To be accepted for a law degree, you will need to have a minimum of five GCSEs at grade 4 (grade C under the old grading system) and above – including English, Mathematics and Science, and in some cases a foreign language.
You will also need to have a minimum of two A-Levels – three at grade A or above in order to enrol on popular university courses. You don’t necessarily have to have an A-Level in law, but some universities may demand that you have an A-Level in other specific subjects. You should research different universities and compare courses to identify what their requirements are.
If you choose to do an LLB law degree, it must be recognised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in order to make you eligible to qualify as a solicitor in the future. Recognised LLB law degrees usually feature certain compulsory modules such as Criminal Law and Tort Law.
If you study a non-law related course at university at undergraduate level, you will need to complete an additional year of study in order to meet the legal study entry requirements of becoming a solicitor by taking a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) course – otherwise known as a law conversion course.
A solicitor apprenticeship enables you to pursue a career in the legal profession without racking up university debts. A solicitor apprenticeship is generally a six-year programme that is aimed at post A-Level students. This study period is reduced if you progress from another legal apprenticeship.
An apprenticeship covers all the content of a law degree, enabling apprentices to secure a law degree and an LLM (Masters). Once an apprenticeship is completed, apprentices will need to pass the SQE exams before qualifying as a solicitor.
The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) also offers a route to becoming a solicitor if you don’t have a law degree or a legal background. The SQE is a system of qualification for solicitors in England and Wales to improve access to the profession introduced in 2021.
To take the SQE, you still need a degree, but it doesn’t have to be in law. Following the SQE route, to qualify as a solicitor you will need to pass assessments 1 and 2 and do two years of qualifying work experience. The SQE is not a course of study, but an examination and as a result students will be required to gain the necessary knowledge independently or through additional courses. Preparation courses for the SQE are delivered in several formats.
Several universities offer conversion courses and SQE preparation courses for non-law graduate students. These are delivered full-time, part-time and can be done online.
Before the introduction of the SQE, non-law graduates would have had to pass the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and complete a two-year solicitors training contract in practice, following completion of their university studies. The LPC was considered to be too inflexible and potentially failed to promote access to the legal profession.
The LPC is set to continue running until 2026 and if you started a GDL or MA Law conversion course before September 2021, you can continue to the LPC.
The LPC is a vocational course that teaches candidates how to apply what they have learned at university to real-life legal settings. Some candidates secure funding for their LPC through a law firm as part of their solicitors training contract. It is important to apply for training contracts as soon as you can, otherwise you could find it difficult to secure funding for your studies.
After completing an LPC, the next step to becoming a solicitor is a two-year period of recognised training (PRT) – otherwise known as a training contract. This involves full-time work experience with a law firm, where you will serve in different legal departments.
Larger law firms tend to start their recruitment process during the second year of university courses, so you will need to think ahead in terms of your options and start applying as soon as you can.
During your PRT, you will receive on-the-job training and solicitor work experience, getting an insight into what it’s like to be a solicitor. You will also have to undergo mandatory additional training to ensure that your professional skills meet the required standards before you qualify.
Once you have secured all the necessary solicitor qualifications, you will need to apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – the industry body that regulates the solicitor profession – for admission to the roll, which is a register of all practising solicitors in England and Wales.
Once your application has been accepted, you will receive a Solicitor Practising Certificate, which means you will be a fully qualified and certified solicitor.
Combining solicitor work experience with your studies and training is a great way to facilitate your development. It is possible to secure law firm work experience or an in-house solicitor placement, which could include completing a vacation scheme, attending a law firm open day or participating in a legal internship.
Becoming a solicitor is not the end of the journey. There are several opportunities for career progression within a law-firm or an in-house legal department.
Career progression in a law firm looks like this:
It is possible to train and qualify ‘in-house’ in a commercial organisation’s legal department and work your way through the ranks from junior solicitor right up to a ‘head of legal’ position. Alternatively, you could train and qualify in a law firm and move in-house at a later stage in your legal career.
If you want to reach the height of the solicitor profession, you could become a solicitor advocate, which would enable you to carry out a similar role to barristers in Court. You would need to obtain a Higher Rights of Audience qualification to be a solicitor advocate.
Once you have between five and seven years post experience as a solicitor, you could potentially join the judiciary as a:
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