Since the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in September 2021, candidates need to complete 2 years of full-time legal work experience in order to pass it and thus become a qualified solicitor in England and Wales. However, there is a great deal of ambiguity over whether pro bono work counts as valid work experience for the SQE.
We will elaborate in what circumstances does pro bono work qualify as work experience and how you can make any legal placements on voluntary terms count towards your SQE.
Pro bono work in law – what is it?
Pro bono comes from the Latin expression ‘pro bono publico’, meaning ‘for the public good’. Essentially, pro bono activities involve working for charities without necessarily receiving any financial compensation for your services.
As a future solicitor, pro bono work may entail getting involved with a charity and offering free legal advice to those who are unable to access it otherwise.
Doing pro bono work in law is not only a highly rewarding experience, but it is also looked upon favourably by law firms. By offering free legal advice, you demonstrate your willingness to practice law for the public good and you also show commitment to the profession as a whole.
What counts as work experience for the SQE?
As indicated earlier, if you want to qualify as a solicitor you need to complete a minimum of 2 years of qualified work experience (QWE) in the legal sector before you can earn your SQE.
It is important to make sure that any work you intend to do towards the SQE counts as work experience. You do not want to find yourself in a position where you have completed a placement that does not meet the SRA’s requirements.
In order for the work experience to qualify, it has to be confirmed by the firm or organisation that you work for. Confirmation of your work experience includes three main elements.
Firstly, your supervisor or the person who oversees your work has to verify that on your placement you will develop some of the legal competencies outlined by the SRA. Secondly, the firm or organisation also has to indicate the length of time you will be working for them.
For the final requirement to register your work experience as a confirmed one, at the end of the placement your supervisor has to state whether they have any doubts over you qualifying as a solicitor and if any issues arose throughout your time with the firm or organisation.
What kinds of placements count towards Qualifying Work Experience?
All your placements need to meet the specifications of the SRA. This means making sure that your work experience assists you in developing the competencies that have been set out by the SRA. The SRA also requires you to be supervised by a qualified individual during your work experience.
In terms of the types of placements you can pursue, the SRA is very flexible in allowing candidates to find opportunities that they are most interested in.
Candidates can count placements they do on their law degree, in addition to any experience they gain working as a paralegal. The SRA also accepts positions under a training contract as QWE.
QWE positions do not necessarily need to be paid. The SRA approves placements in law clinics and at charitable organisations as well.
The QWE can be completed before or after the SQE examinations, depending on the candidate’s circumstances.
So does pro bono work count as qualified work experience? – the final verdict
The short answer is yes, they do. However, in order for pro bono placements to count towards completing QWE, candidates need to make sure that their placements are confirmed and supervised by a competent individual, in addition to meeting the SRA’s competency requirements.