updated on 15 October 2019
I’m confused by the complicated guidance on how long legal qualifications are valid for. Once I graduate from my law degree, how long do I have to qualify as a solicitor before it expires?
We get a lot of questions on this and it is true that the guidance available is opaque. Let’s explain what time limits there are on the validity of qualifications for both aspiring solicitors and barristers.
Law degree/GDL if you want to become a solicitor
There is no time limit on the validity of a law degree or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) for would-be solicitors. For candidates graduating from a law degree or GDL in 2020, the next step to qualifying as a solicitor is the Legal Practice Course (LPC). However, the LPC is going to be replaced when the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is introduced in 2021.
Anyone who starts a law degree or GDL before September 2021 will have until as late as 2032 to complete the LPC and qualify as a solicitor through the ‘old’ route (although in reality, course providers may not provide the LPC much beyond 2022 or 2023). Meanwhile, candidates who start later than September 2021 will have to pass the SQE.
It is not technically necessary to have completed a law degree or GDL to take the SQE, so there is no time limit on the validity of either course for candidates taking the new ‘super exam’.
The LPC must be completed within within five years of beginning the course. After you have completed the LPC, there is no expiration date on it. However, leaving a big gap between completing the LPC and applying for a training contract is something that recruiters who are looking for commitment to the profession will question you about.
Law degree/GDL if you want to become a barrister
For those pursuing a career as a barrister, the law degree/GDL must be completed within the maximum time limit of six years, although this rule can be relaxed in exceptional circumstances.
In addition, candidates must start the BPTC or one of the new Bar Training Courses within five years of graduating from a law degree or GDL. If the BPTC is not started within this time, the law degree/GDL is regarded as stale. In some exceptional circumstances, the BSB may reactivate stale qualifications, but only if the applicant can prove he/she has “current competence in all of the foundation subjects, for example through legal work or study". The only other way to reactivate a stale qualification in order to be able to take the BPTC would be to complete (or re-complete) the whole of the GDL.
As above, the BPTC must be started within five years of completing the academic stage (a law degree or GDL). If you leave it later than that, your law degree/GDL will be viewed as stale and you won’t be able to do the BPTC.
Full-time BPTC students must complete the course within two years after their expected graduation date (ie, within three years of starting the course). Part-time BPTC students have to complete the course within three years after their expected graduation (ie, within four years of starting the course).
Once you complete the BPTC, you have five years to secure pupillage before the qualification expires. During that five-year period after graduating from the BPTC, you are free to apply for pupillage. If that five-year period expires without you having successfully secured pupillage, you can request an extension from the Bar Standards Board, which has the discretion to do so. The Bar Standards Board would take whether you have been working in the legal profession during that time (for example, as a paralegal) into account when making this decision.