How Hong Kong lawyers can become solicitors in England

The Journey To Becoming Qualified As A Lawyer In England And Wales As A Hong Kong Qualified Lawyer

There are 83 registered foreign law firms in Hong Kong, many of them being English law firms.. There is a rising number of Hong Kong solicitors who are dual or triple qualified. According to the 2019 Hong Kong Law Society membership survey, as many as 80% of Hong Kong lawyers were also qualified to practise in England and Wales. Being cross-qualified may open up new career opportunities and the ability to offer a broader range of services to clients from multiple jurisdictions, in an increasingly competitive and international environment. It may also help target new markets and scale up client bases. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) states that passing the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) and having two years’ Qualifying Work Experience are prerequisites to qualification.

Pre-agreed SQE2 exemption

SQE1 is the standard exam comprising multiple choice questions on functional legal knowledge – 1 and 2 (FLK1 and FLK2). SQE2 is made up of both written and oral assessments and focuses on practical legal skills. Hong Kong barristers and solicitors who want to become solicitors in England and Wales will have slightly different routes regarding SQE2. (1) Hong Kong solicitors will have a pre-agreed SQE2 exemption as there is common ground between the SQE2 syllabus and the common legal system practised in Hong Kong. However, this exemption only applies to solicitors who have qualified through Hong Kong’s trainee solicitor route. They need to have completed a degree in law then complete the Postgraduate Certificate in Law (PCLL) in one of the recognised Hong Kong universities before completing two years of training in a Hong Kong law firm (a training contract).

They will need to apply for the pre-agreed SQE2 exemption on the SRA website. The fee is £265. They will need to create an account in mySRA and apply with “Start new applications”, choosing “Apply for qualified lawyer exemption from the SQE assessments”. Proof of legal qualifications and the chosen jurisdiction of Hong Kong need to be added.

Individual SQE2 exemptions

(2) Hong Kong barristers who wish to train as a qualified solicitor in England and Wales have a different route with regards to SQE2. They need to apply for an individual SQE2 exemption. They need to provide:

  • evidence of their professional qualification e.g. an admission certificate;
  • a reference showing they have at least 12 months’ legal work experience post-qualification; and
  • proof of their referee’s professional qualification.

Hong Kong solicitors who have qualified through the Overseas Lawyers Qualification Examination (OLQE) route i.e. solicitors who have cross-qualified from another jurisdiction, also need to apply for an individual SQE2 exemption

Both Hong Kong barristers and solicitors who have qualified through OLQE will need to complete section 8 of the online application on the SRA website to apply for an individual exemption. The application fee is £265. They will need to create an account in mySRA.

They will need to apply with “Start new applications” and choose “Apply for qualified lawyer exemption from the SQE assessments”. 

For those who are declined an SQE2 exemption, they can sit for the written exam in an international centre in Hong Kong but must sit for the oral part of the assessment within England or Wales. 

Individual SQE1 exemption

Also, although there is currently no pre-agreed exemption from SQE1 for Hong Kong solicitors having qualified through Hong Kong’s trainee solicitor route, they can make individual applications to the SRA. The applications need to be supported by evidence that the solicitor’s qualifications and experience in Hong Kong cover areas of law which are not different from the laws of England and Wales and are assessed in SQE1, FLK1 and/or FLK2. 

About QWE and other criteria

Hong Kong lawyers (solicitors, barristers and solicitors who have qualified through OLQE) need to be able to show QWE. As already part of the requirement to become a Hong Kong lawyer is a pupillage (for a year for barristers) or training contract (for two years for solicitors), we recommend that aspiring lawyers get their respective QWE certified in Hong Kong by a solicitor qualified in England and Wales and approved by the SRA. Any further QWE (mainly for Hong Kong barristers wishing to become solicitors in England) needs to be undertaken in a law firm, a legal clinic for academic institutions, a law centre or other appropriate institution in Hong Kong, and certified the same way. 

It is also mandatory, as mentioned in the introduction, to have a degree and meet the character and suitability requirements as stipulated by the SRA. It is expected that the Hong Kong lawyer will already meet these requirements but needs to show evidence when applying for the role of solicitor in England or Wales. Please have a look at our blog post for a better understanding of the final steps involved to become a lawyer in England or Wales (Steps Four to Seven).

For more information about the SQE1 and SQE2 preparation courses, please check our website: