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During May-June 2021, we ran a short survey about Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) on our site. We received several questions as part of this survey from international applicants asking specific questions about the SQE and QWE, so we thought it would be helpful to provide some answers to these questions here! If you have a question about the SQE, QWE or anything LawCAB related, do let us know via email and we'll answer it directly, post it in our FAQs or on a blog post like this one.
Q. I’m just finishing my law degree overseas and keen to do the SQE assessments. Can I take the SQE assessments and satisfy the QWE and other necessary requirements without having done a qualifying law degree (QLD), Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), Legal Practice Course (LPC) or a PGDL or Masters course incorporating SQE prep?
Unlike the QLD/GDL & LPC route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales, it is completely up to you how you prepare for the SQE assessments. You may decide that you don’t need to prepare for the assessments at all (although we would encourage you to do your research before reaching that decision!). Universities and other course providers offer a variety of courses to help you prepare for the SQE assessments, either through online or face to face teaching, on a part-time or full-time basis. These courses could take the form of university courses eligible for student funding or stand-alone SQE preparation/top-up courses. So you can choose a course that suits you, taking into account the studies you have already undertaken, as well as the areas of interest you might have. As you already have a law degree, you might find that a shorter course covering the areas needed to pass the SQE assessments is all that you need, however, it would be worth checking how much your non-UK law degree covered in terms of the seven key foundations of law (found in a QLD) and how much ‘topping up’ you need to do to enable you to pass the SQE assessments. Eligibility requirements for SQE courses will depend on the type of course you are applying for so please check before applying. Note: as a UK undergraduate degree or equivalent is a requirement for the SQE route overall, you will need your non-UK law degree to be certified as equivalent through a UK ENIC Statement of Comparability.
Q. What counts as QWE for SQE, how can I get work experience to meet the QWE requirements and do I need a sponsor for my QWE placements?
In summary, QWE is any experience of providing legal services that offers you the opportunity to develop some or all of the SRA competences needed to practise as a solicitor. It can be obtained in England and Wales or overseas, and it does not need to cover English and Welsh law. A candidate will need knowledge of this to take the SQE assessment, but they do not need to gain this specifically through their work experience. QWE can be completed in up to 4 different organisations, but overall must be 2 years' full time or equivalent in duration. It can be paid or unpaid. It does not have to cover a range of areas of the law, or 'tick off' all the SRA competences in the Statement of Solicitor Competence. However, as SQE1 and SQE2 assessments will cover a broad range of topics, your QWE may not be very useful in preparing you for these assessments if it is focused in only one area of the law. QWE can be completed after you have sat both assessments, although the SRA suggests that it may be helpful to complete QWE before sitting SQE2.
You can get work experience as part of an undergraduate degree 'sandwich year' placement; in a law clinic as a volunteer; in a Citizen's Advice Bureau or doing other charitable or pro bono legal work in law centres or charities; whilst working as a paralegal in one or multiple firms; whilst working as a solicitor's apprentice; as part of a traditional training contract ('Period of Recognised Training') in a City or large national or regional firm, or in a high-street firm or with a sole practitioner. Note that simulated legal services are not eligible to count as QWE. Whilst your work experience can be done overseas, it is essential that, for it to count as QWE, it must meet the SRA requirements and be signed off by an approved person, normally a solicitor of England and Wales or “COLP” (Compliance officer for legal practice) who is on the roll. Read more about where to seek work experience in the UK in the specific FAQ ‘What is QWE and how do I get it for the SQE’ on the Applying for SQE courses page.
As an international candidate, if you wish to undertake your QWE in the UK, you may need a visa. The type of visa .e.g Student, Skilled worker, Graduate route etc will depend on whether you are studying in the UK, applying at the end of your studies just before starting your QWE, or if you come to the UK just for the purposes of completing your QWE. Your visa sponsor will differ (or may not be required) depending on the nature of your visa. For more information on visa requirements, refer to the UK government website and its visa guide. You may also be interested in the latest news about the government’s graduate visa route.
Q. As an international candidate wanting to do a QWE in the UK after completing my SQE course at a UK university, am I eligible to do so on my student visa?
As an international candidate, if you wish to undertake your QWE in the UK at the end of your UK course of study, having been on a Student visa, you will be able to apply for the Graduate visa route. The Graduate route will require a new visa application, which will only be possible from inside the UK. Individuals applying to the Graduate route will not need a sponsor. The UK Home Office has announced (June 2021) that the deadline for current academic year (2020/2021) university students on a Student visa to arrive in the UK to qualify for the UK Graduate route visa has been extended to 27 September 2021. If you graduate and your Student visa leave expires before the Graduate route is introduced, you will not be eligible to apply, however, you will be able to apply to a number of other routes e.g. Skilled Worker, among others. For more information on visa requirements, refer to the UK government website and its visa guide.
Q. I’ve been working as a paralegal internationally for the past 3 years. Will I have to do a further two years QWE in England or Wales after passing the SQE assessments, or will my international work experience as a paralegal count?
As mentioned previously, whilst your work experience can be done overseas, and does not need to cover English and Welsh law, it is essential that it must meet the SRA QWE requirements and be signed off by an approved person. This needs to be a “COLP” or a solicitor of England and Wales who is on the roll and has direct experience of, or has reviewed, your QWE, knows that it allowed you to gain SRA competences, and is willing to confirm your qualifying work experience.
You can gain experience before, during or after sitting the SQE assessments and can use QWE from previous roles, and 'bank' it for when SQE comes in on 1 September 2021. There are no time limits on when you can claim experience as QWE and so you may have completed the QWE requirement through your paralegal role, providing you are able to get it signed off. You must register two years’ worth of QWE by the time you apply for admission as a solicitor in England and Wales but you can register any completed QWE now if you wish to – useful if you want to use a past role as QWE. Note: although the SQE route opens 1 September 2021, the first assessments will run in November 2021 (SQE1) and April 2022 (SQE2) so it is unlikely to fulfil all the SQE criteria and apply to gain entry to the SRA roll before mid-2022.
Q. As an international qualified lawyer, am I eligible for the SQE route and do I have to do all the assessments and QWE?
Qualified international lawyers are eligible to follow the SQE route. Some may be able to apply to the SRA for exemptions to parts of the SQE assessments directly. A few jurisdictions have already been granted exemptions. Your own country’s law society or bar would need to make a request for qualification recognition to the SRA directly before your make your application. If, as a qualified lawyer, you are granted an exemption from SQE2, the SRA may require you to demonstrate your English or Welsh language competence. If you are not granted an exemption you will need to pass SQE1 and SQE2 assessments, but qualified lawyers are not required to do qualifying work experience, as the SRA will recognise existing qualification and experience. Existing Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) candidates can find out how the SQE introduction will affect their existing QLTS application.