How to become a solicitor: a guide for international lawyers and overseas students

Catherine Brims
Catherine BrimsInternational policy adviser (North Asia and the Pacific) at the Law Society
Marco Cillario
Marco CillarioInternational policy adviser (Europe) at the Law Society

From September 2021, lawyers from abroad and overseas students who wish to qualify in England and Wales can sit the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) . The SQE provides a path to the solicitor title through the same exam taken by domestic candidates. The first examinations will take place in November 2021.

What is the new exam?

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE ) has replaced the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) and will allow lawyers from outside England and Wales to requalify through the same exams taken by solicitors who qualify domestically.

Unlike the QLTS, the SQE is open to candidates from all jurisdictions – not just those recognised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Introducing a single, final, centralised qualification exam has also brought England and Wales in line with most other jurisdictions.

Foreign lawyers may be eligible for exemption from some of the SQE requirements (see below).

It's no longer possible to register to start the QLTS. If you've already registered, you can find out how to complete the QLTS below.

What are the requirements under the new system?

To requalify as solicitors, foreign lawyers need to:

What is the structure of the new exam?

The SQE is divided into two parts:

  • SQE1 consists of two exams in multiple-choice question format
  • SQE2 consists of a series of practical assessments of skills through written and oral examinations

Find out more about the SQE structure

How should I prepare?

The SRA will not require candidates to complete any preparatory courses before sitting the SQE, nor to have any specific university degree.

However, taking an SQE preparation course may give you the best chance of passing the assessment.

Find an SQE training provider

Can I sit SQE1 outside the UK?

Yes. SQE1 will be entirely available internationally at a range of text centres.

Can I sit SQE2 outside the UK?

SQE 2 written assessments will be available internationally at a range of test centres.

You'll need to sit SQE 2 oral assessments in England and Wales over two and a half days.

Am I eligible for exemptions?

Lawyers qualified overseas can apply for exemption from the SQE on the basis of prior qualifications or experience.

You may seek exemption for one or more of the following parts of the SQE assessments:

  • SQE1 Functioning Legal Knowledge 1
  • SQE1 Functioning Legal Knowledge 2
  • SQE2

You'll need to show that your professional qualification is equivalent to the whole part of that assessment.

If exempt, you will not need to sit the corresponding SQE assessment(s) (see regulation 3.2 of the Authorisation of Individuals Regulations).

If you're granted an exemption from SQE2, you may need to prove your English or Welsh language competence.

Once an exemption is granted to a jurisdiction, lawyers qualified in that jurisdiction can apply to benefit from that agreed exemption.

You can apply for a new exemption or to benefit from an agreed exemption using the online form at mySRA(You'll need a mySRA account to access the form.)

Foreign bars and law societies can also apply for SQE exemptions for their members by contacting the SRA education and training unit at etuqs@sra.org.uk

Find out more about exemptions and how to apply

See the list of exemptions granted so far or being considered

Irish solicitors

Irish solicitors are fully exempt from the SQE. They do not have to sit any examination in order to requalify in England and Wales, and can apply for admission with the SRA directly, after completing a pre-screening process.

Read more about exemptions

Do I need to complete a period of training before requalifying?

No, fully qualified foreign lawyers are exempt from any Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) requirement.

How much does the new exam cost?

The total cost of the SQE assessments is £3,980, which breaks down as:

  • SQE1 – £1,558
  • SQE2 – £2,422

In addition, candidates may wish to take courses, or buy resources, to help them prepare for the SQE assessments.

Can I still start the QLTS requalification route?

No, it is no longer possible to start the QLTS requalification route. 

If you booked a place by 26 May, the last multiple choice test takes place on 7 July 2021.

Successful candidates wishing to complete their qualification through the QLTS will have until 31 August 2022 to:

  • sit the second part (the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE)), and
  • apply with the SRA for admission to the roll of solicitors

Alternatively, you can sit the second part of the new SQE instead of the OSCE. In this case, you'll have until 31 August 2023 to complete the qualification.

