GPSolo Magazine - July/August 2006
Becoming a British Solicitor
In December 2004 I saw an ad that contained information about the procedure for an experienced American attorney becoming a British solicitor. I checked into it and found out that the British had created a simple process to accomplish this end. First, you applied to the Law Society for permission to take the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test, telling the Law Society about your background and providing references and evidence of your good standing as a member of the bar. After receiving certification to take the test, you have to pass it. If you do, the Law Society enrolls you as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. If you do not, then you get to take it again. . . .
The test consists of what the British describe as three “Heads.” Each Head refers to a general subject area. Within the Head, the test covers a variety of subjects. One Head covers litigation and civil procedure. Another covers accounting, ethics, client care, the British regulatory scheme for financial services, and the anti-money-laundering regulations. The third covers estates in land, conveyancing, contracts, landlord-tenant matters, wills, trusts, probate, and estate and gift taxation.
You must pass each Head independently. Scores do not average from one Head to another. Except for the second Head, scores from within questions in the Head average together, even if they are denominated as separate tests. For example, the Property Head includes two tests, one on estates in land, conveyancing, contracts, and landlord-tenant matters, and the other on wills, trusts, probates, and estates and gift tax. Each test consists of three essay questions; you must answer two of the three, with one question identified as mandatory. The scores for all questions together determine whether you pass that Head, and if you fall a bit below the mark on one part but do well on the second, the second can pull up the total score to a passing range. The second Head is different as it includes two separate tests: One test covers accounting and the other covers the remainder of the subject matter. To pass the Head, you must pass each test separately—no matter how well you do on one test, if you are one point below passing on the other, you fail the Head.
I have always had an interest in England and its history. I thought it might be interesting to learn more about the British legal system. More on a whim than for any reason in particular, I signed up for a review course on British law for the exam, requested and completed the forms to qualify to take the exam, filled them out, and sent them in for approval.
Several weeks later I received my certificate. As it turned out, you do not have to take the tests all at once. I found it worked much better for me to take one Head at a time. As a result, I spread the studying and testing process out over a year, but that worked out in connection with the fact that I continued to practice law in California full-time while doing a number of extracurricular activities (such as teaching, lecturing, writing, bar work, and other community service work, including coaching soccer and futsal). I have now concluded the testing procedure successfully and have received and forwarded the required documentation to the Law Society to complete the process of enrollment as a solicitor. As of May 15, 2006, the Law Society will enroll me as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
When people ask why I did it, I somewhat glibly reply, “Because I could.” In truth, there is more to the equation. As we get older, it is important to keep our minds active. One of the best ways to do that is to learn something new. For that reason, many seniors return to college or take college-level courses through extension programs. Although continuing my practice certainly keeps my mind active, I felt some dormant brain cells come back to life as I studied for a bar exam for the first time in more than 30 years (I took the California Bar Exam in July 1973). Aside from waking up a few brain cells, I felt that the license might create additional prestige, or at least interest, in my biographical information when I give a lecture or presentation or write an article.
Although I have no plans to move to England to practice, I recognize the license could result in some direct benefit to my practice by attracting some additional clients. Ironically, while I was in the process of taking the tests, I acquired a Canadian client because of the threat of litigation in California. That client hired me because of my expertise as a California attorney, but I believe the client’s comfort level increased when I mentioned that I was in the process of qualifying to become a solicitor.
Last, but not least, the license opens the door to additional classes (the British call CLE courses PDC—Professional Development Courses) to enhance and keep current my knowledge of British law.
One unanticipated collateral effect: I now find “NO SOLICITORS” signs personally offensive.
Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. He is the special issue editor of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.