What do my South African qualifications count for in the UK? I am a South African qualified lawyer.
in Careers Advice, Job Applications, Legal Profession, Relocation

What do my South African qualifications count for in the UK? I am a South African qualified lawyer.

If you are a South African qualified lawyer who has decided to come to the UK to experience our high quality weather, our stable political system and our well functioning courts, congratulations! You may have spent 20 years practising in a good quality South African law firm undertaking high quality legal cases and you may even have a high profile in South Africa. Unfortunately your experience in Johannesburg or Cape Town is worth precisely zilch in London.

‘Yes but that’s so unfair’ I hear you say. Unfortunately in our experience it is a harsh reality that applies to just about every other overseas qualification for law in the UK. Your South African law degree and post graduate degree qualifications including your status as a lawyer are worth virtually nothing in the UK and you have to start all over again.

This means you probably will have to sit the QLTS (the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme) and then comes the hard bit; getting work experience.

In the UK it is so often the case that in the legal profession you can have as many qualifications as you like, but the simple fact is that you only get ahead in law if you have work experience and relevant work experience at that. By relevant work experience we mean that if you were planning to go for a job in a private practice law firm (by private practice in the UK we mean solicitors practising on behalf of general public clients or businesses rather than in-house work which is where you solely work for one employer advising them), you must get private practice work experience. This is what employers are looking for and they don’t really care in most cases if you have 15 years of South African experience.

So conveyancing firms look for conveyancing experience in the UK. After all, if you were to take a job with a UK law firm and they asked you to fill out an AP1 or go online and complete an SDLT return for the HMRC, would you actually know what they were talking about if you hadn’t actually experience in practice? It may be the case that some of the principles apply in South Africa, but because the terminology and procedures are so different, your experience really doesn’t count for anything. So get over this, concentrate on the future and start getting work experience in the UK.

How to get work experience? Always difficult. Search our website for articles on our advice on how to do this.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk