As a lawyer, you are a well-trained, trusted and hardworking part of a well-regarded and prestigious profession, working in a highly competitive environment.
You already know there is a heavy emphasis on Continuing Professional Development (CPD) or Continuing Legal Education (CLE) – developing and honing lawyers’ skills and legal knowledge. It goes without saying that forward-thinking lawyers are constantly building their portfolio of professional services and expertise, ever on the lookout for ways of advancing their legal careers and expanding their practice.
The days of your primary professional qualification being enough to secure your career are gone. The legal market – and indeed the world of business – is changing radically. If you want to carve out your place in the legal world, you need to go beyond the norm and differentiate yourself from other lawyers.
Many law graduates and lawyers opt for the academic route and pursue a Master of Laws (LLM) degree. There has, however, been a substantial increase in the number of lawyers who appreciate that the transformed and evolving legal market requires lawyers to develop and demonstrate a new way of thinking and working, based around enhanced skills and expertise, which directly benefit their firms and clients – far more so than another academic degree, which may not provide any practical advantages.
In this blog post we discuss how becoming a dual-qualified English solicitor – a legal professional in the world’s most important jurisdiction and open business economy – will change the way you work and what you can do for yourself, your firm and your clients.
We will review the SQE – introduced in England and Wales in 2021 – that presents lawyers just like you with the opportunity to become an English solicitor in just a few months, without undergoing a traditional training contract, an internship or fulfilling any experience requirement.
Whether you are newly qualified as a lawyer or a senior partner, whether you plan to live in London or develop your practice in your home jurisdiction, or whatever country you are qualified as a lawyer – be it in the U.S., India, Italy, Russia, China or elsewhere – becoming a dual-qualified English solicitor via the SQE will provide you with more legal knowledge, unique practising skills and an outstanding professional profile. It will also offer you a remarkable opportunity to hold one of the most prestigious titles in the legal profession – an English solicitor.
Until recently, most law schools focused on a uni-jurisdictional legal education to cater for a highly localised legal profession. Few lawyers saw the need to apply to gain admission to foreign Bar Associations or equivalent Law Societies. Before the dawn of the global village, lawyers could practise law with little if any cross-jurisdictional knowledge and expertise.
Times have changed, however, and lawyers now form part of an increasingly interconnected world, traversing diverse jurisdictions and legal systems. This has spawned the need for legal services providers that can operate seamlessly on an international and global level. National borders are no longer a barrier to doing business. Many organisations have looked to benefit from the increased profits and recognition that come with worldwide operations and a global focus.
In practical terms, this means more and often higher value transactions that involve parties in different countries and complex issues of fact and law on which considered and trusted legal advice is essential for the protection of all parties.
As more companies double down on overseas operations and cross-border activities, dual-qualified lawyers are set to play an indispensable role in enabling and protecting global trade and competition.
Global businesses seek equally global law firms, a challenge to which the legal profession is responding rapidly. Some of the world’s largest law firms now have a presence in both major and emerging markets, through mergers and acquisitions or expansion into different geographic areas. Thousands of lawyers may work under the banner of a single firm, yet may be dispersed throughout the world, working and specialising in the legal practice areas that keep the modern global business machine well oiled.
Despite the economic uncertainties that have largely prevailed since 2008, top law firms continue to compete for excellent candidates. There will always be a demand for internationally qualified and deployable legal professionals. The strategy of global expansion and service pursued by law firms – and, most importantly, the increasingly complex demands of their clients – requires the services of foreign and dual-qualified lawyers from an increasingly large number of jurisdictions.
In light of this global expansion, Ted Burke, former Chief Executive of global law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, foresees many opportunities for dual-qualified English solicitors to work on global transactions both in London and beyond, such as Asia, the U.S., Europe and Latin America. The skills and abilities of dual-qualified English solicitors are likely to be more highly sought after and yield further opportunities to live and work anywhere in the world.
The hub of many business negotiations, transactions and a pre-eminent forum for dispute resolution, London is unquestionably one of the command centres of the global economy. Over half of the FTSE 100 companies, one-fifth of Europe’s 500 largest companies and 75% of the Fortune 500 companies choose to base or have a presence in London. Five of the world’s 10 largest law firms are headquartered in London, whilst international law firms, particularly from China, are establishing a presence in the city so as to service domestic clients living or working in Europe, as well as competing for a share of the lucrative local legal market.
Whether it is finance, insurance, media, banking, trading, advertising or professional services, London offers a business-friendly environment and a central international location. With English law recognised as being the dominant law of business, London is both the natural choice and preferred city for dispute resolution – whether litigation or arbitration.
