African lawyers wanting to expand their practice to include England and Wales need to be aware the qualification process is changing. Victoria Cromwell, director of UK Programmes for the BARBRI Group, explains.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in England and Wales are bringing in a new route to qualification for domestic candidates and foreign-qualified lawyers in the second half of 2021.
The current system allows law schools to teach, set and assess their own courses so there is a range of standards. The new system will be a centralised test so should lead to better standardisation.
There has also been a concern that the current system does not address issues of diversity and social mobility, as students not sponsored by a law firm are required to pay up front for the costs of the current LPC/GDL course with no guarantee of employment at the end of their studies.
So, what all this means is that the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will replace the current Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme or QLTS.
The new examinations (although not 100% finalised yet) will follow a similar format to the QLTS but with part one focusing on multiple choice testing and part two comprising a skills assessment.
Currently it is a two-part exam consisting of a multiple choice examination and a test of legal skills. The QLTS is rigorous, but with proper preparation is manageable, even alongside a full-time job. BARBRI’s prepares students through part-time online learning with the support of a 1:1 study mentor.
Our understanding is that SQE 1 will be tougher (and twice as long) as the QLTS multiple choice test although there are possible exemptions to some or all of SQE for qualified lawyers, but full details have not been provided by the SRA yet. Domestic students are required to undertake 24 months Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) as well as passing the SQE, but again there might be exemptions from this for foreign-qualified lawyers with practice experience.
One of the big advantages of the change is that, because the new SQE is split into two parts, self-funded students will be able to spread the cost. It will also offer the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’ and bank employment such as through paralegal experience towards QWE which will replace the traditional training contract.
The time frame for all, if it is approved by the Legal Services Board, means the SQE will come into force in third quarter of next year, with the first SQE part one assessment in November 2021.
African lawyers wanting to be registered in England and Wales need to be aware that the new SQE exam has parallels with the US bar exams, for which BARBRI has successfully prepared students for more than 50 years. This is borne out by the success of our QLTS MCT students, 81% of whom passed first time compared to the usual published pass rate of 50%.
In terms of costs the exam is administered by Kaplan and further details of the QLTS fees can be found here
The SQE fees are still to be determined, but the SRA have confirmed that they will be between £3,000 and £4,500. The BARBRI course fees will be confirmed in due course once details of the exams have been finalised, but we expect them to be in the region of £6,000 - £7,000.
It is an investment worth making. In an increasingly challenging legal recruitment environment, being dual-qualified offers lawyers the opportunity to set themselves apart from the competition. As clients become more international, more cross-border transactions are being undertaken, and the need to have knowledge of more than one legal system, therefore, becomes even more important. English law governs the majority of cross-border transactions, so dual-qualification into England and Wales is a smart choice for those wishing to globalise their legal careers.
And, of course, being dual-qualified also means considering the US as an option. The US offers the opportunity to those who are fresh out of their law degrees in Common Law countries and to those from civil law jurisdictions who are already qualified, practising lawyers. It all depends on the state to which that person is applying. New York State permits those who hold a minimum of a three-year law degree from a Common Law jurisdiction to apply for eligibility, while the California bar requires any non-US educated applicant to be an admitted lawyer from any country in the world. BARBRI offers preparation courses for both the New York and California bar exams.
To find out more about BARBRI and how they can help you prepare to become a UK qualified solicitor please click here
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