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Qualifying in England & Wales as a lawyer qualified somewhere else

I remember sitting my bar exams and thinking “these are the last exams I will ever take.” I couldn’t even concentrate on the exams. I was too focused on the post-exam relief, and the thought of just working, not studying. Cue *life* and I was introduced to the QLTS – the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme. If you are reading this, you will already know that practising in another jurisdiction means meeting the regulatory requirements set out by that jurisdiction’s regulator. In England & Wales, that’s the SRA – the Solicitors Regulation Authority. As a “foreign lawyer,” you were required to sit the QLTS. If you passed, you would need to apply to the SRA, which is a set of procedures in itself. 

The QLTS is being replaced by a simpler acronym, the SQE – the Solicitors Qualifying Exam on 1 September 2021. Instead of being just for foreign lawyers, the SQE will be for all: law graduates and foreign lawyers unite. I should also note: the QLTS is the route you take if you want to qualify as a solicitor. There is a different process to qualify as a barrister.

This post is about the QLTS, and mainly part 2 of the QLTS. I understand the SQE will be similar to the QLTS, but don’t trust me (seriously, I have never taken the SQE). Both are being administered by Kaplan. If you have already sat Part 1 of the QLTS, you have up until March/April 2022 to sit Part 2. There is a sitting in July 2021, November 2021, and March/April 2022. 

Your new best friends

There are 4 websites that were crucial to my study. Bookmark them on your phone!

  1. Kaplan’s website which tells you about the assessments, test dates, and marking criteria: https://qlts.kaplan.co.uk
  2. the SRA website, specifically the Day One Outcomes which is what the QLTS is testing you on: https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/qualified-lawyers/qlts/day-one-outcomes-table 
  3. Free online resources provided by the Oxford University Press (OUP). OUP provides hypotheticals and answers as well as helpful diagrams and explanations: https://learninglink.oup.com/access/law
  4. CILEX past papers which are available in different subject areas https://www.cilex.org.uk/study/information_for_students/exams/past_papers  

For books, I purchased the OUP book on each area of law. Those books are dense and you might not have enough time to read through them. An extremely useful resource is the guide book provided by Law Answered in “Core Modules.” You can find it here: https://lawanswered.com/lpc.

But *which* foreign lawyer are you?

To sit the QLTS, you need to be qualified in a recognised jurisdiction. I qualified in Canada, which worked. Recognised jurisdictions include Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago for my CARICOM pals. A full list of eligible jurisdictions is on the SRA website here: https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/qualified-lawyers/qlts/recognised-jurisdictions/

The best thing about the QLTS is that you are not required to undergo any additional work experience. In Canada, for instance, internationally trained lawyers must sit a series of exams after which they must still do a one-year training contract (called “articling”) despite whatever their previous experience may be.  That’s a +1 for this side of the pond. 

The QLTS

The QLTS is a 2-part exam. You must pass part 1 to get to Part 2. Parts 1 and Parts 2 are usually set months apart, so there’s no speeding through this process. This works, because you need a ton of time to prepare for Part 2, which is only offered in England!

Part 1: The MCT

Part 1 is a multiple-choice test, appropriately called the MCT. The MCT is 180 questions over 5.5 hours. It is given in 2 equal parts of 90 questions over 2 hours and 45 minutes. Don’t sneeze or you’ll lose a minute. You get a 1-hour lunch break between each part. 

The MCT is familiar territory. It is computer-based and you can take it from several cities worldwide. You get your results in 3 to 5 weeks. The last sitting of the MCT is 7 July 2021, and it costs £588 + VAT. Normally you are able to take it as many times until you pass, but now you’ve only got 1 chance. No pressure. 

The MCT tests the SRA’s “Part A Day One Outcomes.” If you come from a common law jurisdiction, I would translate this to the Fundamentals plus Tax. That’s right. You are asked about capital gains tax, inheritance tax, corporation tax, and VAT. And the questions can be tricky.

