Written by our lead consultant: Ingemar Hunnings
I’ve been asked to write an article giving some guidance for foreign qualified lawyers who would like to cross-qualify as a Solicitor of England & Wales. What I write will apply in general to anyone who is classed as a ‘foreign qualified lawyer’ i.e. qualified outside of the legal jurisdiction of England and Wales (and actually applies to barristers in England & Wales as well). I should state first of all that I am not part of the SRA and what I write is from my research, reading their website and questions put to them. The final arbiter will always be the SRA and the best email to use to ask them is: [email protected]. What is written below is my current understanding at the time written.
The way that people qualify as a solicitor of England & Wales has changed. In September 2021 the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority, which is the regulatory body for solicitors in England & Wales) brought in the SQE route for qualification to replace the LPC route. We are now in the transition stage between the 2 routes. https://www.sra.org.uk/become-solicitor/legal-practice-course-route/transitional-arrangements/ Basically if you had not started your degree by 22.9.21 you cannot use the LPC route to qualify, but have to use the SQE route.
Foreign qualified lawyers have been using several pathways to qualify as a solicitor and clarity is only gradually emerging as to what they do to complete that path during these transition times. So, I shall set out what the requirements are for the SQE route and then attempt to deal with the various wrinkles I’ve come across in the hope that this meets as many of your circumstances as possible. I will insert links for additional information, principally from the SRA website and our website.
I shall not go into why the SRA have changed things, other than to say that the LPC system was broken. Under the SQE the SRA, as regulator, has taken back responsibility for deciding who it says is fit to be accredited as a solicitor of England & Wales. The SRA sets the exams and is responsible for their administration (although it has delegated the running of the exams to Kaplan). Instead of different organisations setting and running the exams, under the SQE, EVERONE sits the same exams. There are 4 elements:
Foreign Qualified Lawyers – your route
I will try to give the best guidance I can below, based on my current understanding, on your route through this depending on several different circumstances.
The first thing to note is that foreign qualified lawyers are exempt from the QWE requirement. However, there is a wrinkle in a particular scenario – see below (LPC).
Secondly, the QLTS Scheme is no more. It stopped in September 2021.
The requirement for a degree or degree equivalent remains, as far as I am aware. So does the 4th element. The SRA have said that, if someone has been able to get exemption from both exams (which is unlikely) then the SRA may require the Aspiring Solicitor to undergo some further assessment to satisfy them that they have a sufficient command of the English language to safely practice as a solicitor of England & Wales (I guess Welsh would do!) – given that the SRA would not have seen that through the exams.
Exemptions from the exams
One may apply for exemptions from the exams - from both the SQE1 and or SQE2. Here is a link to an article I have written summarising my research in this area which itself has links to download the form to be submitted and also a guidance note I have written. https://www.hunningsconsultancy.co.uk/sqe2-exemption-for-foreign-lawyers-review-advice/
You will see that the form is quite long. Sections 1-4 need to completed in every circumstance.
SQE1 - if you want also to apply for exemption from SQE1 you need to complete sections 5 and or 6 to apply for exemption from the FLK1 and or FLK 2 parts of the SQE1 exam. They require the compilation of a large and detailed dossier of evidence to support your application to persuade the SRA that you already have the requisite knowledge in all the practice areas, experience and that the legal system in which you are qualified as a lawyer is not significantly different from that of England & Wales. These sections of the form start:
“Please tell us below how your qualification and experience are not substantially different to the FLK1 content and standard. This is so we can be sure you can practise safely in England and Wales.
You need to show us that:
In webinars I have attended the SRA have indicated that they are much less likely to grant exemption from the SQE1 than the SQE2. It appears to me that so much effort is required across so many different practice areas to successfully gain exemption that one might as well take the SQE1 exam.
SQE2 – you are much more likely to be successful with an application for exemption from the SQE2 exam. You be going to sections 7 or 8 of the form. Section 7 is to be used if you have 2 years professional legal work experience (no definition of this given), but there is no requirement I can see for this to be in England & Wales or in English or Welsh law. Section 8 is to be used if you have less than 2 years professional legal work experience. There is again a requirement to provide quite a lot of information (which I will go through in summary below), but my opinion is that this situation will be uncommon and you are better waiting until you have your 2 years professional legal work experience and then applying through section 7 above for exemption. The application is made through your ‘MySRA’ profile on the SRA website. The fee is currently £265. What you submit together with the form (and presumably proof of your qualification) will vary and I will run through below. The SRA give themselves 180 days to assess your application, although I have heard that they have taken a lot less time with many applications.
7a – if you have 2 years professional legal work experience, gained as part of your qualification – you will not need to submit anything extra. Effectively the SRA are relying upon your regulatory body.
7b - if you have 2 years professional legal work experience, gained post qualification - you need also to get a letter of reference for this work from your supervisor and a ‘certificate of good standing’ from your local legal regulatory body for you and for your referee (or equivalent for the referee if they are not a lawyer). There is guidance in our article on what needs to go into the letter of reference. We have gained clarification form the SRA as to who can provide the letter of reference: https://www.hunningsconsultancy.co.uk/who-can-be-a-supervisor-sqe2-exemptions-for-foreign-qualified-lawyers/ This might be of assistance if someone at the SRA takes a view that the referee needs to be a lawyer.
7c – if you have 2 years professional legal work experience, gained through a combination of both post qualification and as part of your qualification – pretty much the same as for 7b above, but obviously for a shorter period of time.
8 - you do not have 2 years professional legal work experience - you will have to fill in the table at section 8 and submit with it a dossier of supporting evidence. Hence, my suggestion that you complete your 2 years professional legal work experience.
LPC – what happens if you have actually passed your LPC (the old method of qualification as a solicitor)? If you have a training contract, you might as well finish that. If you do not, the SRA has now given clarification. Here is a link to a summary we have written: https://www.hunningsconsultancy.co.uk/foreign-qualified-lawyers-sqe1-exemption-if-you-have-passed-the-lpc/ In short: you will need to a) register for, sit and pass the SQE2 exam; b) prove that you passed your LPC (the SRA will ask for your LPC certificate when you apply to become a solicitor) and c) have 2 years full time equivalent QWE (Qualifying Work Experience) confirmed to the SRA by an SRA regulated solicitor (we can help as external confirming solicitors if you do not have an SRA regulated solicitor in your organisation to do the confirmation: https://www.hunningsconsultancy.co.uk/external-qwe-certification-service-2/)
QLTS – if you were part way through qualifying through this scheme when the SQE came in and the QLTS suspended, the SRA have recently given clarification on the route for you to qualify now. Here is a link to an article setting out that clarification: https://www.hunningsconsultancy.co.uk/qlts-mct-the-sqe/. In summary: If you have passed the MCT but not the OSCE you have 2 options: complete the QLTS route or move over to qualify through the SQE route.
I hope this has given some assistance in guiding you in these times of transition through from the LPC & QLTS routes to the SQE route to qualification. Feel free to contact us for such clarification as we can give, or indeed go direct to the SRA on the email at the beginning of this article.
Ingemar Hunnings is a qualified solicitor who spent 24 years in private practice, 14 of which as an equity partner. He was head of a department of 60 litigators and was also compliance manager for that department. He now runs a management consultancy, HCL which is a one-stop-shop for business support for law firms. This includes a lot of compliance support, assistance with some case management systems (LEAP & Proclaim principally), support regarding the SQE and other general business support & consulting work. https://www.hunningsconsultancy.co.uk/