Types of practicing lawyers in England and Wales
Being a common law jurisdiction, the UK has two types of qualified lawyers: barristers and solicitors of England and Wales. Each has its own rich heritage, with barristers especially having very strong historic roots and traditions, many of which remain relevant, including unique and iconic items of court attire. Part of the primary distinction, historically, has been drawn based upon the specific roles played by these types of lawyers. Solicitors have typically been a more public facing form of legal professional, interacting with clients, preparing legal documents, and managing and facilitating transactions and legal processes. In contrast, barristers, until recently, were largely inaccessible to the general public other than through solicitors and general played advocacy-based roles. The origin of the term barrister itself is reflective of this history, as to be “called to the bar” was to be permitted across the bar that divided the court from the public, though it is now more associated with passing the bar exam.
Although both of the above constitute the UK legal professions in England and Wales, each has their own qualification route and regulatory body. Click here to read more on how a barrister can convert to a solicitor.
Under the old regime, the decision between being a barrister and solicitor was to be made after the LLB/GDL course. Upon graduation, future barristers had to undertake a Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) – vocational training required to pass the bar, while aspiring solicitors had to do a one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) and a two-year training contract.
That did not contribute to considerable uniformity across the system, as each LPC and BPTC (and equivalent) training provider assessed the law students’ knowledge and skills through its own exams. In addition, there is no single centralised bar exam to qualify as a UK barrister.
In addition, one of the biggest challenges under the former route to qualifying as a solicitor (apart from the financial strains) was perhaps landing a training contract. With a limited number of training contracts, even the highest marks in the LPC transcript did not provide any guarantees. That blocked access to the legal profession to thousands of aspiring solicitors each year.
With the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) as a new centralised bar exam, the LPC requirement for would-be solicitors will soon cease to exist.
However, LPC courses may very well remain a meaningful element of the UK legal education system – for those who don’t mind the tuition fees involved. Click here to read more on the implications of the SQE exam for LPC graduates.
The SQE introduction in 2021 will have no such consequences for the BPTC. Being regulated by the Bar Standards Board, UK barristers do not have the SRA as their professional body. At the same time, the superexam may offer a new opportunity for barristers to convert to the qualification of the solicitor of England and Wales. Though not being entitled to agreed exemptions as barristers, they can certainly try applying for individual exemptions.
What is a bar exam?
The bar exam or law bar exam is a professional qualification examination for lawyers in the UK. After passing a bar exam, you can be granted permission to practice as an advocate and carry out other licensed activities done by legal professionals, e.g. property conveyancing.
Starting from September 2021, the UK will have a single standardised bar exam for all future solicitors – the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The situation with no single bar examination for solicitors will soon be history. The SQE exam consists out of two stages:
- SQE 1 – multiple choice test – read more how to prepare for the SQE1; and
- SQE 2 – skills-based set of exams – read more how to prepare for the SQE2 exam.
UK bar exams for aspiring solicitors
At the moment, there are several solicitors’ UK bar exams or equivalents:
- Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme (also known as the QLTS exam) – the outgoing UK bar exam for foreign qualified lawyers who are already admitted in their home jurisdictions and wish to convert their qualification to practice as UK solicitors (replaced by the SQE in 2021 – please see below).
- Solicitor Qualifying Examination (also known as the SQE exam or “super exam”) – the newly-introduced common or single route to qualify as a solicitor of England and Wales. Replacing the QLTS in September 2021, this will be the only UK bar examination for solicitors.
- Yet another UK bar examination is known as Higher Rights of Audience (HRA). Passing this exam gives already-qualified solicitors the possibility to practice law in the same courts as barristers.
UK bar exam structure
The new SQE is clearly rooted in the QLTS exam. Both the QLTS and SQE are modelled on the Miller Pyramid and seek to assess not only knowledge as the lower-level value, but more importantly skills as values of a higher level.
SQE and QLTS are two-stage assessments, with stage 1 being a multiple-choice test (for both SQE1 and QLTS MCT). At the same time, the two assessments are in no way identical. The major difference lies in the assessment range of the SQE stage 1 and the MCT component of the QLTS. The SQE1 and SQE2 both cover the same subjects included in “functional legal knowledge” – which is not the case with the QLTS.
Unlike the SQE, part 2 of the QLTS (called OSCE – Objective Structured Clinical Examination) assesses the candidates’ knowledge and skills in such areas of law as business, property and probate, criminal and civil litigation – which are outside the range assessed by the QLTS MCT. Also, one element of the OSCE – oral presentation – has been converted into case and matter analysis for the SQE2 written assessment.
For stage 2 of both UK bar exams – SQE and QLTS, a distinctive feature is an equal focus on practical legal skills as well as knowledge of law. Both SQE2 and QLTS OSCE are skills-based simulated assessments aimed at testing various practical competences the candidate is required to have in actual legal practice, e.g. conducting a client interview, writing a letter to a client, carrying out legal research, etc.
UK bar exam contents
|SQE1 Law||QLTS MCT Law|
|QLTS OSCE Skills|
|QLTS OSCE Law|
How much is the UK bar exam cost?
|SQE1 bar exam fee||QLTS MCT bar exam fee|
|£1,558||£588 + VAT|
|SQE2 bar exam price||QLTS OSCE bar exam price|
UK bar exam questions
UK bar exam books and manuals
|SQE Prep & Test from Oxford University Press (OUP)
SQE Answered guides
|OSCE:||1. LPC/OSCE books by Oxford University Press (OUP) and College of Law Publishing (CLP)
2. Summary LPC/OSCE books
UK bar exam requirements
- Obtain an undergraduate degree in any subject (it does not need to be a law degree), or equivalent qualification or apprenticeship
- Pass SQE1 and SQE2
- Complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
- Meet character and suitability requirements.
- As this is a UK bar exam for foreign lawyers, you must be a foreign qualified lawyer within at least one of the recognised jurisdictions
- Pass QLTS MCT and QLTS OSCE
- Meet character and suitability requirements
- Apply for admission with the given deadline.
Taking the UK bar exam
|SQE exam||QLTS exam|
|SQE1 – available to sit domestically and internationally via Pearson VUE test centres
SQE2 written – available to sit domestically and internationally via Pearson VUE test centres
SQE2 oral – at the beginning will be available at several locations, but within the UK
|QLTS MCT – available to sit domestically and internationally via Pearson VUE test centres
QLTS OSCE – available to sit in London