Posts

Solicitor: Internationalize Now to Make Life Easier Later

By Victoria Cromwell, Head of U.K. Programmes
BARBRI International


Solicitor Qualifications

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.

Exam Format

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:

  1. legal writing,
  2. legal research,
  3. drafting,
  4. advocacy, and
  5. 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:

  1. client interviewing,
  2. advocacy/persuasive oral communication,
  3. case and matter analysis,
  4. legal research and written advice, and
  5. 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).

Exam Cost

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.

The Legal Profession in England & Wales Explained: Solicitors & Barristers

By Victoria Cromwell, Head of U.K. Programmes, BARBRI International

What does it mean to be a lawyer in England and Wales?

Here, the legal profession is split into two distinct branches: solicitors and barristers. While these roles overlap to an extent, they represent two very different qualification paths for aspiring lawyers. Let’s take a look at both routes to legal practice.

The Role of the Solicitor

Solicitors provide legal advice to their clients over a wide range of practice areas, ranging from buying and selling houses to helping businesses with the legal issues arising from commercial transactions. Solicitors are able to represent their clients in lower courts and, with training known as Higher Rights of Audience, can become solicitor advocates and represent them in higher courts. This is usually a right only given to barristers.

If you chose the path of solicitor, you may work in private practice in a law firm, as part of the legal department of an organisation (known as working “in-house”), or for local or central government. Currently, there are around 136,000 practising solicitors in England and Wales regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Route to Qualification as a Solicitor

There are two primary routes to qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales for domestic students: via a qualifying law degree or a non-qualifying law degree. Legal apprenticeships are also available, as is a route to qualification through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).

After obtaining a qualifying law degree, law students sit the Legal Practice Course (usually a year in duration) and then undertake a practice-based two year period of recognised training, or a training contract, as a trainee solicitor. Those students with a non-qualifying law degree need to do an additional period of study and take a course known as the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which is effectively a conversion course, and then progress on to the Legal Practice Course and training contract like students with qualifying law degrees.

All prospective solicitors also need to undertake the Professional Skills Course, which is usually completed during the period of recognised training. On completion of the training described above, an aspiring solicitor can be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in England and Wales.

It’s worth noting that after autumn 2021, the opportunity to take the existing domestic routes to qualification (CPE, GDL, LPC), and the current route to qualify as a solicitor in England & Wales for foreign-qualified lawyers, the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), will be limited due to the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The SQE is due to replace all previous routes to qualification. For more information on the SQE and how it will affect your route to qualification, view the BARBRI SQE calculator.

The Role of the Barrister

The Bar Council which regulates barristers in England and Wales in the public interest defines barristers as:

“…specialist legal advisers and courtroom advocates. They are independent, objective and trained to advise clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their case. They have specialist knowledge and experience in and out of court, which can make a substantial difference to the outcome of a case.”

Barristers (or Counsel, as they are often referred to) are usually self-employed and take tenancy in a set of chambers. Chambers are occupied by groups of barristers who often specialise in the same practice area and share the cost of premises, etc. Currently, there are around 16,000 practising barristers in England and Wales. These are the lawyers who wear the wigs and gowns!

Unlike solicitors who are retained or instructed directly by their clients, barristers are typically instructed by solicitors to act on behalf of their clients. Although clients can now instruct barristers directly, this practise is still unusual.

Barristers were historically the only lawyers permitted to represent clients in the higher courts. However, this is no longer the case with the introduction of solicitor advocates. Barristers often specialise and advise on complex areas of the law, and advise solicitors on points of law on complicated or unusual cases. This is known as obtaining an opinion from counsel.

All barristers are initially known as ‘Junior Counsel’ until they become Queen’s Counsel (QC for short), which is a recognition of outstanding ability. The process of becoming QC is known as “taking silk”, on account of the different (silk) robes that QCs wear. Barristers are all members of one of the four Inns of Court based in London: Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, and Middle Temple.

The General Council of the Bar is the approved regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.

Route to Qualification as a Barrister

Much like solicitors, barristers can start their qualification journey by undertaking a qualifying law degree or a non-qualifying law degree and CPE/GDL course. Aspiring barristers must then successfully pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test and join an Inn of Court before commencing the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which can either be taken over one year full-time or two years part-time. The BPTC is a vocational course designed to give students the skills required for their careers as barristers. It includes advocacy and exercises in drafting legal documents and writing opinions. Having completed the training requirements set out above, a student would be “called to the Bar”. At this time, they are considered a qualified barrister but will not be permitted to practise until they have completed pupillage.

Pupillage is the final stage of training to become a barrister―a period of training under the supervision of a barrister. Pupillage lasts for 12 months and is usually undertaken in a set of barristers’ chambers. Pupils are required to complete an Advocacy Training Course in their first six months and a Practice Management course in their second six months. After the pupillage year, a pupil would hope to be offered tenancy in the chambers where they undertook their pupillage.