SQE Exemptions and Opportunities for Foreign Qualified Lawyers in English Law
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) provides a more flexible and accessible route for foreign lawyers and overseas students to qualify as solicitors in England and Wales. Exemptions from some or all SQE requirements may be available for foreign-qualified lawyers, depending on their jurisdiction and qualifications. Dual-qualifying in English law can enhance their professional standing and open up new career opportunities.
English law is the most popular governing law for cross-border agreements and dispute resolution, with more than 40% of international corporations choosing to follow it for their commercial contracts. Accordingly, there's a large market for lawyers who are dual-qualified in English law, with opportunities to work with international companies operating across the world.
Generally, foreign-qualified lawyers are exempt from the requirement to have their Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) confirmed to the SRA. They may also receive exemptions from the SQE1 or SQE2 exams, depending on the SRA's decision. The SRA maintains a list of agreed exemptions for certain jurisdictions on its website - more information can be found here.
Obtaining an exemption for SQE1 is more challenging, as candidates must demonstrate that their home qualification covers similar content to English and Welsh law and is not substantially different. Exemptions for SQE2 might be easier to obtain, as candidates need to show that the practice rights and the way lawyers practice law in their jurisdiction are substantially the same as in England and Wales.
The SRA emphasises the importance of English (or Welsh) language proficiency for qualified English solicitors. If the SRA cannot assess a candidate's language skills due to exemptions from SQE2, they may require the candidate to take a language test.
With the introduction of the SQE, the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) was abolished. Candidates who passed the QLTS's Multiple Choice Test (MCT) can no longer complete their qualification through the QLTS route but must qualify as solicitors of England and Wales through the SQE route. Those who passed the MCT may apply for an exemption from the SQE1 exam. It appears that the overseas test centres used for the QLTS MCT exam are now being used for the SQE1 exam, meaning it is likely that candidates will not have to travel to the UK to sit the SQE1 exam.
Foreign-qualified lawyers can apply for an SQE2 exemption if their country or jurisdiction appears on the SRA's list of approved exemptions. To apply for exemption, candidates must complete the appropriate sections of the exemption application form and submit it through their "MySRA" portal, along with proof of qualification and the £265 fee. The SRA aims to inform applicants of their decision within 180 days of receiving the application for exemption.
In conclusion, the SQE offers foreign-qualified lawyers a more accessible path to qualify as solicitors in England and Wales. Depending on their jurisdiction and qualifications, these lawyers may be eligible for exemptions from some or all SQE requirements, streamlining their path to qualification.