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Webinar report: SQE legal in-house: attracting, nurturing and retaining legal talent

A few weeks ago we hosted a webinar looking at the opportunities provided by the SQE and QWE.

The Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) and Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) provide great opportunities for in-house legal functions to attract, nurture and retain legal talent.

And, through the Apprenticeship Levy, a small tax paid by employers whose annual wage bill is over £3 million, you can draw down the funds necessary to train and assess your future in-house lawyers.

To dig a little deeper and explore these opportunities further, we teamed up with global leader in legal training, BARBRI, for our webinar, SQE legal in-house: attracting, nurturing and retaining legal talent.

Joining Victoria Cromwell, Head of UK Business Development at BARBRI, were Alison Hook, director of legal sector research firm Hook Tangaza and co-founder of LawQWE, and Josh Giddens. Head of LexisPSL Hub at LexisNexis.

SQE – a recap 

Introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in 2021, the aim of the SQE is to ensure consistent high standards among newly qualified solicitors and enhance diversity within the legal profession. It achieves this by providing new pathways towards a career in law, lower training costs and opportunities to ‘earn as you learn.’

It’s a two-stage exam assessment in which:

  • SQE1 comprises 360 mixed subject multiple-choice questions over two days. The exam is computer-based and candidates can study for the SQE1 alongside full-time employment; and
  • SQE2 assesses skills such as client interviewing techniques, advocacy, case and matter analysis, legal research, writing and drafting. SQE2 can also be studied while working but candidates must pass SQE1 first.
  • QWE meanwhile comprises two years’ work experience, completed either part-time or full-time and split, if desired, over up to four work placements. Training contracts, paralegal roles and pro bono work can all qualify for QWE and previously held roles could also count towards the two-year requirement if the duration and content of those roles can be confirmed by a solicitor.

As well as legal skills, the SRA requires aspiring solicitors to develop at least two of these competencies:

  • Ethics, professionalism and judgment;
  • Technical legal practice;
  • Working with other people; and
  • Managing themselves and their own work.

Victoria reported that, as of September 2023, BARBRI’s sponsored students were outperforming the national average, with:

  • 85% passing SQE1 (compared to the industry average 51% pass rate); with a 90% score or higher; and
  • 95% of BARBRI alumni passing SQE2 (compared to the industry average of 77%).

BARBRI is also outperforming the industry average when it comes to diversity attainment – particularly in the area of ethnicity.
As mentioned, you can also draw down from the Apprenticeship Levy fund to train aspiring solicitors by way of a solicitor apprenticeship.

The talent attraction opportunity

Following on from Victoria, Alison introduced LawQWE, the new platform that supports early legal careers candidates and helps employers identify and attract talent.

One of the great benefits of SQE is that in-house legal departments can offer candidates meaningful work experience – even if it’s not a full two-year placement. There’s no obligation to train candidates beyond what their role requires nor need they make any commitment beyond the work experience contract.

Consequently, adverts for in-house paralegals that allude to support for QWE and apprenticeships are on the increase. So too are adverts for SQE1 passes and LPC graduates on the transitional route.

LawQWE has identified five key areas that candidates feel are important to their support from employers. They are:

  • Constructive feedback on their progress;
  • Mentoring from established legal professionals;
  • Roles with genuine meaning and relevance;
  • Variety in assignments and learning outcomes; and
  • Access to skills and knowledge training.

To further learn about aspiring lawyers – and so personalise its support and advice - LawQWE is running the ‘Know your legal self’ campaign. The objective of the campaign is to identify via the MTBI (Myers–Briggs Type Indicator) test, an individual’s personality type. From here, a candidate can find a match on the LawQWE website to the type of legal role that best suits them.

Results so far have been telling. So far, LawQWE has found that:

  • 75% of qualified lawyers who responded have changed direction in their legal career since they first qualified;
  • 25% have switched from a different career;
  • Respondents, so far, represent eight different personality types and work in a wide range of legal settings – though these don’t yet include the corporate in-house legal function; and
  • Amongst aspiring lawyers, 50% of respondents report that simply doing the exercise has made them broaden their thinking about their career goals and potential employers.

LawQWE is looking to further validate its findings by inviting qualified lawyers of all levels of seniority and from all settings to take the free online personality test and complete the LawQWE survey( see https://www.lawqwe.com/employers-home) . 

The retention opportunity

As a provider of legal research, drafting and practical guidance, LexisNexis saw SQE as an opportunity to expand its development routes for paralegals. Josh explained that, in 2022, the business embraced the disruptive nature of SQE develop a new generation of innovative, adaptable and diverse lawyers. In so doing, LexisNexis has improved retention of its junior lawyers and future-proofed its business.

In practice, this involved a scheme of two cohorts, each comprising three candidates.

The first cohort had the requisite two years of QWE, the other didn’t. These candidates would be seconded to a law firm or in-house legal functions to gain the necessary experience. 

Currently, the third LexisNexis SQE offering is up and running. Partnering with LexisNexis on the scheme are:

  • BARBRI, who is providing a prep course for SQE1 and SQE2 and SQE exams for paralegals;
  • Pinsent Masons, in a reciprocal secondment arrangement benefiting paralegals without the requisite QWE; and 
  • LexisNexis UK’s in-house legal team for in-house secondments for paralegals needing QWE.

In summing up, Josh explained that the benefits arising from SQE are numerous for LexisNexis. For example: 

  • SQE provides a pipeline of talent for the business to nurture;
  • The business’s SQE offering positions LexisNexis as a more attractive employer than other organisations who don’t offer SQE pathways;
  • SQE is boosting diversity and inclusion – both at LexisNexis and within the wider legal profession;
  • More young solicitors are staying to build their careers at LexisNexis, whereas previously the business had lost talent to CMS, Clifford Chance, White and Case, Eversheds, the European Commission and others; and 
  • Its SQE pathway builds on and strengthens a core LexisNexis value: Valuing our People.

For further reading see The SQE and the opportunities for In-house legal, by BARBRI’s Tom Armstrong.

To access the webinar materials, use the links below:


SQE Legal in-house 101: Attracting, Nurturing & Retaining legal talent

LawQWE: Attracting, Nurturing early career talent

Retaining talent & the LN SQE initiative

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