Irish JR over new overseas lawyer rules may just be “negotiating ploy”, LSB suggested

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By Legal Futures

1 September 2010

International lawyers: many more jurisdictions now eligible

The Legal Services Board’s initial reaction to the Law Society of Ireland’s threat of legal action over the new rules for overseas lawyers requalifying as solicitors was that it might just be a “negotiating ploy”, Legal Futures can reveal.

LSB chief executive Chris Kenny’s report to the 29 June meeting of the LSB’s main board – released to Legal Futures under the Freedom of Information Act – said “our initial analysis does not suggest that they have a strong case”. At this point, however, the LSB had only received a letter before action; subsequently the Law Society of Ireland did lodge an application for judicial review, which has been stayed until 30 September.

Mr Kenny reported that on 17 June the LSB received the letter before action from City law firm Stephenson Harwood on behalf of the Law Society of Ireland challenging the LSB’s decision of 31 March to approve the SRA’s regulations which enabled the introduction today of the new Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS).

He continued: “The challenge relates to the end of an exemption for Irish-qualified lawyers from sitting qualification assessments applicable to those from other jurisdictions who wish to enter the roll of solicitors in England and Wales. It requests that we withdraw, revoke or repeal the approved QLTS regulations at the first available opportunity. Our initial analysis does not suggest that they have a strong case and the threat of action may be designed more as a negotiating ploy with SRA than a firm signal of intent.”

As reported yesterday (see story), the QLTS came into force today with no exemption currently for Irish solicitors, although it is thought that talks between the SRA and Law Society of Ireland are continuing.

Kaplan QLTS, part of education and training provider Kaplan, has been appointed as the sole assessment organisation to provide the QLTS assessments following what the SRA described as “a rigorous tender exercise last month”.

From today, candidates applying to transfer will be considered under the new QLTS rules. As part of this, international applicants will need to show they have met the English language requirement. QLTS assessments are due to start in the New Year, and will include practical exercises which will replace the previous Qualified Lawyer Transfer Regulation experience requirement.

The aim of the new scheme is to ensure that all applicants satisfy the ‘day one’ outcomes, which are the standard for lawyers qualifying through the domestic route. 

SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: “The public need to have confidence in their solicitor wherever he or she may originally have qualified. This is the first fundamental change in the system of assessment of international lawyers for 20 years.

“We have seen a year-on-year increase in the number of applications which has now reached around 26% of newly authorised solicitors annually. This system will ensure that everyone has a clear standard to achieve. We have also substantially increased the diversity of the eligible jurisdictions so we are opening up access to the profession while at the same time making sure that standards are met.”

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