Why Becoming a Dual-Qualified Lawyer will Help You Advance Your Legal Career?


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Introduction

As a lawyer, you are a well-trained, trusted and hardworking part of a well-regarded and prestigious profession, working in a highly competitive environment.

You already know there is a heavy emphasis on Continuing Professional Development (CPD) or Continuing Legal Education (CLE) – developing and honing lawyers’ skills and legal knowledge. It goes without saying that forward-thinking lawyers are constantly building their portfolio of professional services and expertise, ever on the lookout for ways of advancing their legal careers and expanding their practice.

The days of your primary professional qualification being enough to secure your career are gone. The legal market – and indeed the world of business – is changing radically. If you want to carve out your place in the legal world, you need to go beyond the norm and differentiate yourself from other lawyers.

Many law graduates and lawyers opt for the academic route and pursue a Master of Laws (LLM) degree. There has, however, been a substantial increase in the number of lawyers who appreciate that the transformed and evolving legal market requires lawyers to develop and demonstrate a new way of thinking and working, based around enhanced skills and expertise, which directly benefit their firms and clients – far more so than another academic degree, which may not provide any practical advantages.

In this blog post we discuss how becoming a dual-qualified English solicitor – a legal professional in the world’s most important jurisdiction and open business economy – will change the way you work and what you can do for yourself, your firm and your clients.

We will review the QLTS scheme – introduced in England and Wales in September 2010 – that presents lawyers just like you with the opportunity to become an English solicitor in just a few months, through a fast-track route for qualification, without undergoing a traditional training contract, an internship or fulfilling any experience requirement.

Whether you are newly qualified as a lawyer or a senior partner, whether you plan to live in London or develop your practice in your home jurisdiction, or whatever country you are qualified as a lawyer – be it in the U.S., India, Italy, Russia, China or elsewhere – becoming a dual-qualified English solicitor via the QLTS will provide you with more legal knowledge, unique practising skills and an outstanding professional profile. It will also offer you a remarkable opportunity to hold one of the most prestigious titles in the legal profession – an English solicitor.

Globalisation of the Legal Profession

Until recently, most law schools focused on a uni-jurisdictional legal education to cater for a highly localised legal profession. Few lawyers saw the need to apply to gain admission to foreign Bar Associations or equivalent Law Societies. Before the dawn of the global village, lawyers could practise law with little if any cross-jurisdictional knowledge and expertise.

Times have changed, however, and lawyers now form part of an increasingly interconnected world, traversing diverse jurisdictions and legal systems. This has spawned the need for legal services providers that can operate seamlessly on an international and global level. National borders are no longer a barrier to doing business. Many organisations have looked to benefit from the increased profits and recognition that come with worldwide operations and a global focus.

In practical terms, this means more and often higher value transactions that involve parties in different countries and complex issues of fact and law on which considered and trusted legal advice is essential for the protection of all parties.

As more companies double down on overseas operations and cross-border activities, dual-qualified lawyers are set to play an indispensable role in enabling and protecting global trade and competition.

Leading Law Firms are Expanding Globally

Global businesses seek equally global law firms, a challenge to which the legal profession is responding rapidly. Some of the world’s largest law firms now have a presence in both major and emerging markets, through mergers and acquisitions or expansion into different geographic areas. Thousands of lawyers may work under the banner of a single firm, yet may be dispersed throughout the world, working and specialising in the legal practice areas that keep the modern global business machine well oiled.

Despite the economic uncertainties that have largely prevailed since 2008, top law firms continue to compete for excellent candidates. There will always be a demand for internationally qualified and deployable legal professionals. The strategy of global expansion and service pursued by law firms – and, most importantly, the increasingly complex demands of their clients – requires the services of foreign and dual-qualified lawyers from an increasingly large number of jurisdictions.

