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Qualification routes in the United Kingdom

Qualification routes in the United Kingdom

Kat C-W


In the move to diversify the legal profession, there are now more ways than ever to enter it and fewer people qualifying are taking the traditional law degree route to become a solicitor.

With this in mind, this post sets out all of the ways that you can qualify as a solicitor in the United Kingdom, along with rough timelines and prices (although these can vary year-on-year).

Be aware that with the introduction of the solicitors qualifying exam (SQE), these routes could be merged or simplified (or made much more complex). More on the SQE at the end.

Law degrees
The traditional route to qualification is to study an LLB at university. However, if you aren’t sure whether law is for you, it is better to study a traditional subject in something you think you will enjoy and excel at it than to force your way through a law degree, as it will be a long three years! Not doing law at university isn’t a huge problem when it comes to recruitment at firms now. 

  • Where: many universities offer law, including distance-learning providers
  • Length: three years full time or up to six years part time)
  • Cost: current government set tuition fees 

Other degree and GDL
If you decide not to do a law degree or you decide part way through university that law is going to be your focus, then you will need to take the graduate diploma in law (GDL) course. This is a one-year course that covers the foundations of a law degree. 

  • Where: any undergraduate UK university for your degree; the GDL is offered in fewer places and if a firm is sponsoring you, they may require that you take the course at their preferred university. It is also offered as distance learning
  • Length: one year full time, but can also be completed part time
  • Cost: the average cost is £8,500, but this can be funded by firms and scholarships; no eligibly for student finance 

Foreign degree and GDL
If you have completed your undergraduate degree in another country, you will need to take the GDL. This may also be true if you have taken a law degree. To skip the GDL, you must apply for a certificate of academic standing to move straight to the legal practice course (LPC). This certificate will prove that your undergraduate degree has given you sufficient legal knowledge. 

This flexible way of entering the legal profession requires no formal qualifications (although there are GCSE or Level 2 requirements suggested). The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) route allows you to become a lawyer with expertise in one or two areas as opposed to the broader spectrum that a solicitor would handle. You will need to undertake Level 3 and Level 6 and a period of work-based learning. Once qualified as a chartered legal executive, you can move towards becoming admitted as a solicitor by taking the LPC. You will be exempt from the training contract period. CILEx can also be taken after graduating. This will enable you to become a chartered legal executive at a fraction of the cost of the LPC. 

  • Where: there are many CILEx training centres throughout the United Kingdom and work-based learning can be undertaken in a variety of places, making it a flexible way to qualify
  • Length: you will need a minimum of three years’ work experience. Two of these can be done with during your academic studies and one must be done after
  • Cost: variable, but in most instances, you can work while studying

Following legal education, you will be required to take the LPC and then complete two years’ recognised training. 

To become a solicitor under the Solicitor Apprentice Scheme, you will need to work for six years as an apprentice in a law firm while undertaking part-time study. You can also do paralegal (two years) or CILex apprenticeships (five years) to work your way up in less time and then move onto the traditional pathway. These apprenticeships started in 2016 and require the completion of the SQE before qualification. You may still need a minimum standard of GCSE and A-level results, depending on the firm.