The MCT felt like a CliffsNotes version of first year law school. You need to know the fundamentals of contract law, property law, torts, business law, criminal law, ethics, constitutional law, human rights, and some anti-money laundering. But you don’t have to go in-depth.  To study for this, I purchased the QLTS School’s basic package for the MCT. It gives you concise books to read from, and you don’t need to collect the information from different sources. It also lets you take mock exams. If multiple choice tests make you anxious, I’d really suggest a course like this, simply for the ability to go through a timed mock test and get your brain used to multiple choice questions again.

Preparation courses are expensive and an added cost to the whole process. If you can’t justify a course for an MCT test, some students have been able to pass using the OUP Concentrate books.

Part 2: The OSCE or the “ohmy seriously cruel exam”

Part 2 of the QLTS is much more difficult than the MCT. It is also way more expensive. Part 2 is called the Objective Structured Clinical Examination – the OSCE. It is a practical exam, which is only offered in London, and it is set out over 6 days. It is usually set up like this: 3 days – a weekend – 3 days. It costs a whopping £3,042 + VAT for the exam alone, and then whatever the cheapest accommodation you can find to stay in for 6 to 9 days in London (or outside London, but take commuting time into account). These costs are in addition to a preparation course. I used OSCESmart which was cheaper than QLTS School’s offering, and I would definitely recommend it. Dr Olga Pogrebennyk created the program, and her passion for helping people prepare for and pass this intense exam was clear. You can find more information on OSCESmart and Dr Pogrebennyk here: https://qltsosce.co.uk

The OSCE is a mysterious exam. Kaplan offers some information on its website along with a couple sample questions, but that’s it. It is meant to test Outcomes C, D, and F or the SRA’s Day One Outcomes.  I suggest you go through each of these outcomes regularly as you prepare, as it helps to focus you.  

The OSCE is where those OUP books and LPC Answered guide came in. The OUP books are comprehensive and take loads of time to read. You might not have the time to read all of them. I found the LPC Answered guide a good way to flag what I should read. LPC Answered provides users with frameworks to use during exam conditions. This means their frameworks are concise and easy to apply. It teaches you how to answer a question. The OUP books supplement those frameworks by explaining why the answers are what they are. If I couldn’t gather all the information from the guide, I would read the corresponding section in the OUP book. The books also give you access to online resources, which provide extremely useful scenarios to go through in advance of the test. Some of the online resources are freely accessible.

Lastly, and perhaps most crucially, I used CILEX past papers at levels 3 and 6. CILEX means the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and offers an alternative route to qualification in the UK. The past papers are practical, and answers are provided. I used these exams to train myself on how to approach the OSCE, as the questions were like scripts for scenarios that play out in the actual exams, and the answers were there to show me where I went wrong. 

A break from regular programming

Something that I was not prepared for during the OSCEs was the sheer amount of waiting involved. In my sitting, there were hundreds of people taking the OSCE, and we had to be shuffled into separate rooms for each part. While the exam itself was scheduled for half a day, you were usually in the exam centre for the whole day, waiting, waiting, and waiting. While you can’t take your phone or electronic devices in, you can take notes and books. I recommend you take your notes and review, review, review. Some people might say chill while you wait. I am not one of those people. There is so much you are required to memorise, and I found reviewing my notes during waiting time reassuring.

Back to the OSCE

Now to the substance of the OSCEs. You are tested in six areas: Business, Property, Probate, Civil, and Criminal Litigation. It is broken down into two parts. There is a Marking and Moderation Policy on Kaplan’s website, which if you read ten thousand times, will help you better understand the OSCE, and, in retrospect, truly helped my preparation.  You can find it here: https://qlts.kaplan.co.uk/docs/default-source/policies/marking-and-moderation-policy.pdf

The OSCE itself is also broken down into 2 separate parts. For three days, you do practical assessments. For the other three days, you do desk-based assessments. You won’t know which part you will do first until day 1 of the exam.  