In light of this global expansion, Ted Burke, former Chief Executive of global law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, foresees many opportunities for dual-qualified English solicitors to work on global transactions both in London and beyond, such as Asia, the U.S., Europe and Latin America. The skills and abilities of dual-qualified English solicitors are likely to be more highly sought after and yield further opportunities to live and work anywhere in the world.

This view has been echoed by Oliver Brettle, Managing Partner at the London office of international law firm White & Case, who emphasises the versatility of dual-qualified lawyers, and the role that English solicitors play in the global economy and in international law firms. In his view, becoming a dual-qualified English solicitor is abundantly worthwhile, in particular due to the pervasive demand for English solicitors in business dealings throughout the world.

These views from leaders within the field point towards the eminent employability of dual-qualified English solicitors, who are highly sought after by recruiters and potential employers. Indeed, a survey on the recruitment prospects of dual-qualified lawyers found a consistent and growing demand for lawyers with dual and multi-jurisdictional qualification, particularly among large UK and international law firms.

London as a Legal and Business Centre

The hub of many business negotiations, transactions and a pre-eminent forum for dispute resolution, London is unquestionably one of the command centres of the global economy. Over half of the FTSE 100 companies, one-fifth of Europe’s 500 largest companies and 75% of the Fortune 500 companies choose to base or have a presence in London. Five of the world’s 10 largest law firms are headquartered in London, whilst international law firms, particularly from China, are establishing a presence in the city so as to service domestic clients living or working in Europe, as well as competing for a share of the lucrative local legal market.

Whether it is finance, insurance, media, banking, trading, advertising or professional services, London offers a business-friendly environment and a central international location. With English law recognised as being the dominant law of business, London is both the natural choice and preferred city for dispute resolution – whether litigation or arbitration.

A survey conducted in 2010 by Queen Mary, University of London and sponsored by White & Case LLP: ‘Choices in International Arbitration’ – reveals that 40% of corporations use English law as the governing law of cross-border transactions, followed by 17% who use New York law as their law of choice.

Moreover, in the 2015 survey by Queen Mary, University of London and sponsored by White & Case LLP: ‘Improvements and Innovations in International Arbitration’ London was referred to as the most preferred and widely used seat of arbitration or litigation, with a reputation for a fair, efficient and impartial judiciary.

The Dual-Qualified Lawyer

As previously mentioned, with recent developments and globalisation trends in the legal profession, lawyers are no longer confined to the jurisdiction in which they were educated and qualified. Ambitious lawyers can now be found in major trade centres and legal capitals across the world.

An awareness of the local cultural, economic, political and social norms of each jurisdiction, therefore, is an essential component and a practical aspect of the legal services and advice provided by a lawyer.

To survive in the new legal order, the new breed of ”international lawyers” must provide sophisticated and specialised legal services to individuals and corporate clients of all sizes anywhere in the world, tailored perfectly to the clients’ individual needs.

While still few in number, the new breed of “international lawyers” are at the forefront of a movement that is fundamentally changing the legal profession. Demand for their skills and services has increased and is set to rise further.

To meet this international demand, “international lawyers” should have a working knowledge and experience of legal systems of their respective jurisdictions and have the legal and regulatory right to practise law in multiple jurisdictions unimpeded.

We have already discussed the requirements of the legal profession and the changes in the environment in which law firms operate today, but what about the clients?

Globalisation trends are changing what clients expect from lawyers. A  German company may buy up property in Brazil, whilst a British electronics company may wish to source component parts from a specialist Chinese manufacturer. Meanwhile, a French company in dispute with a US corporation wishes to have their dispute resolved through arbitration in London. A glance at any good business newspaper will give you a flavour of just how borderless international business has become.

Clients today are sophisticated, their expectations are high and they demand effective, prompt and cost-effective results. Clients expect lawyers to make business happen by advising on risk, facilitating transactions and representing and protecting their interests.

Lawyers must cover all areas of a transaction, from employment to intellectual property and everything in between. This requires knowledge of local legal systems, international conventions and treaties and of the governing jurisdiction.

