MP-MSP 2021 graduate Elisabeth Lobuteva passed the first part of the Solicitor Qualification Exam (SQE1).
SSIR : Lisa, first of all we would like to congratulate you on passing the first part of the Solicitor Qualification Exam (SQE1)! Could you tell us more about who this exam is for and what opportunities are given to its holders?
E.L.: There are two types of lawyers in the UK: solicitors and barristers. Solicitors are people who work in law firms and do the paperwork, all the deals go through them. And barristers are those who have the right to appear directly in court. If you want to work as a lawyer in the UK, you need to choose one of these areas and get the appropriate qualifications. I decided that I wanted to continue to work in the firm, to deal with corporate and financial law, respectively it is a little bit not the area where I need to appear in court. That’s why I chose to become a solicitor.
SSIR : What does the process of qualifying as a solicitor consist of?
E.L.: You have to have two years’ experience and it has to be qualifying work experience (QWE), i.e. that experience has to comply with the rules of the Solicitors Regulation Authority for England and Wales (SRA). You could be working as a paralegal, volunteering at a legal clinic, for example, or interning at a law firm. You also have to pass two parts of the exam. I have only taken the first part of the test, the theory part, and I still have to take the second part, the practical part. So far I have no practice here, but I’m actively looking for a job. I decided to take the first part of the exam, because the search process is much easier with a positive result. Even now, I feel much more confident when I am interviewed and I can answer questions about English law without any problems.
SSIR : How did you prepare for SQE1? Was it difficult to sign up for the exam itself?
E.L. : Before 2021, there was another way into the profession: you had to take the annual LPC Legal Practice Course and pass the exam. The new SQE system gives you the opportunity to study for the exam yourself, at your own pace. There are so many providers who prepare for these exams. You can buy courses at different intensity levels: 10, 20, or 40 weeks. I started studying from September 2022. I was lucky because I had the opportunity to not work while I was preparing, so I prepared for the exam in a fairly short period of time. It took me about four months to do all the preparation, and on average I spent about 5-6 hours a day studying the material, with a break on the weekends.
Signing up for the exam itself is quite difficult: I «stood» in an electronic queue for more than 1.5 hours before I managed to book my place for the exam. There are a lot of people who want to, and not enough seats for everyone. After all, if you want to build a career in law in the UK and get a position above paralegal, you can’t avoid taking the SQE.
SSIR : How does the first part of the exam go? How difficult was the preparation and passing process?
E.L.: To pass the exam you have to study 16 legal topics, including the basics of the Anglo-Saxon legal system, constitutional law, dispute resolution, land law, criminal law, tax law, real estate law, and more. The exam itself consists of 360 questions with variants of answers and is held in two days. There are 8 topics tested on each day, but there are two, ethics and taxes, that are found on each day.
I really enjoyed the preparation process, it was very interesting. It gave me a terrific foundation in English law, I was confident in my knowledge and went to the exam with a good mood. When I was preparing for the exam I took practice tests more than once, but the questions I got on the exam were very different to what I had done before. The first 90 questions threw me off my game, but I managed to pull myself together and cope with the task, which I am very happy about. It is important to understand that the questions on the exam are cases, tasks that must be solved within the allotted time. That is, it is not enough just to learn the theoretical material, you need to have a comprehensive understanding of it, the ability to apply the law in practice. In principle, several answers may fit, but you need to choose the most correct one, paying attention to small details.
SSIR : Did your experience at MGIMO and SSIR come in handy in preparing for the solicitor qualification exam?
E.L.: After graduating from MGIMO and SSIR, I went to King’s College London and completed the LLM in International Business Law. I realized that if I wanted to stay in London I had to do something, so I decided to qualify as a solicitor. I studied mostly international law as part of my master’s degree, and it didn’t really come in handy when I was preparing for my exam.
What I am really incredibly grateful to MGIMO and the Swiss School is a course on legal concepts and categories in English. I am grateful that they literally «drummed» into us the vocabulary and basic concepts of English law. I remember in my Legal English class in Geneva, we were forced to calculate taxes as part of our study of tax law terminology. And I was thinking back then: «What’s the point of all this? Are we in a higher math class?» But when at the end of January I took my SQE1 exam and calculated taxes to solve problems, I understood why we were explained it so thoroughly. Or, for example, the vocabulary on the UK land law seemed to me very complicated and unnecessary, but this knowledge was very useful in the process of preparing and passing the qualification exam.
On the constitutional law course, we went through the basics of the constitutional system of Great Britain, including the features of the unwritten Constitution. In the senior courses we also spent a lot of time studying the legislation of Great Britain, which has been a member of the EU for a long time, and the legal consequences of Brexit for the legal system of the country.
Studying at MGIMO and SSIR gave me a very good base, on which I can already string something on top, improve and deepen the acquired knowledge.
SSIR : What are the next stages of the solicitor’s qualification exam?
E.L. : After finishing my master’s degree, I wanted to specialize in corporate law. But during my studies, I also liked real estate practice and dispute resolution. So now I’m looking for work that will count towards my qualifying work experience (QWE) for the exam. And then it will be easier for me to prepare for the second part of the exam, which is just about practical skills. In the UK, even after graduating from top universities such as Cambridge, the average time to find a job is at least six months. There are a lot of layoffs now, and in general times are not the most favorable for the labor market. But I’m optimistic and confident that I will succeed.
SSIR : Of course, everything will work out for sure! Once again we congratulate you on your first step towards the profession of a solicitor and wish you success and good luck in this difficult but very important work!
* Professional-oriented course for international lawyers «English for Law» («Legal concepts and categories in English. Translation Skills») was developed by I.G. Fedotova, G.P. Tolstoyatenko, N.V. Staroselskaya and I.A. Bogdanova, professors of MGIMO and the Swiss School for International Relations.