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 important to progress in your legal career.
Some universities favour traditional, academically rigorous subjects such as history (A-level law is not usually a requirement).
The solicitor apprenticeship is a six-year programme of paid, on-the-job training ending in qualification as a solicitor. The entry requirements are five GCSEs graded 9-4 (A to C) and three A levels (minimum grades vary among employers from CCC to AAB) or equivalent work experience. The apprenticeship also integrates a law degree, 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.
From September 2021, all solicitor apprentices will now be required to pass the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). The apprenticeships will include preparation and training, with the assessments incorporated throughout the apprenticeship.
Find out more about the SQE via LCN's SQE hub.
Lawyers don’t have to study law at university! A non-law degree can be followed by a law conversion course.
The qualifying law degree, or LLB, covers seven compulsory subjects: public, criminal, contract, tort, property, equity and trusts, and EU law.
A law conversion course packs the key learning of a law degree into one year (if studying full time). Following the introduction of the SQE, a law conversion is not required to become a solicitor.
This is a mandatory stage of training to become a barrister that follows your law degree or law conversion. There are a range of options at different law schools, serving different learning styles and budgets.
The one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) is the vocational stage of training to be a solicitor. It is now gradually being replaced by the SQE.
Pupillage is a compulsory, year-long period of on-the-job training before qualification as a barrister. Pupils practise under the guidance and supervision of a pupil supervisor.
Qualifying work experience/training contract
Qualifying work experience (which may traditionally take place in the form of a two-year ‘training contract’ is a period of paid employment and training with a law firm or other approved organisation before qualification as a solicitor.
Barristers offer advice on specific legal issues and represent 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 (though not a solicitor) who is trained to specialise as an expert in a particular area of law. In Summer 2021 CILEX launched the CILEX Professional Qualification which provides three outcomes: CILEX paralegal, CILEX advanced paralegal and CILEX lawyer. For more information, go to www.cilex.org.uk.
Intermediate legal and paralegal apprenticeships
A legal apprentice starts their career straight from school. You receive paid, on-the-job training in legal skills, commercial skills and professional conduct. For more detail on what apprentices do and how to become one, visit our Legal apprenticeships section.
Paralegals have traditionally worked as support staff, but in practice many experienced paralegals do the same work as solicitors. 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 as a way to fulfil the SRA’s qualifying requirements without doing a training contract.
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)
From September 2021, anyone considering a career as a solicitor who starts an undergraduate degree must pass the new SQE. This will gradually replace the LPC and makes the work experience requirements for becoming a solicitor more flexible – qualifying work experience can be completed in up to four separate placements taking place before, during and after SQE study.
For more information, see LCN's SQE hub.