Today’s clients are looking for lawyers and law firms who offer a one-stop service, able to offer an intimate knowledge of their client’s business, the continuity and confidentiality of a full-service practice and the resources that allow every part of a client’s business and legal needs to be serviced by one provider.

Even relatively small clients now have activities that cross country lines, and they do not expect to require separate legal service providers for each country they operate in.

It is therefore apparent that in an increasingly competitive world, lawyers with dual-qualification have a competitive advantage over their colleagues and are, accordingly, able to offer a much more comprehensive service to their clients.

Why Become a Dual-Qualified English Solicitor?

By now, you probably understand why you should qualify in more than one jurisdiction. You might be wondering, however, why qualify in England?

Prized for its fairness, protection and impartial application, English law remains the preferred jurisdiction for global business.

The title of English solicitor is more than just an addition to your CV or resumé – it’s in fact a mark of global excellence. Through its historic dominance of maritime trade, English law has played a significant role in influencing the development of legal and regulatory regimes internationally.

Moreover, the training and qualification process in England and Wales is internationally well regarded.

There are several reasons and motivations why lawyers are looking to join the Roll of Solicitors in England and Wales:

  • Opening up a variety of career opportunities in the legal marketplace
  • Enhancing their professional profile, reputation and marketability in their home jurisdiction
  • Offering a wider range of legal services to clients (whose preference today is to use a one stop-shop for their legal needs)
  • Advising existing clients on matters of English law
  • Gaining a foothold in the European Union market
  • Working as a solicitor in London
  • Getting more business and increasing revenues

Interestingly enough, the majority of lawyers seeking to become dual-qualified English solicitors do not intend to practise in London, preferring instead to stay in their home jurisdiction and utilise the skills, qualification and knowledge they have gained by qualifying as English solicitors.

The English Solicitors’ Profession

The solicitors’ profession is diverse. It ranges from sole practitioners working for local consumers, ‘boutique’ specialist outfits, mid-tier firms servicing a mixture of private and commercial clients in London and the regions, to large multinational firms acting for international clients.

There are currently over 130,000 solicitors licensed to practise in England and Wales, regulated under a single regulatory regime. The Law Society has, since January 2007, delegated its regulatory powers to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The trend towards globalisation and the major developments in the legal profession have suited the flexible legal system found in the UK. This flexibility allows lawyers, wherever they first qualified, to have access to proportionate and reasonable transfer arrangements and permits UK law firms to compete internationally for the best talent to complement their own domestic talent.

These trends led to the introduction of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), which is the fast-track route for international lawyers to re-qualify as English solicitors.

The scheme, which was introduced in September 2010, is open to qualified lawyers from many jurisdictions all over the world, and marks a crucial step towards a more flexible and unified approach to the regulation of foreign lawyers than the previous regime, the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test (QLTT).

The Benefits of Practising as an English Solicitor

Qualifying as an English solicitor takes your professional profile to the highest, most respected level. You’ll be able to work on a range of domestic and international matters, undertaking work restricted to those who hold the qualification. Whether you choose to work in a leading law firm in London or remain in your home jurisdiction and develop your legal career locally, being a qualified English solicitor will open doors for you.

Combined with your chosen specialism, you will be armed with important insights and advice on the legal and factual aspects of doing business across multiple jurisdictions. This can make the difference between a business enterprise profiting or plummeting, because you will be able to provide answers and advice on matters that only someone with your training and qualification can give.

From São Paulo to Sydney and Moscow to Johannesburg, the valuable and highly sought after skills and expertise of a dual-qualified solicitor, fluent in the law and language of England as well as their own jurisdiction, provides exciting opportunities for key roles in helping to shape global business.

LLM v QLTS

The LLM is a highly specialised qualification that takes an academic approach to complex aspects of many areas of legal practice, and can provide specialist theoretical expertise in a niche area of law.

While gaining an LLM is a worthwhile achievement in itself, it is not as valuable as being able to demonstrate your experience and practical skills to major law firm recruiters.

