Double the rewards?

Firms involved in international trade, mergers and acquisitions work are increasingly opting for lawyers who can relate to clients from both sides of the Atlantic.

Although dual qualification allows a lawyer to understand the legal and cultural aspects of the case in both countries, achieving it involves a great deal of work and determination.

Jonathan Wilson, a UK solicitor with Baker & McKenzie, recently qualified in Illinois as a US attorney after completing a degree by studying in his lunch breaks and after work. He set a record by finishing his studies in a remarkable 18 months.

“Despite all the hard work, I absolutely enjoyed it,” says Wilson. “Particularly in the US, you have got to do something that distinguishes you.”

He believes the cost of taking the degree will be outweighed by the rewards, particularly when dealing with disputes in multiple jurisdictions where having one lawyer who can handle all the legal issues reduces costs for the client.

Lawyers from the UK normally qualify in New York or California which only require them to pass the states' Bar exams. Illinois, however, requires all its attorneys to have full US juris doctor (JD) qualifications.

“As the market develops for dual-qualified lawyers, I think people will be looking to see what level of US qualification you have,” says Wilson.

“In America, it is not enough to be just a lawyer,” he adds. “When dealing with American clients you can speak the language of the client and in-house counsel. You act as the person in between. This can be an asset when dealing with clients who think they understand each other but are mis-communicating over key points in their negotiations.”

“You do a lot of translating and cross-border communication,” says Wilson's colleague, Stephanie Liston, a US telecommunications attorney in the process of qualifying in the UK. She points out that a word such as moot, which in the US means that a point is finished, in the UK means the opposite, implying that it is open for debate.

Although US and UK lawyers have been able to conduct business for years without being qualified in other jurisdictions, Wilson and Liston believe having a dual qualification is valuable.

Thomas Benz, managing partner at the London office of international law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius, adds: “After years at the partnership level, it is not that essential to get a dual qualification when you have English partners for purposes of advice. We are encouraging younger partners to pursue it.”

from the uk to the us

New York and California let foreign lawyers become attorneys by passing state and interstate Bar exams. But there are many requirements to taking the Bar, including academic qualifications and residency.

“Don't assume you are going to be eligible,” says Nancy Carpenter, deputy executive secretary of the New York Board of Law Examiners. This is particularly relevant for UK lawyers who have taken the Common Professional Exam (CPE) and may have to apply to the Court of Appeal for permission to sit the US exam.

Illinois and most other states require lawyers to pass the JD, which involves attending a US law school. “Law schools give no more than one year's worth of credit to a foreign lawyer,” says James Faught, associate dean of Loyola School of Law, Chicago.

From the us to the uk

In November 1994, US Attorneys became eligible to become solicitors of the Supreme Court of England and Wales by passing three heads of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test (QLTT).

There are also plans for a programme to integrate a course of UK and US studies into a postgraduate degree, according to John Hodgson, principal lecturer at Nottingham Trent University's School of Law. “This is still in the early stages but it would allow either a US or a UK lawyer to have an understanding of the other's legal system,” he says.

Lawyers who want to take the QLTT need first to apply to the Law Society to determine their qualifications, and they are usually required to sit tests in property, litigation, and professional conduct and accounts.