It is one of those things you read and then it hits you on an idle Thursday afternoon in a traffic jam, as the mind wanders. The Solicitor Regulation Authority’s In House Solicitors Thematic Review published in March 2023 states that there are 34,500 inhouse lawyers in 6,000 organisations. Whilst the figures are significant in themselves, the question of precisely who is working for those solicitors and the career opportunities that might emerge as a result is intriguing. What is the position of those individuals 'already there' who have ability and expertise to qualify as a solicitor yet may not realise that the option is open to them?

Jane Jarman

Jane Jarman

The in-house lawyer has now morphed into the position of 'General Counsel' with a senior strategic management position in large organisations. However, there are roles within charities, local government, insurance, even universities, at an operational level. The complexity of such roles - which can encompass everything from employment law, financial compliance and sanctions, IP portfolio management, GDPR, contracts and procurement, often with an international dimension - requires levels of technical expertise from a variety of support staff who may not even appreciate that they are operating within a paralegal context.

The new flexibility in the qualification framework for solicitors may open doors to those in a variety of in-house roles. In the past, few in-house departments offered the classical training contract model because of the bureaucracy and long-term planning required. The position is different under the new qualifying work experience (QWE) framework, alongside the SQE assessments. It is much more profound than just a 'flexible training contract.' Any large organisation with a sizable legal team is likely to have opportunities for intending solicitor to gain valuable experience which would also be of interest to independent law firms in the long term.

The requirement to carry out two years of 'recognised training' in a pre-authorised training organisation is now a thing of the past. QWE sets a requirement for two years’ experience of 'legal services.' This arrangement requires that an intending solicitor completed at least two of the solicitor competences set out in the SRA’s paper Qualifying Work Experience for Candidates. Its completion must be certified by a solicitor, inside or outside the organisation, with knowledge of that individual’s work. This is not an assessment of competence in the role, but merely an opportunity to develop. It is a much more elastic concept, both in context and coverage, than a traditional training contract, given that the SQE assessment is the gatekeeper to qualification.

So, who could take advantage of this new elasticity in the QWE framework?

Firstly, the recent graduate may find roles in-house to be of more interest now that they are untethered from the traditional training contract. Long term, a role in-house may well carry considerable cachet. After all, in-house legal departments are potentially lucrative law firm clients.

Secondly, there is a potential for a senior individual who is already qualified in one profession to 'dual qualify' as a solicitor. The route of SQE1 and SQE2, and a retrofit of preexisting QWE, could offer a viable (if arduous) route for a variety of professionals, such as a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney or Chartered Accountant, whether in-house or in private practice.

I am suggesting that within the ranks of newly qualified solicitors there will be those who are already qualified professionals in some other area first. The legal profession has always been open to those who had first careers but had to take the jump to 'go back to law school' to qualify. Such a decision requires massive personal and financial commitment and a significant leap of faith. This is a question of not just personal aspiration and diversity, but also business need in retention and promotion of experienced colleagues.

Finally, there is the 'lawyer but doesn’t [yet] know it' category. This is, possibly, the most innovative idea. If we accept that the world has become more complex in terms of the multiple regulatory obligations that govern most commercial operations, even relatively small sized organisations may have developed a quasi-legal capacity of some sort. Whilst they may not be badged as such, they may well be paralegal in the widest sense of the word. At what point is it wrong to say that a contracts manager is not as skilled in aspects of their work as a commercial solicitor. Surely it is better to harness that expertise promote existing staff. Some will wish to remain in their roles, but qualification as a solicitor should now be a viable option to those who wish to undertake SQE Assessments and obtain 'sign off' of suitable QWE.

What is the endgame here? There is at least the potential, over time, for the newly qualified solicitor to have gained experience in a variety of settings with more of a mixed economy in law firm and in-house deployment. A recently qualified solicitor, with a background in a regulatory law from an institutional client, could bring additional qualifications to private practice at an earlier stage in their career. It is worth looking at the solicitor competencies when benchmarking any paralegal role. Subject to a pass in SQE 1 and 2, that newly qualified solicitor might be already there, and ready.


Professor Jane Jarman is a solicitor and professor at Nottingham Law School