This is a very difficult question to answer because as we often say with these things, you find yourself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, in that your South African legal experience counts for very little in the UK and the same applies to your South African law qualifications. However just because you take UK law qualifications doesn’t mean that you will get any benefits in terms of finding work. So you virtually have to start all over again regardless of which way you do this.
If you stay in South Africa and undertake the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Exam), which has replaced the QLTS (Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme), you will still have to obtain some work experience in the UK before anyone will look at you as a potential applicant. If you move to the UK, start a law degree or GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) and work through this way, you will have to find UK work experience before anyone else will look at you for a long term job.
However if you were to ask me which is the cheapest option I would say undertaking the SQE because it is considerably cheaper than starting all over again and doing a law degree or Graduate Diploma of Law and going down that route.
Actually you could do neither of these things and instead look at simply getting UK work experience, because this is the be all and end all when it comes to getting a legal job.
We are very often asked on the telephone – how do I find a legal job? The answer is with a lot of perseverance but also with evidence of existing work experience in the area of law you are looking to get into. As you are not looking to get into South African law in England and Wales, everything you have done pretty much in South Africa is overlooked completely when it comes to applying for a job in the UK. Often this is simply ignored by students who think that they can study their way into a job or simply walk in without having ever obtained any previous legal experience.
There is a harsh reality in law that only experience in areas that you are looking to get into will be relevant to the job you are going for. So a conveyancing solicitor cannot apply for a wills and probate job because the wills and probate job is for a wills and probate solicitor and not a conveyancing solicitor. So the best of luck with your search, but bear in mind experience is the key, qualifications count for nothing and your South African experience doesn’t count for very much either.