By Victoria Cromwell, Head of U.K. Programmes
The introduction of the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in Autumn 2021 will mark the end of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), the current route to admittance as a solicitor in England and Wales for foreign-qualified lawyers.
The SQE will introduce a common, national examination that all prospective solicitors. Whether U.K. graduates or foreign-qualified lawyers―they will need to pass to qualify in England and Wales. The SQE is in two stages: SQE 1 will focus on legal knowledge and procedure; SQE 2 will focus on practical legal skills.
As things stand, the Multiple Choice Test (MCT) portion of the QLTS exam will no longer be available after July 2021. There will be a year grace period for the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE), however. This means there are several opportunities for foreign-qualified lawyers to sit and pass the QLTS before the SQE is implemented, and there are advantages to taking this route while you still have the time.
Qualifying Work Experience
Passing the QLTS exam is currently the only requirement for qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales. There is no need to undertake any period of training or work experience. Post-2021, foreign-qualified lawyers may need to prove a minimum of two years’ professional experience in order to satisfy the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requirement of competence to practice.
On the plus side, the SRA is considering whether this experience might qualify as an exemption from some or all of the SQE exams. The reality is that it will be difficult for the majority of foreign-qualified lawyers to be able to demonstrate the required competence and knowledge of English and Welsh law, particularly if they have trained in a civil law country.
The English Language Test
The current SRA proposal for the SQE includes an English language test requirement, where necessary. There is currently no such requirement for admittance as a solicitor in England and Wales after passing the QLTS assessments.
The current QLTS MCT exam consists of 180 multiple-choice test questions examined in one day over two sittings of 2 hours and 45 minutes each. This means students have roughly 1.8 minutes to answer each question. MCT students study purely substantive law, spread over 11 outcomes.
By contrast, the first stage of the SQE, SQE 1, is expected to be two exams each of 180 questions administered over two days. This is double the requirement of the QLTS MCT. The subject coverage is also greater, incorporating the procedural law of dispute resolution, property practice, and business practice.
The current OSCE exam covers the skills of:
- legal writing,
- legal research,
- advocacy, and
- client interviewing and preparation of an attendance note.
The skills assessed as follows: in the context of business law and practice, property and probate, and civil and criminal litigation. Over six half-days, there are eighteen assessments requiring students to not only become competent in the procedural law not covered by the MCT exam but also to master the skills.
While following a similar format to the OSCE, SQE 2 will require students to be competent in:
- client interviewing,
- advocacy/persuasive oral communication,
- case and matter analysis,
- legal research and written advice, and
- legal drafting.
The context of the assessments will be set in dispute resolution, property, business practice, criminal practice, and wills and the administration of estates and trusts. Current understanding is that each of the skills will be assessed twice, making for a total of ten assessments. On paper, this means the SQE 2 may be slightly less onerous than the OSCE, and all of the law required to be studied will have been covered in SQE 1.
Timetable for Passing
Candidates will have three attempts to pass each SQE 1 assessment. Currently, there is no restriction on the number of times a candidate can sit the QLTS MCT (although there is obviously now a stopping point for the taking of this exam).
The provisional fee range for the SQE exam has been confirmed as between £3,000 and £4,500 (up to nearly $4,995) for the two stages of the assessment. The QLTS exam currently costs £3,490, or just over $4,000. If the SQE assessments come out at the top end of the SRA’s estimate, which is our prediction given the extra complexity of the SQE 1 exam, this will be significantly higher than the current QLTS exam fees.
This alone is a good reason to start the process now to qualify as an English solicitor. You will likely save money and time by taking the QLTS path to internationalize your legal career.