updated on 17 March 2023
Over the past few years, legal education and training in Scotland has undergone a major review.
The ‘standard’ route to qualification that most Scottish solicitors take is to do a four-year undergraduate degree in Scots law, followed by a mandatory one-year course called the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice and finally a two-year ‘traineeship’ at a solicitors’ firm.
Non-law graduates must complete a two-year accelerated LLB in Scots law, after which the route is the same as the above.
There’s also a third option for those who don’t want to – or are unable to – attend university. Instead of university, candidates can complete a three-year pre-professional education and training (PEAT) training contract (yes, they like the word ‘training’ so much they’ve used it twice). The compulsory Diploma in Professional Legal Practice follows this and the process ends with a further two-year traineeship.
For the most up-to-date information, visit www.lawscot.org.uk.
You can study an LLB in Scots Law/Foundation Programme at 10 universities in Scotland. The ordinary degree takes three years, while the honours degree takes four. There are also accelerated degree options, which can be taken if you have a non-law first degree.
Students on the Scottish law degree at the University of Dundee, the University of Aberdeen, or the University of Strathclyde can take enough English law modules to earn a dual-qualified law degree, enabling them to progress to qualification in England and Wales or Scotland. As the route to qualifying changed in September 2021 with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), it’s worth researching the individual universities to see whether their approaches have changed in light of the SQE – for example, the University of Strathclyde is no longer offering any qualifying law degree in English law but it’ll continue to offer the modules in English law that it’s been running for a number of years. The Law Society of Scotland also suggests getting in touch with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to find out what’s required to qualify as a lawyer in England and Wales having completed an LLB in Scots Law.
If you don’t want to do an LLB, it’s possible to do a three-year, pre-diploma training contract (known as a pre-PEAT training contract) with a qualified Scottish solicitor, at the end of which you sit the Law Society of Scotland's professional exams. During the three years, you must receive training in various prescribed areas.
All those who intend to practise as a solicitor or advocate (the equivalent of a barrister) must complete the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice/PEAT 1. Candidates must have received an LLB from an accredited provider to be accepted onto the diploma. It’s a 26-week course offered at the following six universities:
The course imparts knowledge and skills necessary for working life, with an emphasis on practical application and much of the teaching carried out by practising lawyers.
To qualify as a solicitor, individuals must complete a two-year traineeship. Trainees are usually paid by the training firm at least the minimum amount set by the Law Society of Scotland (ie, as of June 2022, £20,500 in the first year and £23,750 in the second year).
During the training contract, trainees must complete a minimum of 60 hours of trainee continuing professional development, which is structured learning over and above the trainee’s office work. It’s possible to be admitted as a solicitor after one year of training (especially useful if the trainee is to appear in court on behalf of clients); but normally, at the end of the two years – and provided that all conditions have been met – the trainee is admitted as a fully qualified solicitor.
The body that administers the Scottish Bar is the Faculty of Advocates. Having completed the diploma, a trainee advocate (or 'intrant') must undertake a 21-month period of paid training in a solicitors' office (as for a trainee solicitor above, although slightly shorter), followed by a nine-month period 'devilling' (or pupillage) as an unpaid pupil to an advocate. The trainee must then pass an exam set by the Faculty of Advocates covering written and oral advocacy. At this stage, they’ll be admitted as an advocate.
Prospective students should note that a law degree from an English university will not form part of the qualification process in Scotland. Nor will a Scottish law degree be recognised by the Law Society of England and Wales as part of its qualification process. If you train in, say, Scotland, you'll have to retrain to practise in England and Wales (via the SQE) or Northern Ireland, and the same applies for movement in the opposite direction – unless you hold the special dual-qualified degree on offer from the universities of either Dundee, Aberdeen or Strathclyde.
If you’re a qualified Scottish solicitor wanting to practise in England and Wales, you’ll need to either validate a UK or other level 6 qualification (level 9 or above in Scotland), or apply for an equivalence using other qualifications or experience. You’ll then need to pass SQE1 or apply for an exemption before applying for the SQE2 agreed exemption. Then, finally, you’ll need to pass the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) character and suitability assessments.
You can head to the SRA’s website for more information on this.