Whether you’re still at school with no qualifications (yet), you’ve just graduated university with a law degree, or you’re already in the world of work but are looking to change jobs, you may be considering a career as a solicitor.
But you might be wondering what qualifications you need. Training takes a good few years to complete and it can be intense at times, so you need to be committed and prepared to work hard.
However, it will be worth it in the end, as working as a solicitor is an extremely rewarding career. From contract, tort and property law to criminal and human rights law, there are many different areas you can specialise in, and the work is often intellectually challenging and varied.
If becoming a solicitor is something you’re thinking about, read on to find out how you can get there.
What qualifications do I need to be a solicitor?
To qualify as a solicitor of England and Wales via the traditional route, you’ll need a degree in law – or a non-law degree, plus the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) – to pass the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and complete a training contract at a law firm. You’ll also need to satisfy the character and suitability requirements of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Aspiring solicitors who begin training on or after 1st September 2021 will need a degree in law – or a non-law degree with a preparation course – to pass the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) and complete two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). Again, you’ll need to meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements.
With the new SQE route comes a transition period, meaning that depending on when you started training as a solicitor, there are options to mix and match which qualifications you get. This can be tricky to get your head around, so we’ve written this article to examine these routes in more detail.
The way in which solicitors qualify is changing
If you started or accepted a place on a law degree, the GDL, the LPC or the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) before 1st September 2021, you have until 31st December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor of England and Wales in the traditional way.
However, if you’d prefer to, you can switch to the new SQE route without losing out, as it’s possible to carry over time spent on a traditional training contract. It works the other way round too. For example, if you choose to go down the traditional route, you can pass the SQE2 and carry out QWE, instead of completing a training contract.
Anyone starting their training on or after 1st September 2021 will have to go down the SQE route to qualify as a solicitor of England and Wales.
Become a solicitor via the traditional route
To become a solicitor of England and Wales via the traditional route, you’ll need to hold a qualifying law degree or take the GDL, before moving onto the LPC and completing a training contract. Here’s how this route works:
Hold a law degree or take the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)
Many different Bachelor of Law (LLB) degrees exist, but the one you hold must be recognised by the SRA as a “qualifying law degree” for you to be accepted onto the LPC.
If your undergraduate degree is in a subject other than law, you may be taking – or be going to take – the GDL, which is a law conversion course. It can be completed in a year if you do it full time, or in two years if you do it part time.
Take the Legal Practice Course (LPC)
To take the LPC, you need to achieve a minimum 2:2 in a qualifying law degree or to have done a non-law degree, followed by a conversion course like the GDL. If you’re an international student from a non English-speaking country, you may also need to provide proof of your English language ability.
The LPC is a vocational course that teaches you how to apply the things you learned at university, or while studying for the GDL, to real-life scenarios. It’s made up of two stages: Stage One covers core knowledge and skills, and Stage Two allows you to focus on the areas you want to specialise in.
You’ll be assessed via coursework, oral presentations and exams, but the approach can vary depending on the LPC provider. For example, some may offer open book exams, meaning you can refer to your textbook in the examination room.
It takes a year to complete if you do it full time, or two years to complete if you do it part time.
If you’ve already been accepted on a training contract, your law firm may cover the cost of your fees, otherwise you will have to pay for the course yourself.
Compete a two-year training contract
Also known as a Period of Recognised Training (PRT), a training contract involves two years of full-time work experience at a law firm, or in-house at a large organisation with other trainee solicitors.
You’ll usually rotate “seats” four or more times, so that you have experience working in different legal departments and can truly understand what it’s like to be a solicitor.
Additionally, you’ll be required to complete a Professional Skills course. The 12-day course consists of three core subject areas – Financial and Business Skills, Advocacy and Communication Skills and Client Care and Professional Standards – as well as 24 hours of elective courses of your choosing.
Securing a training contract is notoriously difficult, but to help give you the edge over other candidates, you can apply for vacation schemes (short-term legal placements) during the second year of a law degree, or the final year of a non-law degree.
Be aware that some of the larger firms start recruiting candidates in their second year of university, so make sure you start thinking about your options early to give yourself the best chance of being offered a placement.
Apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for admission to the Roll
Once you have all the necessary qualifications and you’ve completed your training contract, you need to complete the SRA’s screening process and then apply for admission to the Roll of Solicitors (the register of solicitors in England and Wales).
Once this has been approved, you can begin practising as a certified solicitor.
Become a solicitor via the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route
To become a solicitor of England and Wales via the new route, you’ll need to hold a qualifying law degree or take an SQE preparation course, before moving onto the SQE1 and SQE2 exams and completing QWE. Here’s how this route works:
Hold a law degree or take an SQE preparation course
There are many Bachelor of Law (LLB) degrees available, but when deciding which one to take, you should ensure it’s one that’s recognised by the SRA.
To be accepted onto a law degree, you’ll usually need at least five GCSEs, including English and maths at Grade C or above, and a minimum of two A-levels (A-level law is not always a requirement). You may also need to take the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT), which assesses your aptitude for the required skills, rather than your knowledge of the law.
Instead of studying law at university, you can choose to do a degree in another subject and then go on to complete an SQE preparation course to bring you up to speed.
Pass the SQE1 and SQE2 exams
The SQE1 is made up of two tests – the Functioning Legal Knowledge 1 (FLK1) and Functioning Legal Knowledge 2 (FLK2) – both of which you must pass before you can move onto the SQE2. These tests are designed to assess how you would approach certain legal issues as a newly qualified solicitor, with an emphasis on ethics and professional conduct.
The SQE2 also comprises two parts (oral and written) and is designed to test the way in which you apply fundamental legal principles according to a client’s needs and concerns, rather than your memory for legal knowledge.
You can complete both the SQE1 and SQE2 exams in nine to 12 months.
Carry out two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
As with the traditional route, you must do two years’ work experience. However, this route is more flexible, as you can gain experience from up to four different employers.
Some examples of work that count as QWE are placements as part of a law degree, time spent as a paralegal in a law firm or an in-house legal department, a job in a law clinic or voluntary work at a civic organisation, such as Citizens Advice.
A training contract also counts as QWE, meaning you can carry over any hours you may have completed via the traditional route.
Apply to the SRA for admission to the Roll
Once you’ve passed the exams and finished your work experience, you must apply to the SRA for admission to the Roll of Solicitors before you can start practising as a fully qualified solicitor of England and Wales.
What are the SRA’s character and suitability requirements?
When you apply to the SRA for admission to the Roll of Solicitors, they will assess your character and suitability.
They may deem you unsuitable if you have been convicted of criminal or financial misconduct.
How long does it take to become a solicitor?
If you study full time, it takes between five and seven years to become a solicitor. Some routes to qualifying take somewhat less time, but you should be prepared for a lengthy process.
Are there any other ways to become a solicitor of England and Wales?
Instead of going down the traditional or SQE routes, there are some other ways in which you can qualify as a solicitor of England and Wales.
The “Equivalent Means” or “Paralegal Shortcut” route
If you’ve been working as a paralegal for a number of years and have built up enough experience in certain areas of law, you could be eligible to take the Professional Skills Course (PSC) and become a solicitor that way.
The “Solicitor Apprenticeship” route
If you’re an A-level graduate, paralegal or chartered legal executive, you can complete the Solicitor Apprenticeship to qualify as a solicitor without having to do a degree. However, you will still have to pass the SQE exams.
You complete the apprenticeship while working at a law firm. It includes everything that’s covered in both a law degree and the LPC, giving you the opportunity to earn the equivalent of a bachelor and a master’s degree.
It takes between five and six years to complete, but it can be completed in two years, depending on any relevant work experience, a previous related apprenticeship or any other legal qualifications.
There are a number of different options when it comes to qualifying as a solicitor of England and Wales, so it can be tricky to understand what exactly it is you need to do to get there.
The new SQE route, especially, has made things more complicated, but we hope this article makes things clearer.
Whichever route you decide to take, it will be worth it in the end. Working as a solicitor is an extremely rewarding career, as the work you do will often be intellectually challenging and varied.