updated on 06 August 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 to say the least. This is a good opportunity to explain what time limits there are on the validity of qualifications for both aspiring solicitors and barristers.
Once you have completed a law degree or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), there is no time limit on the validity of either for starting the Legal Practice Course (LPC). To be clear, under the current rules this means that you can start the LPC however long you like after finishing a law degree or GDL. There used to be a time limit of seven years on the validity of a law degree before taking the LPC, which is why you might have heard that there is, but this is no longer correct. There is no time limit of any kind on a law degree or GDL for someone pursuing a career as a solicitor. However, be aware that if there is a long gap between your completion of the LPC and your application for a training contract, recruiters will question you about it - they are looking for people who are committed to law.
A related issue to bear in mind is the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in 2021, which will replace the GDL and LPC as the assessment that all aspiring solicitors must pass in order to qualify. However, you will not need to take the SQE if you have already started a GDL or LPC by 2021 – candidates who have started the ‘old’ route will still have several years to qualify as part of the terms of the transition period. Follow the link to learn more about SQE.
You must complete the LPC 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 definitely something that recruiters who are looking for commitment to the profession will question you about.
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 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.