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How to Become a Solicitor in England & Wales as a Qualified Lawyer from Overseas

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Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE)

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is being phased in during 2021 as the new centralised way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. It will replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is the former route to practicing law, and once the transitional phase is over law schools in England and Wales will stop offering the LPC. The SQE is a new system of exams divided into two stages – SQE1 and SQE2 – that will be introduced from September 2021, and all prospective candidates will have to pass both stages of exams to qualify as a solicitor. As well as passing both stages of the SQE, prospective candidates must complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and demonstrate that they have suitable character to work in this field.

Put simply, to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales through the new SQE route you need to:

1. Have a university degree in ANY subject.

2. Pass SQE1 and SQE2 exams.

3. Complete two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).

4. Demonstrate suitable character.

The SQE differs from the LPC in that it is a series of exams rather than an actual course, as a result of this the SQE does not involve any direct education or training. New law conversion course options will be launched alongside the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to offer students a range of options to prepare for the SQE.

Read our article on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination for the complete lowdown.

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Practising as a solicitorUntil the SQE gets phased in from September 2021, here is what you need to do if you are actually a qualified lawyer and you want to practice as a solicitor in England and Wales, but you qualified in another country.

Stage one

Qualified within the EU
If you are a qualified lawyer in any member state of the EU Rule 15 (Overseas practice) and rule 16 (European cross-border practice) of the Solicitors' Code of Conduct explain the conduct requirements for Registered European Lawyers (RELs).

Qualified outside of the EU
In order to practise as a solicitor in England and Wales, you must sit the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS). The QLTS is a conversion test that enables lawyers qualified in certain countries outside England and Wales (such as the US, Israel, Australia, Nigeria, India and South Africa), as well as UK barristers, to qualify as solicitors.

Before entering for the QLTS, you must first obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from the Law Society of England and Wales. This will confirm which Heads of the test you must pass, together with any requirement for further training. This can take six to eight weeks to process. This will vary according to the primary jurisdiction of the applicant.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is currently reviewing requirements for overseas lawyers, but as of March 2008, lawyers from outside the European Union are required to satisfy The Law Society that they have gained two years of common law experience within the past five years. Such experience must have been undertaken in three areas of common law, and must have covered contentious and non-contentious areas of practice.

If you are not eligible to sit the QLTS, then you will need to follow the route to qualification as a non-law student.

Stage two

The QLTS is usually paid for by a firm itself and so, for many, the task of job hunting as a newly qualified English lawyer would have begun before the start of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme.

Every day in the legal press, you will read about UK firms opening offices in new countries and merging with overseas firms to further increase their international dominance. In addition many international firms are also opening offices in the UK as it offers a bridge from the US to mainland Europe and beyond. The UK legal market has been and will continue to expand both rapidly and globally and UK firms need the experience and language skills non-UK nationals can offer.

The market for overseas qualified lawyers is strong as always in the UK and to get a better of idea of the kind of vacancies are open to you, here are a few useful websites to start your job hunting:

Benefits to gaining an LLM when you want to be a Solicitor

You do not need to have an LLM qualification to become a solicitor in the UK – whether you are a UK citizen or not – however there are many career benefits to gaining this qualification. A Master of Laws program is the ideal way to increase knowledge in a specific field of law and students can choose to specialise in a whole range of areas, for example International Law or Environmental Law, and this improved knowledge will make you a much more appealing prospect to future employers. An LLM qualification will help you stand out from other applicants, and don’t forget it is also a well respected qualification internationally.

You can find out more about the top 10 reasons to study an LLM program here.

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