Should You Become a Dual Qualified Lawyer to Advance Your Career?
With an interconnected globe, the corporate sphere has rapidly progressed into a realm no one quite predicted, and obviously, the lawyers which assist corporate entities, need to be on the ball now more than ever.
In order to offer as much as you can to your eager clients, qualifying in another country to practice as a lawyer is a viable option that will help you stand out amongst others.
With BARBRI International prepping lawyers to seek admission in other jurisdictions, we speak to Victoria Cromwell who shares how the qualification can pave a new path for those in the legal sphere.
Why should lawyers consider dual-qualifying in another jurisdiction?
In an increasingly challenging legal recruitment environment, being dual-qualified offers lawyers the opportunity to set themselves apart from the competition. As clients become more international, more cross-border transactions are being undertaken, and the need to have knowledge of more than one legal system, therefore, becomes even more important.
BARBRI sees lawyers from all backgrounds come through its doors, all of whom having differing reasons for wishing to dual-qualify. The bulk of those are looking to enhance their legal careers, whether that be through international secondments within their firms or by applying for positions elsewhere, particularly US firms here in London. Firms value dual-qualification. And as mentioned, with transactions becoming increasingly cross-border, clients value the fact that their lawyer has knowledge and understanding of more than one legal system.
The first element of the process in the US is to ensure a candidate is eligible to sit for the exam.
What are the requirements for qualification into the US or UK?
The US offers the opportunity to those who are fresh out of their law degrees here in the UK (or other common law countries) and to those from civil law jurisdictions who are already qualified, practising lawyers. It all depends on the state to which that person is applying. New York state permits those who hold a minimum of a three-year law degree from a common law jurisdiction to apply for eligibility, while the California bar requires any non-US educated applicant to be an admitted lawyer from any country in the world.
BARBRI has prepared over 1.3 million students for the bar exams across all US states for the past 50 years and enrols around 40,000 students per year. We specialise and support non-US law graduates and lawyers in the process of qualifying and fully preparing them for the rigours of the bar examinations by focusing on the skills and techniques that they need to successfully pass. We do that through our class-leading technology, coupled with specialist workbooks and individual mentoring by qualified US lawyers.
To qualify as a solicitor in England & Wales, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires candidates to have passed the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) exam. To be eligible to sit the exam, candidates must be a qualified lawyer from a jurisdiction recognised by the SRA.
BARBRI offers an online and on demand home study programme which is designed to be undertaken flexibly to accommodate law graduates and lawyers who have work or other commitments.
How long is the process for dual-qualification?
The first element of the process in the US is to ensure a candidate is eligible to sit for the exam. It is important to note that in the case of the US bars, this can take up to six months to be approved. BARBRI prepares candidates for the New York or California bar exams over a six or ten month period and the student sits their exam at the end of this period. This allows the student the ability to qualify within a minimum of a year.
In the case of the QLTS exam, candidates can choose to study the first part of the exam, the Multiple Choice Test (MCT), over three or six months, and then the second part, the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE), over three months, straight after (provided they pass the MCT). The whole process can therefore take as little as 11 months.
Time is always a big consideration, particularly for candidates who are studying alongside full-time employment.
Studying anywhere in the world: how does it work?
BARBRI offers an online and on demand home study programme which is designed to be undertaken flexibly to accommodate law graduates and lawyers who have work or other commitments. BARBRI students work with the support of a mentor who is a US or UK qualified lawyer, depending upon the exam being taken. Currently, we have candidates in around 47 jurisdictions around the world accessing their Personal Study Plan at different times of the day to balance their work/home life.
What are the challenges lawyers may face when trying to gain this qualification and how should they prepare for this?
Time is always a big consideration, particularly for candidates who are studying alongside full-time employment. BARBRI’s courses are designed with this in mind and are online and on demand and flexible in terms of duration. Studying for an exam in a jurisdiction governed by common law can sometimes be a challenge for lawyers who trained and qualified in a civil law jurisdiction. That is where the support of a 1:1 mentor can be especially useful. The format of testing through multiple choice questions can also be entirely foreign in terms of format for some candidates. BARBRI’s Personal Study Plan trains in Systematic Problem Solving and has a bank of 1000’s of practice questions to ensure candidates are fully prepared for this type of exam.
Our Foundations in US Law, which is stage one of the programme, provides candidates with an initial grasp of the law that they go into in much more depth within the main body of the course.
What about the transition from gaining the qualification and immersing yourself in the new practice? How does the qualification prepare the students for this?
The BARBRI International Bar Review programme prepares ambitious law graduates and lawyers for a US Bar exam, it does not give them a degree in US law. All of the learning we provide is written by US law professors and practitioners who have years of experience and are specialists in their respective areas.
Our Foundations in US Law, which is stage one of the programme, provides candidates with an initial grasp of the law that they go into in much more depth within the main body of the course. We find it helps set out the concepts and principles of US law in an easily digestible form.
The QLTS exam is taken entirely by qualified lawyers, most of whom will have already had some practice experience. The exam (with the assistance of the BARBRI prep course) gives international lawyers a thorough grounding in English law and contains rigorous skills assessments to enable them to practice competently in England & Wales.
For this reason, foreign lawyers wishing to qualify as a solicitor in England & Wales should consider sitting the QLTS exam whilst they still have the opportunity to do so.
Can you share more about the upcoming SQE qualification and what it means for the existing routes to qualification in England & Wales?
In Autumn 2021, the current routes to qualification as an English solicitor will be replaced by a single Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The SQE introduces national examinations that all prospective solicitors, whether UK university graduates or foreign qualified lawyers, will need to pass to qualify as a solicitor in England & Wales. The MCT part of the QLTS will be available to sit in July 2021 for the last time. The SRA has confirmed that for those who have passed the MCT prior to the introduction of the SQE, there will be a year transition period during which the OSCE will need to be passed.
For foreign qualified lawyers, passing the QLTS exam is currently the only requirement for qualification as a solicitor in England & Wales. There is no need to undertake any period of training or work experience. Post-2021, there may be the need to prove a minimum of two years’ professional experience in order to satisfy the SRA of competency to practice. On the plus side, the SRA is considering whether this experience might mean exemptions from some or all of the SQE exams itself. However, in reality, it is difficult to see how the majority of lawyers will be able to demonstrate the required competence and knowledge of English law, particularly if they have trained in a civil law jurisdiction. The current SRA proposals will also require an English language test, where necessary. There is currently no such requirement for admittance as a solicitor in England & Wales after passing the QLTS.
Whilst final details of the exam specification have not yet been published, we do know that the first stage of the SQE will consist of more exams than the MCT and as a result, the exams and prep courses are likely to take longer and be more expensive. For this reason, foreign lawyers wishing to qualify as a solicitor in England & Wales should consider sitting the QLTS exam whilst they still have the opportunity to do so.
For domestic candidates and foreign qualified lawyers in the future, BARBRI will be a prep course provider for the SQE exams for 2021.
Victoria Cromwell is Head of UK Programmes at BARBRI International. Victoria is an English qualified solicitor with over 12 years’ experience in private practice (Addleshaw Goddard, Linklaters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer). After making the decision to move into professional education, Victoria taught law for Kaplan and BPP, and was the course designer for the contract law and business law modules for BARBRI International’s QLTS prep course.