TRAINING AND QUALIFYING AS A SOLICITOR IN ENGLAND AND WALES

As a leading cross border law firm between England & Turkey, many times we have been asked law by students and lawyers how to qualify as a solicitor in England & Wales. We prepare this note to guide them and answers their questions.

In light of the recent changes following Brexit, training and qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales is now more accessible and straightforward for foreign students and lawyers. In this week's article, we summarised the training and qualification requirements for prospect solicitors as well as work options for foreign lawyers who are looking to practice in England and/or Wales without having to qualify as a solicitor.

What is a Solicitor and how does it differ from a Barrister?

Someone who is looking to enter the legal sector may expect to qualify and work under the title of a 'lawyer' or 'attorney', but the legal system of England and Wales separates the work a lawyer does as two distinctive positions: solicitors and barristers. The term 'lawyer' is a general term used to describe a person who is a Licensed Legal Practitioner who is qualified to provide legal advice in one or more legal disciplines. Both solicitors and barristers are types of lawyers. The work of these two professional groups partially overlaps, but they have different (but equally vigorous) training and qualification structures.

Solicitors are qualified legal professionals who provide professional legal advice and support to individuals, groups, private companies or public-sector organisations. They are usually the first point of contact in a legal issue as they evaluate and advise on the appropriate legal action to be taken depending on their legal expertise.

Barristers usually offer specialist legal advice and represent individuals as well as organisations in courts and tribunals and through written legal advice.

Solicitors work directly with clients. They meet with clients, take their instructions and then advise them on the law and legal issues surrounding their particular case. They handle all the paperwork and communication related to their clients' cases by writing documents, letters and contracts tailored to the clients' needs, ensuring procedural accuracy, and preparing papers for court.

Barristers are hired by solicitors to represent a case in court and only become involved once advocacy is needed. The role of a barrister is to "translate and structure their client's view of events into legal arguments and to make persuasive representations which obtain the best possible result for their client."[1]

Solicitors negotiate with clients and opposing parties to secure agreed objectives, gather evidence, ensure the execution of agreements, calculate claim amounts, and co-ordinate the work of all parties involved in the case. Their work extends from high-profile commercial work to personal injury cases, family law issues, criminal law, wills and probate, and administration of estates.

Solicitors represent clients in disputes and, where necessary, in court. However, in complex disputes, solicitors often instruct barristers to attend court on behalf of their clients.

Barristers usually specialise in particular areas of law such as criminal law, chancery law, commercial law, entertainment law, sports law, and common law. They generally advise clients on the law and the strength of their case and provide them with a written 'opinion'. Barristers advocate on behalf of their clients and the client's solicitor in court; they present their case, examine and cross-examine witnesses and give reasons why the court should support the case. They then negotiate settlements with the other side.

Around 80% of the barristers practising in England and Wales are self-employed[2]. Other barristers are employed, for example, in solicitors' firms advising clients directly, in agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service, or in specialist legal departments in industry, commerce, charities or central or local government, advising only the organisations they work for[3].

Barristers who are self-employed work in offices known as Chambers which they share with other barristers. As barristers within a chambers are all independent of each other, they can often act on different sides in the same legal dispute. In contrast, solicitors practising in the same law firm are prevented from doing so due to conflict of interest issues.

Becoming a barrister can be rewarding, but it is also highly competitive. There are far more people wanting to become barristers than there are places available. After completing the LLB or the Graduate Diploma in Law ('GDL'), an aspiring barrister must take a one-year Bar Professional Training Course ('BPTC'), then complete a year's pupillage with one of the four barrister's inns where they shadow a senior barrister and compete to secure a tenancy i.e. the entitlement to continue to practice from a set of chambers.

In contrast, training as a solicitor is slightly less competitive but just as challenging, and there have been significant changes in the training structure in light of the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union. We have summarised below the entire training process, both the traditional route and the new route introduced with Brexit, for prospect solicitors.

While there are other routes to qualify such as becoming a Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) lawyer or completing a solicitor apprenticeship, we will be focusing on the main pathways implemented by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in this article.

Training and Qualifying as a Solicitor

The regulating body for solicitors in England and Wales is the Solicitors Regulation Authority ('SRA') and it decides the requirements of qualification and practice for solicitors as well as assess whether an individual is personally fit to become a regulated solicitor of England and Wales.

Before the changes implemented upon Brexit, the pathway to qualify as a solicitor ('the traditional route') had three stages:

· Legal knowledge

· Vocational qualifications

· In-work training (also known as 'Period of Recognised Training', or 'PRT')

Step 1: Legal Knowledge

The first step for a career in law is obtaining a qualifying Law degree ('QLD') or a non-Law degree (or a Law degree obtained in a country that is not England or Wales) followed by the Graduate Diploma in Law ('GDL').

