How to get SQE exemption as a foreign lawyer

England and Wales are the only regions we know of where you can qualify as a foreign lawyer using foreign work experience. To become a practising lawyer in England and Wales, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) states that a foreign lawyer needs to pass the conversion route via the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). They also need a recognised degree, two years of qualifying work experience and meet character and suitability requirements. However, in some cases, the path to becoming a practising lawyer in England and Wales is less complex and time-consuming. The foreign qualified lawyer can have SQE1 and SQE2 exemptions. They can also have exemptions from the Qualifying Work experience.

SQE2 Exemptions

Lawyers from a selected number of countries have automatic SQE2 exemptions. As of January 2024, those countries were Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Faroe Islands and Greenland, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Jersey, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Ukraine.

If your country is not on this list and you want to check if you are exempt from the SQE2 exam, please check the SRA page. It may be the case that the SRA has not had an application relating to your specific country or qualification yet. Exemptions are sometimes granted on a case-by-case basis. 

If you are a qualified solicitor from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, you will have exemptions from both the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. 

You will have full exemption from the SQE2 exams if you can show that your qualifications and experience have been obtained in a legal system not “substantially different” from the system in England and Wales. You will need to have evidence that you practised law in your home jurisdiction in the same way it is practised in England and Wales, e.g. conducting client interviews or drafting particulars of a claim.

Exemptions from qualifying work experience for foreign lawyers

As a foreign lawyer, you do not need to work towards the two years of Qualifying Work Experience in England and Wales. The SRA will generally acknowledge your professional experience gained in your home jurisdiction. You will need to have evidence from your supervisor in your home country. It can be experience in a law firm, in a legal clinic for academic institutions, a law centre or other appropriate institution. The evidence needs to be signed off as meeting the SRA requirements by a solicitor in England or Wales. 

However, there will be no exemption from the mandatory requirement to have a degree.

Theoretically, as a foreign lawyer, you may also be exempt from SQE1 (Functioning Legal Knowledge 1 – FLK1 or Functioning Legal Knowledge 2 – FLK2 or both) if your qualifications and experience meet the criteria stated by the SRA. However, the qualifications and experience must cover the whole SQE assessment, not only part of it. You can get an exemption in theory from either FLK1 or FLK2 or from both. It is very rare to have exemptions from SQE1.

How to apply for SQE exemptions

If as a foreign lawyer you need to apply for an SQE exemption, then:

  1. Create a mySRA account;
  2. Generate SRA number; 
  3. Select “Start new applications” on the home page; 
  4. Select the application called “Apply for qualified lawyer exemption from the SQE assessments”; 
  5. Complete the form “SQE – Foreign Qualified Lawyers exemption application form V 2.0”. The following details are required: 
    1. Personal details;
    2. Details and contact info for your current jurisdiction; and
    3. Which exemptions are being applied for.
  6. Upload the completed form to your ‘MySRA’ portal with proof of qualification and a £265 fee. 
    1. Examples and evidence of knowledge and experience in the areas of law and skills for (as applicable) – SQE1 FLK1, SQE1 FLK2, SQE2.

For the SQE2 exemption, you need to hold one or more of these practising rights in your own country: 

  1. Criminal litigation;
  2. Civil litigation/dispute resolution;
  3. Property practice;
  4. Wills and intestacy;
  5. Probate administration and practice; 
  6. Business organisations – rules and procedures.

You will also need also to get a reference and a certificate of good standing from your local legal regulatory body.

Please apply for all exemptions and wait for confirmation from the SRA before booking any further SQE assessments. The SRA will make a decision within 180 days.