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Can I qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales without visiting the UK?

The subject line of this email is borrowed from a question someone asked on Quora. And one of our learners, Vinayak, who is preparing for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) answered it. 

I am reproducing his answer almost verbatim below, since it is pretty self-explanatory. 

Remember, the question is: Is it possible for me to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales as an Indian lawyer without visiting the UK? 

Vinayak: “It may be hard to believe, but absolutely possible. I will tell you how.

As an Indian advocate, and someone who does not have any international law degree, I was able to register for SQE 1 while I applied for and got an exemption from SQE 2.

The good news is that I can write SQE 1 in India.

Which means when I clear this exam, I will qualify to practice in England and Wales on being admitted as a solicitor, without visiting the UK.

I have huge respect for the English legal system, and this is what a true meritocratic society looks like. The British bar is happy to attract top talent from all over the world, so it has taken the pain to create a highly accessible system for international lawyers to practice in the UK.

They have not acted myopically as a pressure group to protect local lawyers from international competition, and this is only possible when you are confident of what you bring to the table.

Let me explain this story from the beginning.  

It all started when I attended a live bootcamp by LawSikho in 2022, in which they explained how Indian lawyers with a good standing and licence to practice can write the SQE without having to do a UK LL.M first.

If you are a law student in India, you can attempt the SQE once you obtain your law degree and enrol with the Bar Council of your state.

It is theoretically possible to write the SQE without being registered to practice law with the bar, but it is just damn difficult and that is a far more complicated route. As a registered lawyer, you need no UK LL.M, no bridge course, no UK experience. Just sign up to write the SQE. 

The SQE is conducted in two phases – SQE 1 and SQE 2.

SQE 1 can be attempted in India at one out of 15 Pearson VUE centres in Ahmedabad, Allahabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Chennai, Cochin, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Mumbai, New Delhi, Patna, Pune, and Ranchi.

Once you clear SQE 1, you need to attempt SQE 2, a part of which is held in London, Manchester, or Cardiff – but the good news is that if you have two years or more of experience as an Indian lawyer, you may be able to apply for an exemption from SQE 2. 

For lawyers in certain states, it is a matter of course, and they get quick exemption. For the rest, they have to wait 6 months to get a decision.

Is clearing the All India Bar Exam mandatory for this exemption? 

Yes, in order to obtain an exemption, it is important that you are qualified to practice in India. For this reason, if you enrolled as an advocate after 2011, you should have qualified the All India Bar Examination as it had become mandatory to clear the exam for lawyers who enrolled from that year onwards. 

If you obtain this exemption, it saves a lot of cost and work, and you do not need to visit the UK to attempt the SQE 2 and can qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales sitting in India itself.

How can I claim this exemption?

Depending on which State Bar Council you have enrolled with, you may be eligible to claim either of the following exemptions: 

Type 1. Agreed Exemption: If you are enrolled with the Bar Council of Delhi, Maharashtra & Goa, Assam and West Bengal, and have 2 years of experience or more, then you can apply for an agreed exemption. 

Obtaining this exemption typically takes 6 months, and you must furnish these documents for obtaining this exemption to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA):

  1. Certificate of Good Standing from the Bar Council of your state.  
  1. A reference letter from your senior who can vouch that you have been practising/had practised with him/her – even if you have been practising independently, you can obtain a reference letter from a senior whom you had briefly worked with. The reference letter should contain the period of work, the type of work and matters you worked on, and your remuneration (if any) must be mentioned. 

Several of my colleagues have currently applied for this. We received assistance from LawSikho in the process. 

Type 2. Fresh exemption: If you are not enrolled with any of the above State Bar Councils, but have 2 years or more of experience as a lawyer, then you can apply for an exemption under this category.    

This is the exemption that I applied for and received.

The documents required are the same as provided above, but in addition you must also provide evidence of experience in one of the following areas:

  1. Dispute resolution 
  2. Criminal practice, including representing your client at police stations
  3. Property practice
  4. Wills and probate
  5. Business law

This experience is proven by showing Vakalatnama or reported judgments or orders where your presence is marked. You may show any other relevant documents as well.

The application form for the exemption allows a person with less than 2 years of experience to file it but the chances are very very low and I do not know of anyone who secured an exemption with less than 2 years of experience. 

If you obtain an exemption, you will need to attempt the IELTS exam. 

I applied for this exemption and got it within a month with some help from experts at LawSikho.  

Please note that usually the exemption takes 6 months and is as per the discretion of the SRA. It may be refused without any reason being provided. If you are refused exemption, you have to attempt SQE 2. So it is important to make a convincing case with as many supporting documents as possible that shows that you have excellent work experience.

Only LawSikho provides SQE 1 and SQE 2 preparation specifically for Indian lawyers and law students, at a very affordable cost, and the services provided are much more comprehensive than other international service providers. 

They even support you to find paid work opportunities, jobs and internships that prepare you for your career as a UK solicitor.

Since Vinayak has made such an excellent case for us, I will only add that you must attend all three days of our free, live only, online bootcamp on How Indian lawyers can crack the Solicitors Qualifying Exam & work as a solicitor in England and Wales from June 17-19, 2023, 6.00-9.00 pm IST daily.

Remember that you have to attend live, no recordings will be available!

Not only will you learn all about SQE prep, but we will also provide a roadmap to make your SQE journey as smooth as possible. 

For more useful updates and additional information, do also join our Telegram channel after installing the app on your device. (Link) 

See you soon!

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