Studying for the SQE as an overseas lawyer

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Working and studying across borders has become the norm for international commerce during the past decade, with geographic location and traditional barriers becoming less important. This includes the legal sector and for those who want to be able to explore exciting career opportunities across the globe there’s never been a better time to get started.

For qualified lawyers and legal students around the world, London remains a major centre of activity and the prospect of practising in the UK is an attractive one. Being dual-qualified means you’re able to offer wider expertise to clients as well as within your firm or for a prospective employer. Naturally, there’s the small matter of qualifying to work across jurisdiction to get past first. That said, the UK legal market has had a bit of shake up recently regarding routes to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales, and this also stands to benefit overseas lawyers.

Designed to open the legal profession to a greater diversity of candidates with costs reduced and routes to qualifying expanded, the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) or ‘super exam’ comes into effect in November 2021. Introduced by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA), the SQE will become the route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales for UK graduates, overseas students and lawyers already qualified in their own jurisdictions. But what does this mean in practice for overseas lawyers looking to study for the SQE? Let us explain.

The SQE – a new route to qualification

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Phasing out the QLTS

If you’re already qualified in a country or jurisdiction recognised by the SRA and are seeking dual qualification, the existing process is to undertake the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS). However, new enrolments for the QLTS are now closed, and the SQE is set to officially replace the QLTS (along with the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) for students).

Now, this won’t happen overnight. If you’ve already started the QLTS, there will be a period of transition with options on how to complete your dual qualification.  The SRA has specified that students who have passed the MCT part of the QLTS by 1st September can choose to:

  • Pass QLTS part two (the OSCE) and apply for admission by 31st August 2022;

OR

  • Pass SQE2 and apply for admission by 31st August 2023.

What does this mean those looking to dual qualify?

If you’re qualified as a solicitor in your own country but not already undertaking the QLTS, to gain dual qualification and practice in England and Wales via the new SQE route you must:

  • Be a qualified lawyer with a professional qualification and practise rights;
  • Pass SQE1 and SQE2;
  • Meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements.

Depending on your level of experience, in some cases you can apply to the SRA for exemption for elements of the SQE1 and SQE2. However, if exemption in part or whole, is granted, you may still have to undergo an English language test.

We’ve recently put together a full guide with wider information on qualifying via the SQE and the requirements you’ll have to meet, and you can access that here.

Key considerations for SQE Prep as an overseas lawyer

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What are the benefits of dual qualification?

As international operations become more ingrained in legal practices, particularly in commercial law, becoming a dual qualified lawyer can help to support career progression. This can be is aligned with your firm’s business targets and growth plans. Whether you plan to relocate or serve your firm on an international stage, dual qualification can bring a competitive edge and enhance your overall skillset by practising under a wider jurisdiction.

Will I need to study for the SQE in the UK?

With BARBRI, all learning materials are available entirely online and are designed to complement your Personal Study Plan (PSP). This means that you will have access to everything you need, without relocating for study. For sitting the SQE1, you may need to travel, depending on your nearest test centre availability which you can check here. SQE2 exams will take place in the UK so you will need to be physically present for these.

Will I have access to any support?

We know that the qualification experience is about more than the exam and we pride ourselves on our 1:1 mentoring support from industry experts. When you sign up for one of our SQE Prep courses, you’ll be assigned a Learning Coach who will help to guide you through the process and provide feedback on practice questions and course assignments, offer study tips and help you prepare for success.

Will I need to undertake Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) in the UK?

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If you’re a qualified overseas lawyer, your professional experience will be considered by the SRA. If you hold a legal qualification that is recognised jurisdiction, you will not need to evidence QWE and can instead progress to the assessment stages.

If you would like more information or if you have any additional questions, speak to our team today.

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