Dual-qualification as an English solicitor through the QLTS means you gain a prestigious and internationally recognised qualification and allows you to demonstrate both your academic and practical prowess.

You also develop, to a high standard, the practical skills a lawyer requires. These practical skills include: legal knowledge and application, research and analysis of fact and law, written and verbal communication, time management and the provision of legal advice in a commercial context.

These practical skills of a dual-qualified lawyer mark you out as an outstanding legal adviser, but are not restricted solely to the legal profession – organisations across all sectors recognise the added value you have to offer from acquiring these transferable skills.

Further, the practical advantages of dual-qualification presents opportunities for you to assume important roles in law firms or to work within industry as a qualified solicitor, undertaking work at a level that befits, and can only be performed by, a professionally qualified person.

Finally, even if you are an LLM graduate, becoming a dual-qualified lawyer via the QLTS will undoubtedly complement your academic knowledge with practical skills and make your professional profile appealing both to law firms and your clients.

Path to Dual-Qualification: The QLTS

For many forward-thinking lawyers, the only consideration is which secondary qualification to work towards, the chief candidates being English law and New York law.

The relative merits and challenges of the QLTS and New York Bar Exam have been considered at length in a separate blog post, but although New York is undoubtedly a world finance, business and legal centre, its legal system is far less internationally pervasive for international trade than English law.

For many, this tilts the balance firmly in the favour of the QLTS. Indeed, many New York lawyers themselves opt to qualify as English solicitors to expand their professional profile.

The QLTS is your key for foreign and internationally trained lawyers to becoming a dual-qualified English solicitor – it unlocks the international career and professional benefits outlined in this blog post.

The QLTS comprises assessments that test candidates’ application of knowledge and understanding of English law, as well as various skills required to practise as a solicitor. There are two sets of assessment under the QLTS:

  • Multiple Choice Test (MCT) – comprising 180 questions divided into one morning and one afternoon session of 2 hours 45 minutes each.
  • Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCE) – this tests the skills of interviewing, advocacy, online legal research, legal drafting and legal writing.

The MCT must be passed before the OSCE can be attempted.

There is no limit on the number of attempts which candidates may have on each of the two elements of the assessment. Candidates are not required to provide evidence of their proficiency in the English language – passing the assessments is considered sufficient evidence of their proficiency.

There is no experience requirement or training contract to complete prior to your admission to the Roll of Solicitors on the successful completion of all the QLTS assessments.

Taking the QLTS Assessments

The assessments are offered in the UK twice a year by a sole assessment provider appointed by the SRA. The MCT assessment is now also offered in a number of international locations across Europe, North America and Asia. To ensure the integrity of the assessment process, the assessment provider is not allowed to offer preparation courses for the assessments.

It is therefore extremely important to prepare for the QLTS assessments with an established course provider that will guide you through the assessment requirements, build your knowledge, skills and confidence, so that you can sit the assessments knowing that you are as fully prepared as you can be.

Preparing for the Assessments

QLTS School is the premier provider of training and consulting services for the QLTS assessments. It has a proven track record of thousands of candidates who successfully passed all QLTS assessments on their first attempt, and are now eligible to become or already dual-qualified lawyers.

The preparation courses are based on professionally written textbooks, video tutorials, online resources and extensive tutor support. Training is available to candidates wherever they are based around the world, and allows maximum flexibility, especially for lawyers working full-time.

Summing it all up

The days of local lawyering are now firmly behind us. To stay relevant in the global business environment, ambitious lawyers should be looking to adapt to the ever-expanding needs of their clients.

English law remains the dominant choice of law for cross-border commerce, maritime and dispute resolution, and English law qualification therefore holds the key to offering clients a global approach to fulfilling their legal service requirements.

The QLTS provides ambitious lawyers with access to that key, creating future-proof, client-focused, internationally-savvy dual-qualified lawyers. Ultimately, it’s your choice whether to invest in your legal career and acquire those skills of a ‘modern-effective lawyer’.

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