In Autumn 2021, the SQE will replace the QLTS and will forever change how you qualify. After the SQE is introduced, the QLTS will no longer be available as a route to qualification as a solicitor. The introduction of the SQE is expected to drive up international applications to levels not seen in many years.
The purpose of the QLTS is to assess foreign qualified lawyers. The purpose of the SQE is similar, but the SQE will assess all aspiring solicitors, whether UK university law graduates, non-law graduates, apprentices, legal executives, paralegals, or foreign qualified lawyers, regardless of their background.
The overall structure of the SQE and QLTS assessments are similar in the way that they are both divided into two different sections and that the first section must be passed before the second can be attempted. The QLTS is structured into two different parts, Part 1, MCT, and Part 2, OSCE. SQE will have also have two different parts in stages, Stage 1, Functioning Legal Knowledge Assessments, and Stage 2, Practical Legal Skills Assessments. Likewise in the QLTS, SQE Stage 1 will be available at various international centres, but SQE Stage 2 will only be available in England and Wales initially.
Part 1 of the QLTS, the MCT, focuses on assessing the application of knowledge of substantive law, and is only one assessment, consisting of 180 questions, divided into morning and afternoon periods of 2 hours and 45 minutes each. The MCT lasts 5 hours and 30 minutes. You are given an unlimited number of attempts to pass.
Stage 1 of the SQE will focus on assessing the application of functioning legal knowledge required for effective practice, consisting of 360 questions, divided into two assessments of 180 questions each, likely to run across two separate days for a total of about 10 hours. With the SQE, you are given three attempts to pass each assessment in a 6-year period. The content of SQE1 covers more practice areas than the MCT, and assesses substantive, procedural and practical law, whereas the MCT only assesses substantive law. For example, SQE1 will assess civil and criminal litigation where those areas are not currently assessed on the MCT.
Part 2 of the QLTS assesses six different skills across three legal practice areas, has 15 assessments and takes 12 hours and 45 minutes, and also comes with an unlimited amount of attempts to pass. SQE2 assesses six different skills across five legal practice areas, has 16 assessments and takes 13 hours and 45 minutes, but you are given only three attempts to pass each assessment in a 6-year period.
With the QLTS, there is no time frame that both parts much be completed, but with the SQE, both stages must be completed within 6 years.
Exemption from the SQE will only apply to qualified lawyers with practice rights on the basis of their prior qualifications or experience, and only from a whole component(s) of the SQE, including an equivalents degree to a UK degree or UK qualification through a UK ENIC Statement of Comparability. Exemption from the QLTS can be granted to lawyers who are able to demonstrate that they have the requisite knowledge of English law. The exemption can be from just one element or from a whole of a test.
The SQE requires graduate students who are not qualified lawyers in another jurisdiction to complete a two-year Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) experience requirement. Foreign qualified lawyers are exempt from the QWE. So in this respect, there is no change compared to the QLTS which does not impose any experience or training requirement on foreign lawyers.
As to the English language test, candidates undertaking the QLTS or SQE are not subject to any English language requirement. However, you should ensure that your standard of written, spoken, reading, and listening English is appropriate for the assessments otherwise you are unlikely to pass. In very limited circumstances, the SRA may impose an English language requirement to foreign qualified lawyers who may be exempt from SQE2.