Can international students get training contracts?
There is no denying that training contracts are notoriously difficult to secure. Overseas applicants also have to find a law firm willing to sponsor their visa. It’s by no means impossible though, and many international students get training contracts at UK law firms every year. Here, we break down how you too can become a solicitor in England and Wales as an overseas applicant.
The new route to qualification
International students wishing to become a solicitor in England and Wales can qualify under the Solicitor’s Qualifying Examination (aka the SQE) route, introduced in September 2021.
In order to pass the SQE you’ll need to:
Have a degree or an equivalent qualification in any subject
Complete two years of qualifying work experience (QWE)
Complete the two SQE assessments
Meet the Solicitor Regulation Authority's (SRA) character and suitability requirements
This new route is designed to offer more flexibility to international students, as it’s possible to meet most of the requirements even if you’re not based in the UK. For example, you can do QWE in any country, as long as it’s signed off by a solicitor qualified in England and Wales.
Overseas candidates who already have work experience that meets the QWE requirements will not necessarily need to do a training contract. However, law firms do continue to offer training contracts as a valid form of QWE.
For more information about the SQE, visit our dedicated SQE course page.
Tips for securing a training contract as an overseas student
For those still looking for a training contract and who require a visa to work in the UK, it’s worth noting that unfortunately not all firms sponsor international applicants.
Start by researching which law firms do offer sponsorship; if it’s not immediately apparent from a firm’s website don’t be afraid to email the relevant graduate recruitment team for clarification. Examples of firms offering sponsorship for international trainees include Burges Salmon, DLA Piper, Fieldfisher and US law firm, Baker McKenzie.
When you’ve drawn up a list of firms, the next step is writing a stand-out application. Most require you to detail academic achievements, so if you have overseas qualifications give as much detail as possible about the equivalent GCSE or A-level grades. There’s usually space on the application form for any additional information you wish to provide.
Rest assured, if you’re applying to a law firm that sponsors international students, it’s highly likely that they’ll be familiar with converting international qualifications to their UK equivalent.
Another thing to bear in mind is the importance of articulating why you want to become qualified in England and Wales. Showing an understanding of the benefits of obtaining a UK-based training contract and pinpointing how a particular firm fits into the UK market will show that you are a candidate that has done their research.
Know what you bring to the table
Despite the hurdles you may face as an international student, you often bring a lot to the table that many domestic candidates can’t offer. Perhaps you’re fluent in another language, for example. For global law firms with international clients, having trainees who can communicate in their clients’ languages is a huge bonus.
Even if you aren’t fluent in another language, as an international candidate navigating the legal system of a foreign country, it’s likely that you’re comfortable in situations where you’re pushed outside of your comfort zone. Candidates who can demonstrate this quality in their applications are almost always guaranteed to stand out in the current market.