If you fail the QLTS multiple choice test in July, you cannot progress through the QLTS. Instead, you can take the SQE.

What if I've already passed the first part of the QLTS?

If you've already passed the multiple choice test, you have two options to complete the qualification.

You can sit the:

  • second part of the QLTS (the OSCE), or
  • SQE2

Sitting the OSCE

The booking deadline for the July 2021 sitting is 7 June, 5pm (UTC+1).

Further sittings will take place in:

  • November 2021
  • March/April 2022

Successful candidates will need to apply for admission to the roll of solicitors by 31 August 2022.

Sitting SQE2 instead of the OSCE

The first sitting of SQE2 will be in April 2022.

Successful candidates will have until 31 August 2023 to apply for registration on the roll of solicitors.

What is the new exam?

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is replacing the traditional route to access the solicitor title from September 2021.

It will offer much more flexibility and opportunities for overseas students to access the legal profession in England and Wales, as most of the requirements under the new system can be carried out abroad.

What are the requirements under the new system?

To qualify as solicitors, candidates from overseas need to:

Do I qualify for the SQE if I have a degree or equivalent qualification from outside the UK?

Yes. A non-UK qualification will be valid towards the SQE if it is:

Can I qualify for the SQE if I do not have a degree?

Yes. Candidates are eligible for the SQE if you can show work experience equivalent to a UK degree. This would be a sufficient standard of general education and learning (level 3 equivalent of the Regulated Qualifications Framework) and considerable work-based learning.

Applications for equivalence will be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

What is the structure of the new exam?

The SQE is divided into two parts:

  • SQE1 consists of two exams in multiple-choice question format
  • SQE2 consists of a series of practical assessments of skills through written and oral examinations

More details on the structure of the SQE

Can I sit SQE1 outside the UK?

Yes. SQE1 will be entirely available internationally at a range of test centres.

Can I sit SQE2 outside the UK?

SQE 2 written assessments will be available internationally at a range of test centres.

You'll need to sit SQE 2 oral assessments in England and Wales over two and a half days.

How much does the new exam cost?

The total cost of the SQE assessments is £3,980, which breaks down as:

  • SQE1 – £1,558
  • SQE2 – £2,422

In addition to this, candidates may wish to take courses, or buy resources, to help prepare for the SQE assessments.

How should I prepare?

The SRA will not require candidates to complete any preparatory courses before sitting the SQE.

However, taking an SQE preparation course may give you the best chance of passing the assessment.

Find an SQE training provider

Can I use work experience outside the UK?

Yes. You can carry out the two-year qualifying work experience (QWE) anywhere in the world, but it must be signed off as meeting the SRA requirements by a solicitor of England and Wales.

QWE can be done at a maximum of four separate organisations, including:

  • law firms
  • legal clinics in academic institutions
  • law centres
  • other appropriate organisations

There will be no minimum length of time for placements.

The work experience does not need to be completed in one block directly before qualifying as a solicitor. Candidates can gain experience as you progress through your education, and this can include summer work placements or work as a paralegal, so long as it's signed off.

Candidates should consider whether a placement will offer enough time to develop the necessary competencies you'll be seeking to have confirmed and signed off.

Read more about QWE 

Can I still qualify as a solicitor through the old route?

If you're already on your way to becoming a solicitor by September 2021, you can complete your qualification through the traditional route.

Read more about the transitional arrangements and who qualifies

Why become a solicitor?

Qualifying as a solicitor of England and Wales creates new career opportunities.

English law is the global commercial law of choice, chosen by businesses to govern their international trading and as the legal framework for most international commercial transactions.

Find out more about the SQE

SQE requirements and cost

Transitional arrangements from QLTS to the SQE and resources for foreign lawyers

Last dates and arrangements for the QLTS

Career advice

Book your assessment by registering with the SRA

 

If you have any questions, email international@lawsociety.org.uk.

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