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How I passed the QLTS as an American: Pandemic Edition

I decided to embark on becoming a solicitor in England & Wales because in 2018 I was heading the legal department for the U.S. and United Kingdom for a start-up.

When I started at that company I did not know until day two of my employment that my duties would include a region I had not had much experience with. I was definitely up for the challenge and as I started to work on real estate, corporate, and litigation matters in the UK I was able to point out the many similarities to the laws in the U.S.

Out of curiosity, I researched what it would take, if and at all possible to become a solicitor. I found out as a Florida licensed attorney I only had to take an exam.

“Only” was an understatement but I jumped in anyway. You can find the requirements to be fit to sit for the exam at the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority’s website (SRA). Read the requirements thoroughly. Not all jurisdictions qualify for this exam and the application is submitted after you pass the exam. Additionally, you will find the Day One Outcomes that will be tested, more on this below.

During my research, I did not find many articles written by Americans on the exam process, and at the risk of sounding like a typical American, I really could have used that perspective. I also did not know when I embarked on this with a full-time job at a very demanding start-up that I would also have to endure a pandemic, quarantine, travel restrictions, salary reductions, and home-schooling.

So I hope this helps others considering this process.

Summary of the Exam

The Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) is being replaced by the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) on 1st September 2021 more information can be found at https://qlts.kaplan.co.uk/the-assessment).

However, I will set out a brief overview of the QLTS below.

Part I: The Multiple Choice Test (MCT), is a five-and-a-half-hour multiple-choice test held on one day with a break for lunch. You will be tested on Day One Outcome A from the SRA site. The test is split into two sessions of 2 hours and 45 minutes, with 90 questions in each session. I was able to take the exam in New York.

The topics are:

  • The English Legal System and European Union Law
  • Constitutional Law, Judicial Review
  • Professional Conduct, Solicitors’ Accounts
  • Financial Services, Taxation, Money Laundering
  • Contract Law
  • Torts
  • Criminal Law
  • Property Law
  • Equity and Trusts
  • Human Rights
  • Business Law

Part II: The Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) tests the practical application of the law. It examines three topics in different exercises over a 6 day period, it was not held in the US or Canada. I had the exam in London:

  • Property Law and Probate
  • Civil and Criminal Litigation
  • Business Law and Practice

Each topic is assessed using the following exercises:

  • Client interview
  • Completion of attendance note/ case analysis
  • Advocacy/oral presentation
  • Legal drafting
  • Legal research
  • Legal writing

MCT

Courses & Study Materials

You are not required to purchase any courses but depending on your budget, prior experience, understanding of the English language, and personal needs you may want to. After all, this is not an exam you want to retake. There are various private courses available, I suggest you read reviews and find the right fit for your studying style.

I was on a budget so I did not purchase any courses for the MCT.

Instead, I purchased all the Oxford University Press (“OUP“) books from online retailers, used if I could find them. They ranged in price from $12- $25 USD.

Each book was for one subject. I also went online to their site and reviewed their free resources http://global.oup.com/uk/orc/law/lpc. I printed the Day One Outcome A and used it as a syllabus.

I answered the CILEX past papers. These are not multiple choice questions but they were good problem-solving exercises and the questions on equity, trusts, tax, and solicitor’s accounts where you have to do actual math came in handy since you will be doing calculations at the exam. Make sure you choose the ones with the corresponding solutions. The most recent years may not be up and it is a good way to check yourself https://www.cilex.org.uk/study/information_for_students/exams. Gov.UK is another great resource that will walk you thru all the laws in clear language.

Pro Tip: I would compare the MCT to a 1L education. You need to know what battery is but you are not expected to argue a defense. Often times you will have two right answers. One is more right or preemptive than the other so it’s imperative that you work on your speed since you waste a lot of time in that debate process and you only have 1.8 minutes to answer each question. You can find practice questions on the Kaplan site. I also went to each of the private course providers’ websites and took advantage of all their sample questions. I did these questions over and over again during my preparation. You can also find study guides created by other test takers online. Just be careful that they are up to date.

Study Plan & Timing

Obviously, this depends on your background. I have been a Florida licensed attorney for 18 years in various areas of the law and have been working on projects in the UK for over two years.

Some of the subjects I am well versed in and some I needed a refresher on. I started four months before the test date. First, I read all the OUP books. Since they are single subject they are not too long. I did the CILEX papers and the sample questions rotating subjects.

