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English language requirements for foreign-qualified lawyers might be too restrictive

The Law Society has told the Solicitors Regulation Authority that English language requirements are too strict and that they need to change.

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The Law Society, which represents the interests of solicitors in England and Wales, has said that requirements to speak English proficiently for foreign qualified lawyers are too restrictive and need to be made easier.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has been consulting on how and when it should be assured that a foreign qualified lawyer exempt from SQE2 has the English or Welsh language proficiency needed to work as a solicitor.

The SRA would no longer accept as evidence of English language proficiency a degree taught in English unless it was the lawyer’s professional legal qualification. The Law Society has said that this could be "overly restrictive."

Consultation Response

The Society's consultation response states that "The reason for this change is that a degree taught in English in another subject may not provide the needed background in legal terms need as a solicitor. However, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)  does not specifically test proficiency in legal English either. If the concern is that a qualified lawyer educated at an English language university may still not have sufficient background in legal terminology, then the alternative proposed (IELTS or other SELT testing) does not address this concern.’

For those still needing to take a language test, Chancery Lane agrees with the SRA that the IELTS score should be lowered from the 'unnecessarily demanding' 8.5 to 7.5. Legal English UK's Chris Mitchell agrees with this: "An IELTS score of 8.5 is a high watermark. 7.5 is sufficient."

The Law Society told a legal newspaper that "we have a concern that the test providers have an economic incentive to keep the period of validity unnecessarily short in order to require more retesting. There is no evidence that a qualified lawyer who tested to the required level more than two years prior (or the relevant time limit of the test provider) will have had a decline in their English language proficiency." 

The Law Society, based in Chancery Lane in the City of London, also suggested living and working in an English-speaking country for at least two years should be proof of English language skills.

'Qualified lawyers who have achieved English language proficiency through working in an English language environment should not need to study for an artificial exam. IELTS and other SELT are artificial examination situations that require test-taking preparation and can be difficult even for skilled English speakers who are not prepared,' the Society said.

Legal English UK works with foreign qualified lawyers to deliver training in Legal English, IELTS and Business English. Contact us for more information. 

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