A survey conducted in 2010 by Queen Mary, University of London and sponsored by White & Case LLP: ‘Choices in International Arbitration’ – reveals that 40% of corporations use English law as the governing law of cross-border transactions, followed by 17% who use New York law as their law of choice.
Moreover, in the 2015 survey by Queen Mary, University of London and sponsored by White & Case LLP: ‘Improvements and Innovations in International Arbitration’ London was referred to as the most preferred and widely used seat of arbitration or litigation, with a reputation for a fair, efficient and impartial judiciary.
As previously mentioned, with recent developments and globalisation trends in the legal profession, lawyers are no longer confined to the jurisdiction in which they were educated and qualified. Ambitious lawyers can now be found in major trade centres and legal capitals across the world.
An awareness of the local cultural, economic, political and social norms of each jurisdiction, therefore, is an essential component and a practical aspect of the legal services and advice provided by a lawyer.
To survive in the new legal order, the new breed of ”international lawyers” must provide sophisticated and specialised legal services to individuals and corporate clients of all sizes anywhere in the world, tailored perfectly to the clients’ individual needs.
While still few in number, the new breed of “international lawyers” are at the forefront of a movement that is fundamentally changing the legal profession. Demand for their skills and services has increased and is set to rise further.
To meet this international demand, “international lawyers” should have a working knowledge and experience of legal systems of their respective jurisdictions and have the legal and regulatory right to practise law in multiple jurisdictions unimpeded.
We have already discussed the requirements of the legal profession and the changes in the environment in which law firms operate today, but what about the clients?
Globalisation trends are changing what clients expect from lawyers. A German company may buy up property in Brazil, whilst a British electronics company may wish to source component parts from a specialist Chinese manufacturer. Meanwhile, a French company in dispute with a US corporation wishes to have their dispute resolved through arbitration in London. A glance at any good business newspaper will give you a flavour of just how borderless international business has become.
Clients today are sophisticated, their expectations are high and they demand effective, prompt and cost-effective results. Clients expect lawyers to make business happen by advising on risk, facilitating transactions and representing and protecting their interests.
Lawyers must cover all areas of a transaction, from employment to intellectual property and everything in between. This requires knowledge of local legal systems, international conventions and treaties and of the governing jurisdiction.
Today’s clients are looking for lawyers and law firms who offer a one-stop service, able to offer an intimate knowledge of their client’s business, the continuity and confidentiality of a full-service practice and the resources that allow every part of a client’s business and legal needs to be serviced by one provider.
Even relatively small clients now have activities that cross country lines, and they do not expect to require separate legal service providers for each country they operate in.
It is therefore apparent that in an increasingly competitive world, lawyers with dual-qualification have a competitive advantage over their colleagues and are, accordingly, able to offer a much more comprehensive service to their clients.
By now, you probably understand why you should qualify in more than one jurisdiction. You might be wondering, however, why qualify in England?
Prized for its fairness, protection and impartial application, English law remains the preferred jurisdiction for global business.
The title of English solicitor is more than just an addition to your CV or resumé – it’s in fact a mark of global excellence. Through its historic dominance of maritime trade, English law has played a significant role in influencing the development of legal and regulatory regimes internationally.
Moreover, the training and qualification process in England and Wales is internationally well regarded.
There are several reasons and motivations why lawyers are looking to join the Roll of Solicitors in England and Wales:
Interestingly enough, the majority of lawyers seeking to become dual-qualified English solicitors do not intend to practise in London, preferring instead to stay in their home jurisdiction and utilise the skills, qualification and knowledge they have gained by qualifying as English solicitors.
The solicitors’ profession is diverse. It ranges from sole practitioners working for local consumers, ‘boutique’ specialist outfits, mid-tier firms servicing a mixture of private and commercial clients in London and the regions, to large multinational firms acting for international clients.
There are currently over 130,000 solicitors licensed to practise in England and Wales, regulated under a single regulatory regime. The Law Society has, since January 2007, delegated its regulatory powers to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The trend towards globalisation and the major developments in the legal profession have suited the flexible legal system found in the UK. This flexibility allows lawyers, wherever they first qualified, to have access to proportionate and reasonable transfer arrangements and permits UK law firms to compete internationally for the best talent to complement their own domestic talent.
These trends led to the introduction of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), which was the fast-track route for international lawyers to re-qualify as English solicitors from 2011 until 2021. It was then replaced by the SQE.
Qualifying as an English solicitor takes your professional profile to the highest, most respected level. You’ll be able to work on a range of domestic and international matters, undertaking work restricted to those who hold the qualification. Whether you choose to work in a leading law firm in London or remain in your home jurisdiction and develop your legal career locally, being a qualified English solicitor will open doors for you.
Combined with your chosen specialism, you will be armed with important insights and advice on the legal and factual aspects of doing business across multiple jurisdictions. This can make the difference between a business enterprise profiting or plummeting, because you will be able to provide answers and advice on matters that only someone with your training and qualification can give.
From São Paulo to Sydney and Moscow to Johannesburg, the valuable and highly sought after skills and expertise of a dual-qualified solicitor, fluent in the law and language of England as well as their own jurisdiction, provides exciting opportunities for key roles in helping to shape global business.
The LLM is a highly specialised qualification that takes an academic approach to complex aspects of many areas of legal practice, and can provide specialist theoretical expertise in a niche area of law.
While gaining an LLM is a worthwhile achievement in itself, it is not as valuable as being able to demonstrate your experience and practical skills to major law firm recruiters.
Dual-qualification as an English solicitor through the SQE means you gain a prestigious and internationally recognised qualification and allows you to demonstrate both your academic and practical prowess.
You also develop, to a high standard, the practical skills a lawyer requires. These practical skills include: legal knowledge and application, research and analysis of fact and law, written and verbal communication, time management and the provision of legal advice in a commercial context.
These practical skills of a dual-qualified lawyer mark you out as an outstanding legal adviser, but are not restricted solely to the legal profession – organisations across all sectors recognise the added value you have to offer from acquiring these transferable skills.
Further, the practical advantages of dual-qualification presents opportunities for you to assume important roles in law firms or to work within industry as a qualified solicitor, undertaking work at a level that befits, and can only be performed by, a professionally qualified person.
Finally, even if you are an LLM graduate, becoming a dual-qualified lawyer via the SQE will undoubtedly complement your academic knowledge with practical skills and make your professional profile appealing both to law firms and your clients.
For many forward-thinking lawyers, the only consideration is which secondary qualification to work towards, the chief candidates being English law and New York law.
The relative merits and challenges of the SQE and New York Bar Exam have been considered at length, but although New York is undoubtedly a world finance, business and legal centre, its legal system is far less internationally pervasive for international trade than English law.
For many, this tilts the balance firmly in the favour of the SQE. Indeed, many New York lawyers themselves opt to qualify as English solicitors to expand their professional profile.
The SQE is your key for foreign and internationally trained lawyers to becoming a dual-qualified English solicitor – it unlocks the international career and professional benefits outlined in this blog post.
The SQE comprises assessments that test candidates’ application of knowledge and understanding of English law, as well as various skills required to practise as a solicitor. There are two sets of assessment under the SQE:
SQE1 must be passed before the SQE2 can be attempted. You can attempt each set of the assessment three times in a six-year period.
There is no experience requirement or training contract to complete prior to your admission to the Roll of Solicitors on the successful completion of all the SQE assessments.
Foreign lawyers may also apply for an exemption from SQE2.
The assessments are offered in the UK twice a year by Kaplan, a sole assessment provider appointed by the SRA. SQE1 is now also offered in a number of international locations around the world. To ensure the integrity of the assessment process, the assessment provider is not allowed to offer preparation courses for the assessments.
It is therefore extremely important to prepare for the SQE assessments with an established SQE course provider that will guide you through the assessment requirements, build your knowledge, skills and confidence, so that you can sit the assessments knowing that you are as fully prepared as you can be.
QLTS School is a provider of training and consulting services for the SQE assessments. The company has extensive experience in this field and prepared thousands of candidates for the QLTS assessments, which has been the model for the SQE since 2021.
The SQE preparation courses are based on professionally written textbooks, video tutorials, online resources and extensive tutor support. Training is available to candidates wherever they are based around the world, and allows maximum flexibility, especially for lawyers working full-time.
The days of local lawyering are now firmly behind us. To stay relevant in the global business environment, ambitious lawyers should be looking to adapt to the ever-expanding needs of their clients.
English law remains the dominant choice of law for cross-border commerce, maritime and dispute resolution, and English law qualification therefore holds the key to offering clients a global approach to fulfilling their legal service requirements.
The SQE provides ambitious lawyers with access to that key, creating future-proof, client-focused, internationally-savvy dual-qualified lawyers. Ultimately, it’s your choice whether to invest in your legal career and acquire those skills of a ‘modern-effective lawyer’.