After a once over of each subject I prepared flashcards, probably over 100 of them. If there was a concept that was identical to Florida law and I was comfortable with I would not waste my time reviewing. You will find a lot of similarities in probate and real property law i.e. joint rights of survivorship. I spent hours writing and reviewing these flashcards. I took these cards with me to New York and studied them until I had to put my belongings in the locker.

I studied the first couple of months for about 1-2 hours every evening and 5-12 hours every weekend depending on my family obligations. The last month before the exam I studied about 20 hours every weekend. I did not take any time off from work.

Pro Tip: Use the Day One Outcome A as a syllabus and write out a study plan month by month. You are learning the law and then putting it into practice. Make sure you are reviewing each subject in rotation. Do not waste time on reviewing concepts you know. Study the subjects that you are not familiar with first. As an American-educated person, the English Legal System and European Law were the hardest because these were not taught to me here and I found myself reviewing these subjects from scratch. The changes with Brexit were not tested but they may be in the upcoming exams.

OSCE

It takes about 3-5 weeks to get the results from the MCT. What I suggest you do during that time is- nothing. Relax, enjoy your friends and family, sleep.

Once you get your passing results you can schedule the OSCE. Again test preparation is based on your background and the time you have to study. I think six months would be ideal at a nice even pace but some need more and some need less.

I was planning on taking the exam in July 2020 but behold the pandemic. There was too much going on in my personal life and all the uncertainties of planning travel across the pond for me to prepare myself so I waited.

I decided to take the plunge for November and started sort of studying by reading the LPC books in July and intense studying by September 1, 2020.

Courses & Study Materials

The OSCE has less study material in terms of physical books, however, the subject matter is heavy and the books are more in-depth. I purchased the LPC Books and the LPC Companion from online retailers. You have the SRA Day One Outcome C to use a syllabus and some sample questions on the Kaplan site but I really had no idea what was expected from me on this exam. I didn’t even understand that an attendance note is an intake till I was in deeper.

So this time I looked for a course. I was still on a budget and because of the pandemic an even tighter one. I chose OSCEsmart “budget” package which gave me access to the study group, 2 mock interviews and 1 handwritten attendance note, 1 mock advocacy, and 1 legal writing mock station.

I found this course through their free YouTube videos. I can do a separate review on the course but overall the course was able to orient me on what was expected on these mock exams and I found the feedback to be very helpful.

I do not think that I would have gotten more out of more mock exams in the bigger packages. Primarily because I did not have the time to do so many and my prior legal experience. I also found their online resources and library of videos an integral part of my learning experience. I would go to sleep listening to Dr Olga Pogrebennyk’s voice.

I read through the LPC books for each subject but this took way too long for the limited time I had. I had ordered the LPC Companion which was very hard to find. Once I received it I realized I probably could have only used this book instead of the five LPC books for each subject.

I used my MCT flashcards and took out anything I was 100% sure of or not relevant for this exam and added new ones. I memorized some basic precedents including the structure of an attendance note so that I knew what elements would need to be covered in my answer.

Again I went to each course provider’s website and used all their free resources. Some of them even have videos and there are many free videos on YouTube. The videos are a must as you get a sense of how to present yourself and what is expected. Watch all the ones you can find on YouTube. There are also apps that you can use that give you questions. I did those whenever I was waiting in line somewhere.

Finally, I went through the mock exams and completed as many as I could, under time pressure. This allowed me to see what was achievable in the time permitted and enabled me to focus on improving my skills in areas where I was most weak. This is where I was able to utilize the feedback from the course.

The Exercises

Client interview and attendance note – an actor/client comes into the room and you are given a limited amount of information. Your job is to get them to disclose some hidden facts and then submit an attendance note.

If you have done client intakes then this should be a great foundation. Practice interviewing and drafting with your course or with friends. In particular, write your basic structure of an attendance note as soon as you sit down so that during your interview, you know what to ask and can think about structuring your answer. Write your interview notes neatly and coherently. You can annex these notes to your attendance note. This will save you an immense amount of time.

Pro Tip: Take your time with the actor/client. Do not rush and write your notes clearly. Make eye contact, look at the body language and listen to what they are saying. They may give you cues and you have to pick up from them and ask follow-up questions.

Advocacy – I have had years of court experience so I treated this in the same way I would covering someone else’s motion. I still needed to practice both my oral presentation/advocacy skills alongside the application of technical knowledge to the question.

You should practice appropriate formalities (for addressing a judge etc). You need to know which title applies to which court. I would also suggest recording yourself and watching your presentation style to ensure that you speak at a good volume and pace, and do not read from any notes you have written.

