How to Become a Solicitor
If you have ever wondered how to become a Solicitor, you are not alone. With several qualification routes on offer, prospective legal professionals may be left questioning which is the right option for them. In this article we present and explore the different ways of becoming a Solicitor so you can make the best decision for your career.
Before we tackle the subject of becoming a Solicitor, it's worth taking a look at what Solicitors do.
Solicitors provide legal support and advice to clients, acting as the first point of contact for those with legal issues and grievances. Solicitors work at private firms, in-house for companies, within government bodies or other authorities, advising clients ranging from private individuals to major organisations.
Typical duties of a Solicitor include:
• Liasing with clients
• Carrying out research into cases and legislation
• Drafting legal documents
• Collecting evidence
• Instructing Barristers ahead of a hearing
Solicitor Advocates have rights of audience, meaning that, like Barristers, they can represent their clients in court.
A career as a Solicitor necessitates responsibility, confidentiality and dedication. Long hours and a very busy workload are to be expected, but the rewards of helping clients are invaluable.
Reflecting the complexity of the profession and the commitment required by those within it, becoming a Solicitor is neither a quick nor easy process, often involving many years of education and practical experience prior to qualification. However, there are several options catering to prospective Solicitors at any level of education – from GCSE to degree level. Read on to learn about the different ways to become a Solicitor.
What qualifications do you need to become a Solicitor?
This is a question without a simple answer due to the range of ways of qualifying. If you want to take the traditional route you will need to be degree educated and have completed the LPC. Meanwhile, those looking to embark on a Solicitor apprenticeship don't need a university education but will need to demonstrate a strong academic background at school and college. Which route you choose to become a Solicitor will likely be influenced by your existing level of education.
The traditional route of qualifying is the most common way to become a Solicitor and involves gaining a degree before moving on to the Legal Practice Course and a training contract.
Many students and graduates ask us how to become a Solicitor without a law degree, but pay close attention to this section and you will see that a law degree is by no means essential. So, don't panic if you decide you want to become a Solicitor while halfway through studying your degree in History.
The traditional route to qualifying as a Solicitor goes as follows:
1. A Law Degree (LLB) or an alternative undergraduate degree followed by the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)
The GDL is a conversion course for non-law graduates, offered by several universities including the University of Law. It can be completed full-time or part time over one or two years.
Your undergraduate degree must be considered a ‘qualifying law degree’ by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) in order for you to be accepted onto the Legal Practice Course.
2. The Legal Practice Course (LPC)
This is a one to two-year course depending on whether you complete it full or part-time. The course, which has three vocational electives, is designed to give prospective Solicitors all the skills they need before commencing their training contract. Find out more about the LPC here.
3. Training Contract
A training contract at a law firm usually lasts two years. Trainees typically complete four or more ‘seats’ in different areas of law as well as undertaking the Professional Skills Course (PSC). Training contracts vary across every firm, so it is important to do plenty of research into what each course involves and the types of seats on offer.
Though less common, you can also opt for training in-house. You can find out more about in-house training contracts here.
4. Admission to the Roll of Solicitors
Following completion of your training contract, you can apply to the SRA who will confirm if you have qualified for admission to the Roll of Solicitors.
An alternative route to qualifying as a Solicitor is through ‘Equivalent Means’ or the ‘Paralegal Shortcut.’ This method is where work-based and certificated learning exempts you from traditional qualifications including the LPC and the Common Professional Examination (CPE).
Paralegals who build up enough experience in three areas of law over several years are eligible to take the Professional Skills Course (PSC) and qualify as a Solicitor thereafter.
The experience gained must match the regulations outlined by the SRA before they can grant you Equivalent Means.
Some firms offer training contracts to Paralegals, but this is a less common route and is not always guaranteed.
One of the alternative ways to qualify as a Solicitor without a degree is by completing the Solicitor Apprenticeship.
This a Level 7 programme which takes five to six years to complete. It is aimed at post-A-level students, but the course is also open to Paralegals and Chartered Legal Executives.
The minimum entry requirements are usually 5 GCSEs and 3 A-levels (Grade C and above – including Maths and English at GCSE).
The course covers all the content from a law degree and the LPC combined, which allows apprentices to obtain the equivalent of a degree and an LLM (Masters).
During the course, you will spend 20% of your working week studying and the rest of the time working in a law firm. The firm will determine how this study period will be taken, but typically apprentices are granted one day per week to study.
Find out more about Solicitor Apprenticeships here.
If you want to work as a Lawyer but are not necessarily set on becoming a Solicitor, you have the option to instead qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive. The role of a Solicitor is not so different to that of a Legal Executive. Like Solicitors, they provide legal support and advice to clients, prepare legal documentation and attend court proceedings.
The difference is that whilst Solicitors must cover a range of legal practice areas during qualification, Legal Executives stick to one particular area of law. Typical specialisms include conveyancing, litigation and private client law.
In order to become a Chartered Legal Executive, you must complete a qualification offered by the CILEx (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives). The average time to qualify is 4 years, but this varies with experience level.
The minimum entry requirements are four GCSEs grade C or above. An overview of the route to qualification is as follows:
1. Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice
This course is equivalent to an A-level, covering all core areas of law and serving as the foundation of your legal knowledge.
2. Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice
This is a degree level course during which you study 6 subjects. You must take one legal practice module and mandatory professional skills modules.
3. 3 years of Employment (during / after your studies)
You will learn as you earn, with training from a senior Solicitor, Legal Executive, Barrister or licensed Conveyancer. The final year of employment must be completed after the Level 6 Diploma.
After these steps are complete, you will become a fully qualified Chartered Legal Executive.
Alternatively, the CILEx Graduate Fast Track Diploma is on offer to those who have a law degree or have completed a law conversion course. This consists of a client care skills module and two modules from the Level 6 Diploma.
The fast track option takes around nine months to one year of part time study, which is much quicker than the traditional route for graduates. Find out more about how to qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive here.
As it stands, the methods listed above are the current means of qualifying as a Solicitor in the UK. However, in 2021 the SRA are introducing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) which will be obligatory for all trainee Solicitors.
This exam is designed as a standardised assessment to ensure all Solicitors have the same skill level and knowledge before qualification.
To qualify as a Solicitor under the new route you will need to:
• Have a degree (in law or any subject) or equivalent qualification (e.g. legal apprenticeship)
• Pass both stages of the SQE assessment which is based on Statement of Solicitor Competence (the first stage is a functioning legal knowledge assessment and the second is a practical legal skills exam which assesses client interview advocacy, legal research, legal drafting, legal writing, and case and matter analysis)
• Have two years’ qualifying work experience which can be pulled from four different places or be gained in one block of time
• Meet the SRA character and suitability requirements
Whether you can qualify as a Solicitor through the current route or the SQE, depends on various factors and consideration. You can use the decision tree of the SRA to determine which of the two route applies to you. The SRA has also put in place transitional arrangements for those who have started the current route.
To find out more about the SQE, click here.
The fact that there are many different ways to become a Solicitor means that there is not a definitive answer to this question.
Becoming a Solicitor via the traditional route can take anywhere from 5 to 7 years and a Solicitor apprenticeship can take up to 6 years to complete. Although some routes are shorter than this, be prepared to commit to a lengthy process.
Would you like to take part in an interview about your experience as a Solicitor? If so, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.