A significant proportion of registered solicitors in England and Wales have entered the profession via an alternative route. A large number of those have come from outside the UK, which is why we thought we'd give you the low-down on qualifying from overseas.
If you are already a qualified, practising lawyer in your home jurisdiction and want to work in the UK, then keep reading for a blow-by-blow account of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) – a system run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) allowing lawyers from foreign jurisdictions to qualify as solicitors in England and Wales.
If you are an overseas student studying abroad and are interested in coming to the UK to become a lawyer, skip to the bottom of this page to find out what the options are for you.
Remember that this is a guide for becoming a lawyer in England and Wales only:Scotland has a separate legal system.
If you're already qualified as a lawyer overseas... anchor
QLTS - the basics
The Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) was introduced by the SRA on 1 September 2010 to replace the old QLTT (Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test). This was done for various reasons: partly to reflect recent changes in legal education and regulation, and partly to make the testing of foreign lawyers entering the marker tighter and more thorough.
The QLTS has vastly expanded the number of jurisdictions from which lawyers can cross-qualify. The QLTT was basically only designed for EU and Commonwealth citizens, but the QLTS can be completed by individuals from many more jurisdictions including Russia, China and several South American countries. Unlike the old system, the QLTS no longer requires applicants to have two years' experience practising English or common law. Instead, they undertake a series of assessments.
To be eligible for the QLTS you need to be a qualified lawyer in an SRA-recognised jurisdiction and have followed the full route to qualification. A qualified lawyer is someone with rights of audience who is recognised as an officer of the court. So, the QLTS is for individuals who are already practising law as professionals, not those who have completed a law degree overseas and are seeking to enter the profession.
The SRA has appointed Kaplan Law School as the sole provider of the QLTS assessments for a three-year period. Kaplan charges £3,230 for the service (much more than the £800 charged for the QLTT). Regulations prohibit Kaplan from offering preparatory training for the assessments, so this task is left to three other course providers: BPP, Central Law Training and QLTS School (all of which are commercial institutions).
Unlike under the previous QLTT system, BPTC graduates can no longer use the QLTS to qualify as a solicitor. To be eligible for the QLTS barristers must have completed a pupillage. In order to become a solicitor, BPTC graduates now have to take the LPC (from which they are granted certain exemptions).
QLTS – the assessment
+ Before completing the QLTS assessments, applicants must obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from the SRA, affirming their right to practice law in their home jurisdiction. The certificate is valid for a five-year period and costs £200 for EEA applicants or £400 for non-EEA applicants.
+ If you are not a native English speaker or from a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) there is also an English language requirement.
+ Like ancient Gaul, the QLTS assessment is divided into three parts: Part one, a multiple choice test (MCT) covering 11 areas: legal institutions; constitutional law and judicial review; professional conduct; regulatory and fiscal issues; contract law; torts; criminal law; land law; equitable rights; human rights; and business structures and legal personality. Part two, the objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) is a practical examination to test client interviewing and advocacy skills, based around three practice areas: business law; civil and criminal litigation; and property and probate law. Finally, part three, a technical legal skills test (TLST) covers legal research, drafting and writing, in the context of the three practice areas mentioned above. More information on the content of Kaplan’s assessments is available on its website.
+ Applicants need to pass part one before progressing to parts two and three. Parts two and three can be taken in any order. You can take three attempts at each part; if you fail any part three times, you have to wait for your five-year Certificate of Eligibility to expire. You can then reapply for a Certificate and try the test again.
+ EEA lawyers are individually assessed on the basis of the QLTS’s competency requirements, to determine whether there are components of the QLTS assessments which they can be exempted from.
The SRA website provides a lot more information on assessments, qualifying jurisdictions and the QLTS in general. As the QLTS is a relatively new system, do keep an eye out for any changes which might be made to it in the near future.
If you're an overseas student...anchor
As we mentioned above, the QLTS is designed for professionals who are already practising law, not those who have studied law abroad and want to come and work in the UK. If this is your background you probably need to follow a different route into the profession. (Although, depending on your experience and the legal practice regulations of your home country, you may be entitled to pursue the QLTS too.)
Students who have completed a full-time three-year degree in any subject from an overseas university qualify for entry onto the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), after which you can complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) if you want to become a solicitor, or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) if you want to be a barrister.
Overseas law degrees are not recognised by the SRA as qualifying law degrees (nor are most LLMs completed in this country). If you have a law degree from an overseas institution, you can apply to the SRA for a Certificate of Academic Standing in order to skip the GDL and qualify for direct entry onto the LPC or BPTC. However, if you cannot obtain a Certificate of Academic Standing you must enter the profession the same way as British non-law students: via the GDL.
After completing law school, you must complete two further years of training within a law firm. This period is known as a training contract. Much of the rest of this website is concerned with the many different training contracts that are available: why not have a look around?
Sharon Jacobs, graduate marketing advisor at Linklaters, tells us that the most common route to a training contract for overseas students is either to study law in the UK and then do the LPC or come here for an LLM or postgraduate degree, followed by the GDL and LPC. Don't forget that all the usual application timetables apply here, with large commercial firms recruiting two years in advance.
Several major firms – especially the magic circle and others based in the City – actively recruit students from overseas. Linklaters, for example, sends staff to both India and Australia to look for talented young lawyers, as it sees the whole world as its recruiting stage. “We want top quality people and they can be found all around the world,” says trainee solicitor partner Simon Firth. You can read more about how Linklaters recruits from overseas and its Indian and Australian internship programs on its graduate recruitment website.