updated on 21 January 2022
Confused about the stages of becoming a lawyer? With the simple career timetable below, there's no need to be! Just hover over the map to reveal an outline of each stage in the process.
Change ahead: the Solicitors Qualifying Examination
Anyone who starts an undergraduate degree after Autumn 2021 will have to take the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), a new two-stage assessment that must be passed to qualify as a solicitor, in addition to two years’ qualifying work experience. The SQE replaces the LPC and also means that a law degree or GDL are no longer compulsory – although in reality you will need either an LLB, law conversion or other preparation course to be able to pass the new exams.
For more information, updates and advice head to the SQE hub on LawCareers.Net.
The foundation of your career and the essential first step - good grades are vital if you want to progress in your legal career.
The academic stage between GCSE and undergraduate level - again, good grades are essential. Some universities favour traditional, academically rigorous subjects such as history (A-level law is not usually specified).
The solicitor apprenticeship, contained within the Trailblazer suite of standardised apprenticeships, is a six-year programme of paid, on-the-job training which ends in qualification as a solicitor. The entry requirements are five GCSEs graded A*-C and three A levels graded C or above (or equivalent work experience). The apprenticeship also integrates a law degree, which is obtained at the end of the fourth year. Apprentices learn law and legal practice alongside gaining competence in legal skills, commercial skills and professional conduct.
Lawyers are not required to have studied law at university! It is possible to do a non-law degree and then do the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
The qualifying law degree, or LLB, covers seven compulsory subjects: public, criminal, contract, tort, property, equity and trusts, and EU law.
If you have a non-law degree, you must complete the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course in order to become a solicitor (until 2021) or barrister. From 2021, the solicitor route is changing with the introduction of the SQE, a new assessment that all prospective solicitors must pass to qualify. At this point, the GDL will no longer be compulsory for someone with a non-law background to attempt to the SQE assessments. However, non-law students and graduates will still need GDL-like law conversion courses to successfully pass the SQE. Expect to see such courses using the old GDL title, as well as new titles such as ‘PGDL’ and ‘law conversion’.
As of September 2020, the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is being replaced by a range of new Bar courses, which vary in fees and methods of delivery and have different titles such as ‘ICCA Bar Course’, ‘Bar Practice Course’, ‘Barrister Training Course’ and more. Graduating any one of these courses results in receiving a Postgraduate Diploma in Bar Practice, the qualification that makes a prospective barrister eligible to apply for pupillage. To find out more, read LawCareers.Net’s guide to the new Bar courses.
The one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) is the vocational stage of training to be a solicitor. It remains compulsory for prospective solicitors until 2021, when it will be replaced by the SQE.
Pupillage is a compulsory, year-long apprenticeship before qualification as a barrister. Pupils practise under the guidance and supervision of a pupil supervisor.
Period of recognised training/training contract
The period of recognised training (traditionally known as a ‘training contract’) is a period of paid employment and training with a law firm or other approved organisation before qualification as a solicitor. In most cases this will take the form of a two-year traineeship.
The training contract is a compulsory, two-year paid employment contract with a law firm or other approved organisation before qualification as a solicitor.
Barristers offer advice on specific legal issues and are on the front line, representing clients in court.
Solicitors give advice and assistance on matters of law; they are the first point of contact for those seeking legal advice and representation.
CILEx chartered legal executive
A chartered legal executive is a qualified lawyer who specialises in a particular area of law. Legal executives have roles similar to solicitors, but be aware that the remuneration may be lower. It is possible to cross-qualify as a solicitor after becoming a legal executive. Prospective legal executives must complete CILEx levels 3 and 6 (or the CILEx Graduate Fast Track for those with a degree) and three years' qualifying employment. The CILEx route is also available as an apprenticeship. For more information, go to www.cilex.org.uk.
Law apprenticeships are a good route into the legal profession for those who want to start their careers straight after leaving school instead of continuing with full-time study at university. Apprentices receive paid, on-the-job training in legal skills, commercial skills and professional conduct. There are a range of apprenticeships aimed at people at different stages, including school leavers with GCSEs only and school leavers with A levels. For more detail on what apprentices do and how to become one, visit our Legal apprenticeships section.
Paralegals have traditionally worked alongside solicitors in law firms as support staff, although in practice many paralegals do the same work as their trainee or newly-qualified solicitor counterparts. Paralegal roles provide a good route into the profession for students and graduates, either as valuable work experience before applying for a training contract or to fulfil the SRA’s qualifying requirements without undertaking a formal period of recognised training. The paralegal apprenticeship is one possible path that provides on-the-job training in a particular legal practice area. It can also form one stage of the journey to qualifying as a solicitor or chartered legal executive, although it grants few exemptions for the solicitor apprenticeship. Entry requirements are five GCSEs graded A* to C and three A levels graded C or above (or equivalent). It is a 24-30 month course. For more on this career path, see the Paralegals section.