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The Oracle

Time limits on the validity of the law degree, GDL, LPC, SQE and Bar course

updated on 24 March 2022

Dear Oracle

How long are legal qualifications valid for? Once I graduate with my law degree, how long do I have to qualify as a solicitor before it expires?

The Oracle replies

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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 who graduated with a law degree or GDL in 2021, the next step to qualifying as a solicitor could be the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), which was introduced in September 2021.

Anyone who started a law degree or GDL up to September 2021 has until as late as 2032 to complete the LPC and qualify as a solicitor through the ‘traditional’ route. However, course providers may not teach the LPC much beyond 2022 or 2023.

Find out more about The University of Law's SQE, LPC and law conversion courses today:

Meanwhile, candidates who start an undergraduate degree or postgraduate law conversion after September 2021 will have to pass the SQE to qualify as a solicitor.

It is not 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’.

That said, some firms will require non-law graduates to complete a law conversion course before starting SQE preparation and QWE with them. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) also encourages non-law graduates to complete an SQE preparation course to give themselves the best chance of passing both stages of the SQE.  

For more information on non-law students, the SQE and law conversion courses, read LCN’s Oracle.

LPC

The LPC must be completed 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 a commitment to the profession will question you about.

Although the SQE courses have already begun and exams are being taken, the LPC will remain a valid route to qualifying as a solicitor until 2032 and will continue to be provided by universities and law schools until at least 2022.

SQE

The SQE was introduced in September 2021 and will eventually completely replace the LPC. The SQE is divided into two stages:

  • SQE1 covers functioning legal knowledge; and
  • SQE2 focuses on practical legal skills and knowledge.

Find out more about what the SQE covers via LCN’s Feature: ‘The Solicitors Qualifying Exam: everything we know so far’.

The SQE is a graduate assessment so you will first need to complete a degree (law or non-law) or equivalent.

The rules on when you complete the SQE and QWE requirements offer real flexibility but many firms are likely to have preferences regarding when you complete your QWE. You should check what your shortlisted firms are doing in this regard – some firms have updated the SQE section on their LCN profile, so this will be a good place to start this research.

For more information on QWE, read ‘What counts as QWE?’ and ‘How do I get my QWE accredited?’. 

SQE1 must be completed before SQE2, but QWE can be completed before, alongside or after SQE1 and SQE2. Check your shortlisted firms’ preferences!

Following a candidate’s first SQE1 sitting, they must then complete their SQE2 within six years. Candidates will have up to three attempts at both SQE1 and SQE2 within this six-year period, and can enrol to take SQE2 only after passing SQE1.

Once you’ve passed both stages of the SQE, the qualification will remain valid for six years, meaning you will need to be admitted as a solicitor during that period.

Candidates must have completed their two years QWE before they apply for admission to the roll of solicitors.

For more on the SQE, head to LawCareers.Net’s SQE hub.

Law degree/GDL if you want to become a barrister

For those pursuing a career as a barrister, the law degree must be completed within the maximum time limit of six years, although this rule can be relaxed in exceptional circumstances. For non-law students, full-time GDL candidates must complete the course in not less than one year and not more than three years, while part-time GDL students should complete the course in not less than two years but not more than four years. Candidates can apply for an extension of time via their course provider.

In addition, candidates must start the Bar course within five years of graduating with a law degree or GDL. If the Bar course 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 they have “current competence in all of the foundation subjects, for example through legal work or study".

The only other way to reactivate a stale qualification to continue on your journey and take the Bar course would be to complete (or re-complete) the GDL.

Bar course

As above, the Bar course must be started within five years of completing the academic stage (ie, 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 Bar course.

Full-time Bar course students must complete the course within two years after their expected graduation date (ie, within three years of starting the course). Part-time Bar course students must complete the course within three years after their expected graduation (ie, within four years of starting the course).

Once you complete the Bar course, you have five years to secure pupillage before the qualification expires. During that five-year period after graduating from the Bar course, 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 (BSB), which has the discretion to do so.

The BSB would take whether you have been working in the legal profession during that time (eg, as a paralegal) into account when making this decision.

We also advise you to check that your qualifications are recognised by the SRA or BSB.

For more information on becoming a solicitor, head to LawCareers.Net’s Solicitors’ hub. Interested in pursuing the Bar? Head to LawCareers.Net’s Barristers’ hub.