A 'qualifying' Law degree includes all the elements of legal knowledge specified by the SRA. LLB programmes offered by any university in England and/or Wales are considered to be QLDs.

Candidates who hold an LLB diploma obtained outside England and Wales or a non-Law diploma are required to complete the GDL to ensure they hold a QLD before qualifying as a solicitor. The GDL is a one-year programme which teaches the foundations of legal knowledge.

Step 2: Vocational Qualification

After obtaining the LLB or the GDL, candidates are required to take the Legal Practice Course ('LPC') which is a vocational course based on practical learning of three core practice areas of business law, property law, and criminal and civil litigation. The course also provides a practical setting for a variety of significant skills a solicitor needs such as interviewing and advising clients, advocacy, practical legal research, drafting, professional conduct and regulation, taxation, and solicitors' accounts. The course typically lasts nine months with an option to add LLM modules to obtain a combined LLM LPC diploma, which lasts an additional three months.

Step 3: Period of Recognised Training

The last step in the traditional route to qualify as a solicitor is to complete a 2-year full-time Period of Recognised Training, which is most commonly known as a Training Contract. Training Contracts comprise of four 6-month 'seats' which offer practical experience in different areas of law. Successful Trainee Solicitors have the opportunity to continue working as a solicitor at the firm they completed their Training Contract in.

Training Contracts are highly competitive as there are fewer trainee positions than there are candidates, and most firms start their recruitment process in the second year of university.

After completing these three stages, a prospect solicitor must apply to the SRA
for approval to become a solicitor. Once approved, the candidate will be a certified and regulated solicitor of England and Wales. Overall, this process takes at least six years, but it is rewarding and highly valuable.

The New and Improved Route to Qualification

The SRA introduced a new two-part Solicitor Qualifying Examination ('SQE') in 2021, changing the path to become a solicitor ('the SQE route'). It is no longer necessary to have a qualifying law degree to undertake the SQE; anyone with an undergraduate degree or equivalent will be able to become a solicitor without the need to obtain a GDL.

The SQE is a common, centralised entrance exam which tests candidates on their functioning legal knowledge and their practical legal skills through written and practical assessments. Individuals who wish to qualify as a solicitor will now need:

· A degree in any subject or an equivalent qualification;
· To pass SQE 1 and SQE 2;
· Two years' Qualifying Work Experience ('QWE'); and
· To pass a final character and suitability test.

SQE 1 intends to test candidates on applied legal knowledge through two multiple-choice exams focusing on a variety of legal sectors. SQE 2 focuses on practical legal skills, sampled across five practice areas: criminal litigation, dispute resolution, property practice, wills and probate, and business organisations rules and procedures. Skills similar to those taught during the LPC such as client interviewing and advocacy, legal analysis, legal research, drafting and writing are also assessed through 15-18 tasks or 'stations'. In addition to legal knowledge and skills, both SQE 1 and SQE 2 assess candidates for ethics and professional conduct.

To complete the QWE stage, 24 months' experience of providing legal services must be obtained and documented. This can be with up to four organisations, whether paid or unpaid, and it does not need to be completed all at once. Work experience can be done in England or Wales or overseas, and it does not need to cover English and Welsh law. It could include placements while on a law degree, working with a voluntary organisation such as Citizens Advice Bureau, or within a law firm as a trainee, apprentice or paralegal. Experience must be signed off by a solicitor.

Individuals who began a Law degree, the GDL or the LPC before 2021 may opt to either follow the traditional route until 2032 to qualify as a solicitor, or to switch to the SQE route. However, candidates who have taken steps to begin the Solicitor qualification process in 2021 and after must qualify through the SQE route.

Qualifying and Working as a Registered Foreign Lawyer in England and Wales

Individuals who are qualified as lawyers outside of England and Wales and who are looking to work as a manager or owner of an authorised law firm in England and Wales have the option to register as an RFL, or, Registered Foreign Lawyer, with the SRA instead of qualifying as a solicitor.

RFLs are able to practice the law of their home state as well as advise on England and Welsh law, provide and supervise unreserved legal services and other relevant services such as preparing documents for and carrying out advocacy in immigration tribunals, assisting in the conduct of litigation under the instructions and supervision of a person entitled to carry out litigation, and supervising foreign legal work within the relevant rules. RFLs may wish to qualify as a solicitor through the SQE route as well.

[1] Slater and Gordon, 'Differences between a lawyer, a solicitor and a barrister' (Slater and Gordon Newsroom, 23 September 2016) <https://www.slatergordon.co.uk/newsroom/difference...> accessed 20 January 2021
[2] ibid.
[3] ibid.
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