. This means junior team members are likely to be given more responsibility than they would be given at a traditional law firm. Furthermore, you are likely to encounter a greater variety of legal work as you are not restricted to a certain department. The organisation’s legal problems will span several legal areas, meaning your work is likely to do the same. Most importantly, working in-house means you are part of a fully functioning business; this can do wonders for your commercial awareness. You will naturally be exposed to numerous commercial decisions, as well as becoming involved in both risk management and business development.
What does the SQE mean for university placements?Another exciting development which the SQE brings is the ability to use university placements as part of your QWE. Many universities offer law courses which involve a year-long placement. Previously, a placement was simply a useful way of gaining legal experience within a particular firm or organisation. Whilst this is clearly valuable, the SQE has made it even more beneficial by enabling it to count towards a candidate’s QWE. QWE therefore gives new meaning to university placements, transforming them from useful legal experience to a stepping stone towards qualification as a solicitor.
Can pro bono work count as QWE?The flexibility of the SQE’s QWE also means that SQE candidates can use pro bono work as part of their QWE. Pro bono work is highly rewarding as it allows you to help others who would not otherwise be able to afford legal advice. Because of the nature of pro bono work, you are likely to have greater client contact and responsibility than you would at any law firm or in-house team.
One great thing about pro bono work is the breadth of organisations which are always on the lookout for new law students to join their teams. Universities often run pro bono schemes for students to get involved in, and the ability to complete QWE on a part-time basis means students can become involved in this pro bono work experience alongside their studies.
Would it be beneficial to get QWE at a smaller law firm?The SQE’s QWE opens up a whole new set of law firms to young, aspiring solicitors. Whilst smaller high street law firms could really benefit from a trainee’s skills, they are sometimes unable to provide a formal training contract due to, once again, the SRA’s requirements. The flexibility of QWE means small law firms can now play a larger role in the development of students’ legal careers.
It is firstly important to say that when it comes to law firms, bigger is not necessarily better. Whilst the benefits of working at a smaller law firm are similar to those previously mentioned in relation to working in-house, such as a greater variety of work and more responsibility, smaller law firms also provide significant opportunity for building relationships. The reduced number of lawyers frequently fosters a community-based environment, allowing lifelong friendships to be established. This opportunity to build strong relationships also extends to clients due to the greater client contact and consistency that you may experience at a smaller firm. Furthermore, at a smaller law firm, you are likely to be working with lawyers at all levels from a very early stage. This can provide fantastic learning opportunities.
How can you keep track of your QWE?We hope that we have convinced you about how great the flexibility of the SQE’s QWE can be for you and your career. Because SQE candidates can complete their QWE at up to four organisations, keeping a consistent record of QWE is essential. To make this as easy as possible we have created the Flex Legal Journal. The Journal allows you to digitally record your QWE in reflective diary entries, which require you to think critically about your experience. You can also track your progress against the SRA competency statement, allowing an understanding of which areas need to be worked on. Once you have completed your entry, you are able to send it to your supervisor, who can then digitally approve the entry and provide feedback. The entire journal can also be submitted for final confirmation from a solicitor, as required by the SRA.
Importantly, the Flex Legal Journal is currently free and open to all! For more information, please click here.
- The SQE Explained - This is a great article to help you to really get to know the basics of the SQE.
- SQE FAQs - This article answers all our common questions about the new SQE route to qualification.
- How are in-house and private practice different? - This blog article further explores the difference between in-house and private practice.