Back to overview

The Oracle

Career changers: how can I fund my legal studies?

updated on 17 January 2022

Dear Oracle

I’m 40 years old and interested in changing careers. I want to become a solicitor but don’t know what my funding options are, can you help?

The Oracle replies

Reading time: four minutes

Pursuing a career as a lawyer, following years working in another industry, won’t be easy. That’s not to say, however, that it can’t be done.

By now, you’ve hopefully identified your motivations for this decision. If you haven’t, find time to research the profession to pinpoint what it is that has attracted you to a career in law. Even with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), it remains expensive to qualify.  

SQE

The SQE is the new route to qualifying as a solicitor – it’s a new system of exams that all solicitors must pass at the point of qualifying. It was introduced in September 2021 to replace the Legal Practice Course.

In order to qualify as a solicitor via the SQE, you must:

  • have a degree in any subject (law or non-law) or equivalent;
  • pass the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) character and suitability assessment;
  • pass SQE1 and 2; and
  • have two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE).

You can find out more about the SQE, its format, what it covers and more via the SQE hub.

https://www.lawcareers.net/Courses/Solicitors-Qualifying-Exam

Funding your legal studies is a significant factor to consider for all aspiring lawyers. Below, we have outlined the options available to you, as a career changer.

“I don’t have a degree”

If you haven’t yet completed a degree, you could be eligible for an undergraduate student loan which will help to finance your studies at this stage. You should visit the government website to find out what you are eligible for. Many undergraduate law degrees will include elements of SQE preparation.

“I have a degree”

Non-law degree holders are no longer required to complete a law conversion course (like the Graduate Diploma in Law) to take the SQE – instead, they are being encouraged to complete relevant SQE preparation courses to equip them for the SQE assessments.

Regardless of your degree (law or non-law), the SRA advises all aspiring lawyers to complete SQE preparation to give them the best chance of passing the two-part assessment. This could take the form of a standard SQE prep course, which you will most likely have to fund yourself, or an LLM including SQE preparation.

Several universities have developed master’s in law courses, which include preparation for SQE1 and 2 assessments. These courses will be eligible for the usual postgraduate master’s loan funding.

There are also alternative, cheaper SQE prep courses but these cannot be covered by a student loan.

Training contract

If you’re successful in securing a training contract, some firms have already confirmed that they will sponsor trainees to complete the SQE preparation and exams (similar to the old Legal Practice Course). You should check what your shortlisted firms are doing in this case.

Scholarships

The University of Law offers an undergraduate and postgraduate Career Changer Scholarship to support those wanting to go back into education and re-train.

The undergraduate scholarship is available for all undergraduate degrees at the university, except apprenticeship programmes, while the postgraduate scholarship is applicable for all postgraduate courses, except apprenticeship programmes, SQE1 and 2 preparation, SQE1 and 2 exam preparation and the SQE Law Essentials Online.

There are 12 full-fee and 350 partial Career Changer Scholarships of £2,000 on offer for the provider’s January/February 2022 intake.

Find out more about the university’s Career Changer Scholarships via its website.

Apprenticeships

Alternatively, there are a number of apprenticeships on offer which avoid the debt that comes alongside university, with apprentices now being assessed by the SQE. The split between studying and working is 20% and 80%, respectively. Entry requirements might vary depending on the employer, but the government has put together some recommended criteria. Applicants must have:

  • five GCSEs, including maths and English (grade C or above – or equivalent);
  • three A levels (or equivalent – minimum grade C); and/or
  • relevant employer-led work experience (among other requirements).

Apprentices will start to earn a salary earlier than those qualifying via the traditional route. The apprentice levy will part-fund the training, with SQE training and assessments funded by the firm.

Don't forget to check for legal apprenticeship vacancies via LCN's apprenticeship board!

Training to become a lawyer is expensive so it’s crucial that you’re confident that your leap of faith and change in career direction is exactly what you want. Before embarking on the change, it’s worth seeking out any legal work experience to identify whether such a career is for you.

Find out more about becoming a lawyer as a career changer in our Feature. And, for updates on the SQE, visit our dedicated hub.