The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is a centralised exam for solicitors. As it is to be introduced in September 2021 it is important to understand what is needed from you if you wish to become a new trainee solicitor

The SQE involves two stages, assessed on a pass or fail basis. The first stage focuses mainly on your legal knowledge from your studies. This includes the study of contract law, tort law, and the legal system of England and Wales, for example. The second stage on the other hand assesses practical legal skills.

The SQE is designed to provide more flexibility when it comes to work experience. Under the SQE two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) is needed.

What is QWE?

Qualifying work experience (QWE) is one of the stages you must take in order to qualify as a solicitor. It can be completed at up to four different organisations,

To count as QWE, it must be any experience providing legal services that offers a candidate the opportunity to develop some or all of the legal skills needed for a practising solicitor.

It can be done continuously within the two years or split into four different periods of work experience.

When do You Have to Complete QWE?

QWE may be completed before, during or after a candidate passes the SQE assessments. It must, however, be completed before the candidate applies to the SRA for admission as a qualified solicitor.

Training contracts at a commercial law firm may work differently instead you will most likely complete the first and second stage of the SQE before completing the qualifying work experience.

It is important to consider what would suit you and your studies before planning when to complete qualifying work experience.

How Do You Prove You Have Done QWE?

When completing QWE you must record your experience. It is up to you to check with the organisation offering QWE to check what systems are in place to help them to record their experience, for example a training diary.

If nothing is available or provided by the organisation, then you should use the SRA’s QWE training template.

It is important to have evidence of your QWE in order to confirm the details and time scale of the work experience but to also provide an outline of the prescribed competencies needed. It also ensures no issues arise that could raise questions over a candidate’s character and suitability to be admitted as a solicitor.

How Do You Sign Off On QWE?

QWE must be signed off by a solicitor who is qualified in England and Wales.

The solicitor signing off your QWE must have reviewed your work during the experience and received feedback from the individuals in charge of the work experience.

Ultimately the solicitor must confirm that the length of experience is completed, the placement provided an opportunity for the necessary skills to be developed and no issues arose.

If all of the above are satisfied, then the solicitor can sign off on the QWE. It is fundamentally up to the SQE as to whether the candidate is suitable to practise as a solicitor through the character and suitability assessment.

QWE and Areas of Practice

There is no requirement for an individual to cover multiple areas of law or just one area. As a solicitor could specialise in any different area, there is no limit to what they may wish to cover.

Some law firms, however, may require specialisation into their area. For example, candidates applying for training contracts at commercial firms may have to undertake a full two-year training contract before progressing.

International QWE

QWE can be completed outside England and Wales. As long as it meets the requirements set out, it still counts as qualifying.


The basic timeline for those hoping to qualify as a solicitor looks something like this:

  • Study for three-year law degree
  • Take SQE stage 1
  • Take SQE stage 2
  • Complete two-year period of QWE
  • Satisfy the SRA’s suitability and character requirements
  • Qualify as a solicitor

By Rebecca Moore