I had ample time to prepare for my submission/presentation, therefore it is the quality of your answer and eloquence of your delivery that is more important.

Pro Tip: Don’t act like you know something when you don’t. In this exercise, the actors are actual solicitors and they know the laws. State that you will need to research it or that you don’t have that information at this time. It is a realistic application and this happens in court all the time.

Legal writing – Practice mock exams under time pressure and be very aware of your time during this exercise as you only have 30 minutes to read the question and draft a piece of writing. Although you are provided access to research databases for this assessment you will have very little time to use them.

Pro Tip: Legal writing is very different in England than in the U.S. I left this for last on my studying and I wish I had done an overview earlier on. Find the free videos on the course provider’s sites and YouTube. Everything from the address to the signature line is not what we learned in legal writing 101. Memorize the style, so that the moment you start you type everything you can and then use the research databases to complete the exercise.

Drafting – HMRC has a whole YouTube channel. They walk you step by step on the forms, this was one of the best resources. Practice mock drafting exercises and finding basic precedents on Lexis Nexis and Westlaw, so that if you are asked to draft something particularly unusual or complex, you will not be stuck and can confidently locate an appropriate precedent.

Legal research – I strongly recommend that you become familiar with both Westlaw and Lexis Nexis as for some questions the answer is easily found on one database and not the other.

Some course providers include them and you can also get temporary access or pay for a short trial. Learn all the shortcuts, time is of the essence with this assessment, your ability to swiftly locate appropriate legislation, cases, etc is vital.

In most cases, Halsbury’s Laws of England is the best place to start. Always record the search path even if it was a dead end.

Study Plan & Timing

Due to the pandemic, I arrived in London two weeks prior to quarantine. I decided to bring my two school-age children as they were virtual learning. We then walked into a lockdown at the tail end of the quarantine.

The exam was broken into two parts at different locations three days each with a weekend in between. I chose a flat that was central to both testing locations and it did not take me more than 10 minutes to get to each. I took two weeks off of work and studied for 10-12 hours a day.

They give you the schedule for subjects you will be tested on in advance so I studied for them in order. Focusing on each day about 1-2 days in order of importance. I brought my flashcards and the LPC Companion. I also organized the CILEX papers and mock exams from the course with the answers in a binder separated by subject. I did not use the LPC Companion much but I’m still glad I brought it. I also would re-watch the subject-specific videos the night before each exam.

Pro Tip: I would suggest spending less time on topics that were already covered by the MCT. Again if you have a grasp of a subject do not waste time here especially when it’s crunch time. Focus on what you are weak in. They test two subjects a day and even though it is not a long day, by the time you are done you are exhausted. The videos were the best way to study for the next day. Get up early have your coffee and give yourself 20 min extra to get there so you are not late. I bombed the last exam which was legal writing. I knew exactly what the law was for the US and for the life of me could not explain it under English law or find it in the databases. So I wrote what I could and let it be. It’s an overall assessment and thankfully there was only one where I felt I did poorly.

Conclusion

As a U.S attorney, I wished someone would have explained to me that you are not learning new laws you are learning a new language. British English is not the same as American English yet many, many of the laws are identical.

Once you grasp this the way you learn changes and you do not have to dive as deep. You already know the law and with some nuances, you just have to learn the language. I used these shortcuts in my flashcards and it helped immensely i.e. Part 36 equals Offer in Compromise.

Becoming a solicitor in England & Wales opens so many doors. With a carefully thought out study plan and dedication over a number of months, passing the QLTS at a first attempt is achievable, even if you are in the middle of a pandemic, homeschooling, working full time, and wondering how you are going to pay for it.

There are so many free resources as well including Facebook groups and as mentioned YouTube videos, use them all. Although it is a substantial undertaking if you approach it with a positive mindset you can pass it. I learned so much that I am able to use in my career.

I hope the above is of help to anyone sitting these exams in future. If you have any specific questions please comment on this post and I will do my best to assist you. I also still have some of the books that I am selling.

SRA

It took 12 weeks to get the results from the OSCE. Then I applied to the SRA, had to submit the FBI records which you can order from the USPS, application, and in about 8 weeks I got my solicitor’s certificate. I am waiting for the ceremony to be scheduled so I can attend.

Please note that all views expressed in this article are my own. Kaplan QLTS is the authorized assessment provider for the SRA, therefore, for the most accurate and up-to-date information, candidates should review information published on the Kaplan QLTS website.

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