The SQE: Opens the doors to in-house qualifying internships
According to the Law Society’s 2020 Annual Statistical Report, 23.7% of practice certificate holders were interns, but only about 10% of articling students were interns. Why is there a discrepancy between these numbers?
I trained in private practice and moved in-house to Trustpilot after about a year of post-qualified experience (PQE), and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I recognize that I am fortunate to work in a place where the main mission is to be a universal symbol of trust, but most of those who have moved internally cite the advantages, including a better working environment, a more wide variety of work and increased motivation. by having “the skin in the game” as legal counsel for their company.
What is the SQE? And how can this benefit internal teams?
The SQE may seem daunting at first sight but, by way of a brief summary, it is the new qualification route open to all aspiring lawyers and consists of:
- obtaining a university-level degree, which does not need to be in law
- take the SQE1 and SQE2 exams
- have completed two years of qualifying work experience (QWE)
- meet the character and aptitude requirements of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)
Previous qualification pathways will remain open to certain individuals under the transitional arrangements of the SRA, but it should be noted that those who have completed a Legal Practice Course (LPC) will be exempt from the SQE1 exam.
The SQE offers more flexible training than the classic training contract because:
1. Candidates can take the SQE exams whenever they want
The only requirement is that they must pass SQE1 before SQE2.
It is expected that the SQE1 exam will be taken at the start of the QWE and the SQE2 exam will be taken at the end of the QWE to ensure that the aspiring lawyer meets the standard necessary to qualify.
2. Almost any legal industry organization can form QWE
This includes experience in legal clinics, vacation programs, or working as a paralegal. It may therefore be that internal teams only have to “complete” a little experience to integrate a junior lawyer into their team.
3. There is no minimum seat length requirement
Those studying SQE must complete two years of QWE at up to four organizations, but organizations can structure it however they wish. For example, you can choose to offer an internship of a few months if you need short-term assistance or a full two-year internship in a team.
4. There is no requirement for a certain amount of contentious or non-contentious work
As a litigator, I advocate offering litigation work to all aspiring lawyers, but understand that this is not always possible. Removing this requirement is a big win for internal teams who have varied tasks but have delayed training for fear of not being able to offer contentious work.
So how should I structure their experience?
The simple answer is: do whatever you want!
I have yet to come across an internal team that would not be able to offer the key attributes that will need to be met in QWE, such as interacting with stakeholders, seeing how lawyers work in practice, opportunity to examine ethical challenges and develop the necessary skills.
Organizations simply need to take a common sense approach to deciding how any experience should be undertaken so that the aspiring lawyer is given a variety of work to develop their skills.
It’s a win-win for the aspiring lawyer to thrive and for organizations to feel comfortable signing their QWE.
When should I think about their post-qualification life?
From the start.
It is important to keep in mind that when an aspiring lawyer qualifies, they will expect to be promoted to a lawyer and receive the corresponding salary increase. However, internal teams are usually bound by an organization’s salary review schedule.
Typically, organizations conduct a salary review once a year. It is therefore useful to consider the implications of qualification at the start of any work experience and to plan it so that it ends at the time of the salary review.
This is also a useful exercise for budget planning purposes, as you can incorporate training and post-qualification salary costs in the respective years.
Do I need to make sure they develop their technical skills?
In-house training or work is ideal for developing business skills. However, it is sometimes forgotten that technical skills must be developed both during training and after qualification.
It is therefore essential to integrate technical skills training into any experience. Some organizations hold a weekly meeting with aspiring lawyers to review technical skills or hold team webinars to provide information on technical skills.
Personally, I’m a fan of the latter as it’s a good refresher for those post-qualifying.
What about networking skills?
It is well understood in private practice that networking skills and relationship building are essential to a legal career.
However, this does not carry the same weight internally where the focus is on building rapport with your colleagues for the benefit of your client.
While I agree it’s important, it’s also important for aspiring lawyers to develop their networking skills and start building their own relationships. I don’t think anyone enjoys networking right off the bat, and let’s be honest, it can be pretty scary.
I always get nervous before networking events, but a little nudge goes a long way and internal teams should provide opportunities for their aspiring lawyers to network and develop those skills.
The internal environment can undoubtedly provide a rich training experience for future lawyers. The inauguration of the SQE removed the requirement for interns to undergo controversial work experience, leaving the internal sector untapped ready to seize opportunities.
Hopefully this development will allow the next generation of lawyers to benefit from the in-house experience. Companies will also reap the rewards, with greater opportunities to recruit and retain legal staff.