June 22, 2023
For many aspiring lawyers, questions arise over average qualifying times. In order to address this, let’s outline various paths to qualifying as solicitors or barristers (and associated hurdles). 

How Long Does It Take to Become as a Lawyer?

The central question of this article cannot, alas, be answered within a sentence or two. Instead, the answer relies on a number of factors, including the type of lawyer you want to be, the route you take to get there, and even the moment when you choose to start counting.

GCSE and A Levels

All aspiring lawyers will need a strong academic background – it has remained one of the skills which law firms and Chambers are always looking for. Students need to perform relatively well in their GCSEs (usually at age 16) and A Levels (usually at age 18). You should pick relevant subjects for these exams in order to prepare you for a career in law, and aim to achieve the best grades possible. Let’s start our count from the moment you complete your A Levels.

Potential Challenges:

Not everyone gets the grades they were expecting, and this can affect your journey. For many people, this can mean re-sits. If your A Level grades are not high enough to meet entry requirements on results day, you may end up taking another university through UCAS’ Clearing service. This is not necessarily a negative, by any means, and should be viewed as a minor setback at most. It also doesn’t usually affect the number of years your path to qualification is likely to take.


Next, most aspiring lawyers will attend university (picking the right university is something else to consider) for 3 years. This is currently compulsory for all barristers, and most solicitors still choose to do so as well (although the solicitor apprenticeship route is opening up now, which will be addressed in more detail below).

At university you may choose to study for a qualifying law degree or another subject altogether. Again, you need to develop a strong academic record – generally, a 2.1 at a minimum if possible. Some firms, such as Slaughter and May, are known for pushing their future trainees to achieve firsts. 

It is also around this time (penultimate and final year of university) that many aspiring lawyers can begin applying for graduate roles in law – namely training contracts for solicitors and pupillage for barristers. 

Potential Challenges:

Achieving top marks at university can also be challenging – some students may require re-sits for some modules, and the workload in general at university can be overwhelming at times (it is not uncommon for some students to defer for a year mid-degree, for example in Oxford where the process is known as rustication). These setbacks should not throw you off from achieving the end goal, and in fact are really useful ways to reset and come back stronger for some people.

The vast majority of people will not secure training contracts or pupillage on their first attempt, and many will face countless rejections. It is not uncommon to start law school (the next step) without a sponsor behind you, and it is not a massive hurdle to continuing on your journey.

Law School

Once you graduate from university, you will usually start at a law school – an institution such as The University of Law that offers a range of courses from the undergraduate to the graduate level. 

If you have a non-qualifying law degree (that could be a non-qualifying BA in Law or even a degree in English, History, etc.), you’ll spend one year doing a conversion course (previously known as the GDL, now usually called the PGDL) to bring you up to scratch with the legal concepts your friends will have learned during their law degrees. 

The second year of law school (or first year for those with a qualifying law degree from university) is where the two paths (for solicitors and barristers) split. Aspiring solicitors will go on to take the SQE (previously the LPC – soon to be discontinued) for one year, while aspiring barristers will go on to take a bar course

Potential Challenges:

Again, the grades can be difficult to achieve (though most law firms or Chambers will not require a distinction in every module, and a pass is often enough to suffice). At this stage, you may still not have secured a training contract or pupillage – again, this is not a major cause for concern.


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Gaining Compulsory Work Experience

After law school, you will need to gain work experience which qualifies you as a lawyer. 

For solicitors, they need to undertake two years (usually split into four six-month periods known as seats) of approved ‘QWE’ (qualifying work experience), which is often found in the form of a training contract with a law firm (though it could also be completed in-house as a lawyer at another type of company). Most will want to secure an associate position after this stage.

For barristers, you need to complete pupillage, which is a one year course (split into two six-month periods known as sixes) usually spent at a barrister’s Chambers. You will probably seek to secure tenancy from this point (essentially full-time employment, though you are to some extent still self-employed as a barrister).

In both cases, during your training you are earning a decent salary as well (loosely around £50,000 per annum for the top firms/Chambers).

Once this has been completed, congratulations – you are now a qualified lawyer.

Potential Challenges:

Entering the workplace comes with an array of challenges, including the need to work as part of a team (probably relatively new to you at this stage of your legal career) and communicate effectively with clients. This is something you will certainly get better at with time.

Working in law can come with particularly intense and long hours, which needs to be balanced by making sure you are looking after yourself and working at a firm which aligns with your own work-life balance needs.

What If I Cannot Secure Work Experience?

It is not uncommon whatsoever to struggle at first when pursuing coveted training contract and pupillage offers, which are all extremely competitive (though do vary in acceptance rate based on the specific organisation). Continuing to apply well into law school (and even after) is not the end of the world, by any means.

Another point worth noting is that the SQE’s requirements for QWE no longer mean you need to complete a training contract specifically. Instead, work experience as a paralegal or as a volunteer in a legal clinic (to provide just a few examples) are often now accepted as qualifying work experience – both are usually much less competitive routes than training contracts. 

What If I Complete A Solicitor Apprenticeship?

As mentioned earlier, after A Levels, some aspiring solicitors will choose to complete a solicitor apprenticeship instead of going to university. There are a great number of differences between the two paths which you need to weigh up in your own context, but this route essentially still takes the same amount of time as the traditional route (around 6-7 years until reaching qualification).

Key Takeaways

The path to qualification for lawyers in the UK can vary greatly depending on a number of factors. On the whole, however, a rough estimate would put the process (starting after you have completed your A Levels) at 5-7 years.

This estimate does not take into account the fact that set-backs and delays in the process. Taking a year out during or before university, or needing an extra year to find qualifying work experience are incredibly normal and nothing to be feared. Everyone is on their own path to qualification as a lawyer, and imposing a single view of what that path should look like can be misleading at times.


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