How to become a lawyer in the UK: a guide for overseas students
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...
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) and the first exams were held in 2011. 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.
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.
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 and whose qualification was awarded as part of a generalist legal education and training. 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. Regulations prohibit Kaplan from offering preparatory training for the assessments, so this task is left to other course providers including BPP, QLTS School, and City Law School. You can find more information on QLTS assessments, rules and deadlines on Kaplan's website.
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
- After taking the test, the SRA will make inquires into your character, suitability and whether you are qualified in your home jurisdiction.
- Non-native English speakers no longer need to satisfy any English language requirement in order to be eligible to sit the assessment. That said, if your English isn't up to scratch, you're likely to struggle.
- The QLTS assessment is divided into two parts:
- Part one, a multiple choice test (MCT) covering 11 areas: the English legal system and EU law; constitutional law and judicial review; professional conduct and solicitors' accounts; regulatory and fiscal issues; contract law; torts; criminal law; land law; equitable rights; human rights; and business structures and legal personality. The MCT assessment is divided into two sessions of nearly three hours each, with 90 questions in each session. It is delivered online and can be taken in the UK as well as in other major cities around the world. The exam fee is £565 plus VAT.
- Part two, the objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) involves a client interview and completion of attendance notes/case analysis, advocacy/oral presentation, and online legal research, legal writing and legal drafting. The practice areas covered are business law; civil and criminal litigation; and property and probate law. The OSCE runs across several days and is offered in the UK only. The exam fee is £2,925 plus VAT. More information on the content of the assessments is available on Kaplan’s website.
- Applicants need to pass the MCT before progressing to the OSCE. Applicants who fail on the first go are no longer limited to three attempts at each part. It is possible to re-take the assessment as many times as you want (so long as you pay the appropriate fee). There is no time limit for completing the two parts of the assessment within a certain time period.
- Lawyers from the European Economic Area (EEA) 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. Lawyers from other jurisdictions must pass all the components of the assessments and cannot apply for exemptions.
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...
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.
Students who have completed a full-time 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. (In addition, foreign lawyers following the QLTS who have successfully completed the LPC are entitled to apply to the SRA for full exemption from the MCT.)
Overseas law degrees are not recognised by the SRA as qualifying law degrees.
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. 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?
Our grad recruitment sources tell 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.
We have also come across individuals who undertook the QLTS followed by a training contract at a law firm; at the same time other sources said they would expect those who've done the QLTS to apply for experienced lawyer vacancies within the firm (provided they have previous work experience as a lawyer – see above).
Several major firms – especially the magic circle and others based in the City – actively recruit students from overseas.
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. You can read more on Linklaters' graduate recruitment website about its Indian internship and Australian clerkship programmes.
Qualifying as a lawyer in England and Wales is a lengthy process but the interesting opportunities available once you've qualified make it well worthwhile – provided you're truly committed.