Are you planning to take the QLTS with a view to qualifying in England and Wales, and feeling put off by the UK’s decision to leave the EU? Then this post is for you as it will attempt to reveal the impact that Brexit (British Exit) may have on the legal profession in general and those qualifying as English solicitors in particular.
BREXIT: DATES AND DOUBTS
On November 9, 2017, the British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the date of the UK’s departure from the European Union – March 29, 2019. However, there are multiple opinions doubting that Brexit is inevitable. Lord Heseltine, the former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister and one of the leading figures in the Tories, predicts a significant public swing against Brexit by 2019 and an opportunity for the EU Withdrawal Bill to be voted down.3 The Brexit referendum results show a clear generation gap: the majority of voters aged 18 through 44 opted to remain in the EU, while those aged 45 and over voted for leaving the EU. 4 That portrays the younger generation as being less Eurosceptic, based on which Lord Heseltine forecasts that even if the UK eventually exits in 2019, it seems very likely to rejoin the EU in future.
THE UK EU MEMBERSHIP REFERENDUM: IMMEDIATE EFFECTS
According to the report by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the EU referendum has not had any immediate effect on the country’s regulatory framework2. Most risks to be managed here are those of uncertainty. In order to address these challenges, the SRA acknowledges the need for reform seeking to maximize access to innovation, boost competition and general growth in the sector.
A similar conclusion is made by the Law Society president Jonathan Smithers, who in his response to the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU pointed out he did not foresee any changes in the high status the UK has enjoyed in legal sphere, remarking that
‘…the law of England and Wales retains its international commercial appeal and England and Wales remains an attractive and stable jurisdiction, with a high quality legal profession, internationally respected courts and the best law firms in the world that have attracted clients from across the globe for many years.’
The optimism displayed in the opinions above is obviously rooted in the glorious history and dominance of English law. London’s legal district (High Holborn, Chancery Lane and Gray’s Inn Road) dates back to the 14th century. Over the centuries that have elapsed since then, Britain has become home to four of the world’s ten largest law firms by revenue (Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Allen and Overy). British law firms have established extensive global networks. All these facts prove that English law governs most international commercial contracts and dispute resolution clauses entered into worldwide, and the reputation it has earned for its fairness and centuries of precedent can’t be challenged by Brexit.
PROSPECTS FOR DUAL-QUALIFIED ENGLISH SOLICITORS
In this legal environment where cross-border transactions and international disputes are often governed by English law, a wise decision would be to become a dual-qualified English solicitor – a perspective annually sought by hundreds of lawyers. This is based on the statistics released by Kaplan QLTS authorised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to provide assessments under the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), according to which around 500 candidates take the QLTS each session. This means that each year, about 1000 lawyers from other recognised jurisdictions, as well as barristers from England and Wales seek to qualify as solicitors of England and Wales. The QLTS is a conversion test that enables lawyers with primary professional qualification in countries outside England and Wales (such as the US, Israel, Australia, Nigeria, India, South Africa South Korea, Turkey and others), as well as UK barristers, to qualify as solicitors. To see how this opportunity is utilized, let’s have a brief look at statistics: about 20% of the lawyers taking the QLTS assessments are in fact qualified US attorneys who do so in recognition of the professional advantages offered by English qualification.7 So, if you already have a primary legal qualification, earning the qualification of an English solicitor will be a logical next step towards career enhancement.
Not all of the overseas candidates sit the QLTS exam with the intention to move to the UK – they rather view the exam as a factor boosting their career prospects and marketability in their home jurisdiction. Being dual-qualified, they can represent their clients both locally and abroad, offering multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional legal advice. This means such qualified solicitors become more attractive for law firms with headquarters either in the UK or abroad.
The flexibility of being a dual-qualified lawyer is obviously an advantage in the globalised and interconnected world we live in. But its importance increases even more dramatically with the economic rise of the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. According to Ted Burke, the Chief Executive of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (the British law firm which is one of the world’s ten largest law firms by revenue):
‘…globalisation and in particular the growth of the BRIC economies is the story of the 21st century. It’s going to have an incredible effect on everyone in the world and will not just change the economic landscape but it will change the geopolitical one as well.’
Mr. Burke’s prediction is that globalisation will expand transactional activity, and the law of choice for most of these transactions will remain English and US law. That will mean a greater opportunity for qualified English solicitors, especially for those with dual qualification, to work both in the UK and abroad, including Asia, the US, Europe and Latin America:
‘If you are open minded about where you might work and perhaps some day you might find yourself not in London but in the US, Hong Kong, India or China or somewhere else, then there’s a clear advantage to being dual-qualified.’
This claim is supported by the fact that UK firms are trying to increase their international dominance – by opening offices abroad and merging with overseas companies. And with the expansion of the UK legal market, UK firms need the experience and language skills which can be offered by non-UK nationals.
PROSPECTS FOR THE UK-BASED SOLICITORS
The Future of Legal Services report released by the Law Society of England and Wales in 2016 takes a look at the impact of recent changes in legal services on the solicitors’ profession. The Report predicts a growing demand for barristers, solicitors and other legal professionals and associate professionals in England and Wales between 2015 and 2020, citing an additional 58,000 workers needed in the legal activities sector. At the same time, the Report acknowledges increased competition in the legal services market caused by
‘changing buyer behaviours, threat of substitute suppliers/services, and increasing rivalry among the pool of Top 200 and large corporate firms.’
In this context, qualifying as the English solicitor via the QLTS and thus receiving one of the most prestigious titles in the legal profession will increase your employability by providing deeper legal knowledge, honing your practising skills and adding value to your professional profile.
PROSPECTS FOR LAWYERS SEEKING AN INTERNATIONAL CAREER
Legal practice is becoming increasingly globalised, and this puts more demands on legal professionals, primarily those of expert knowledge and flexibility. That is why by qualifying in England and Wales and therefore proving your expertise in English Common Law, you gain competitive advantage in today’s globalised world. With law firms expanding globally, solicitors need to adapt to changing market conditions and make themselves marketable both in the UK and other common law jurisdictions.
Receiving the title of English solicitor opens the doors to all the countries using the English Common Law system, and these constitute 27% of the 320 world’s legal jurisdictions, making English Common Law the most common legal system in the world. The common law tradition arose in England during the Middle Ages and spread within British colonies on various continents. Today, common law jurisdictions or systems mixed with civil law house 1/3 of the Earth’s population and include among others Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Cyprus, Dominica, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Malaysia, Micronesia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, etc. English Common Law is so widespread because it was exported to most parts of the British Empire, and many former colonies after turning into major economies such as India have decided to continue using it. After India, the next-largest Commonwealth countries by population are Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and legal systems in these countries are also founded on English Common Law, either purely or interlinked with other legal systems such as Shariah.
So, entering upon an international legal career gives lawyers immense professional benefits: though committing themselves to investing time and effort in QLTS preparation, they are eventually rewarded with a wider perspective, cross-jurisdictional knowledge and expertise.
To request QLTS training and/or legal English training, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
OSCEsmart(https://qltsosce.co.uk) is a QLTS training provider offering an individually tailored training plan with full feedback. The QLTS preparation materials include concise video lectures, notes, and thoroughly developed online mock exams. Being carried out via copyrighted online course readers, Skype meetings and email interactions, the training can be carried out from around the world and at any time you find suitable.