In the practical part, you do a (1) client interview, (2) complete an attendance note / case analysis  and (3)  perform advocacy / oral presentation. It felt like I was in an acting class, pretending to be a lawyer, except I had to know things. 

Kaplan hires actors to act as your client for the interview.  The actors are not legally trained, and they judge you based on the Marking Policy referred to above. A legal professional will review the attendance note that you prepare after the interview.  For the advocacy, a legal professional is also testing you.  

The client interview and attendance note are connected. You will not know what area of law your interview will be on, and this means you must retain a lot of knowledge on the substantive law. 

The interview itself is 25 minutes.  Before the 25 minutes starts ticking, you have 10 minutes to prepare. You are provided with some information about the client. In my case, I was given a memo from a partner of my firm which asked me to conduct the client interview as they were away, and it gave me some basic info on the client and their problem.  During the 10 minutes, you should note missing information that you need to analyse the client’s case, as you will need it to prepare your attendance note. 

After the 10 minutes are up, you meet your client. You must obtain the client’s trust and confidence to instruct your firm, and then you need to try and obtain all the relevant information so that you can prepare that attendance note. You will need to give enough preliminary advice to address your client’s concerns.  Think of it like finding treasures in a scavenger hunt. You’ll need those treasures to prepare your attendance note.  

After the interview, you then have 25 minutes to write an attendance note / case analysis of the interview by hand. This is where getting all that relevant information will be helpful. If you didn’t get enough information, it will be difficult to prepare the attendance note. 

The advocacy / oral presentation will test you in an area that the interview / attendance note did not. In my exam, I had to conduct a bail hearing. Preparation time for is 45 minutes, with the advocacy itself being 15 minutes. 

The other part deals with legal research, legal drafting, and legal writing. While these are not difficult on their own, OSCE imposes time constraints.

Legal research: You have 1 hour to do online legal research on your choice of WestLaw or LexisNexis. As I was not employed at the time, I had no access to any of these legal databases. I had to purchase a subscription, and I couldn’t afford access to both WestLaw and LexisNexis. I went with LexisNexis. You need contact WestLaw or LexisNexis and let them know that you are studying for the OSCE and need access. They should then give you a reduced subscription for 1 or 2 months of access. If you have a course provider, they may include this subscription within their fees. It was about £450  for my subscription. 

Kaplan will give you a research question.  They provide a sample on their website. You will likely be getting an assignment from a partner, who provides you with a background of the client’s case and the issue it needs your help with. You are not expected to know the answer, and you are therefore expected to do legal research to get it. You must answer the question in two main parts: (1) advice to the client (2) provision of legal reasoning and sources. For the second part, you are “showing your working” like you would in a math problem at school. You must use up-to-date sources. 

You need to familiarise yourself with a database to move quickly through it and find answers to the research question. You need to know search connectors and what sections to use. Once you familiarise yourself with the platform, you should be able to complete this exercise within the timeframe. Although you will practise on one database, in the exam itself, if you can’t find the answer on the database you’re more familiar with, do a quick check on the other one. Sometimes the answers are more easily found on one platform than the other. 

Legal writing: You have 30 minutes to write a letter or an email to a client. You will usually be given information such as an attendance note, and you will be asked to provide advice based on it. You will still have access to WestLaw and LexisNexis during this period, but time is tight.  

Legal drafting: You have 45 minutes to draft a legal document. This might sound similar to legal writing, but you are being asked to draft either a type of form or, if business law, a shareholders’ resolution for instance. Property law uses a ton of forms, and you may be asked to complete a couple. The UK Government website gives excellent guidance on how to complete these forms. One example is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/registered-titles-whole-transfer-tr1

I know this was a lot of information, and yet it still doesn’t go in depth into each area. But I hope it helps you just at least a little bit.

And, just to prove I am worth my dual-qualification, please find a handy disclaimer here: The above is based on my own experience sitting the QLTS in 2019.  Please refer to Kaplan and the SRA websites for information. 

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