Legal career paths
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Confused about the stages of becoming a lawyer? With the simple career timetable below, there's no need to be! Just hover over the map to reveal an outline of each stage in the process.
Change ahead: the Solicitors Qualifying Examination
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination is a new exam in development that all trainee solicitors will have to pass at the point of qualifying. The new exam will be introduced in 2020. For more information, read our Feature article, “The Solicitors Qualifying Exam: Spring Update".
The foundation of your career and the essential first step - good grades are vital if you want to progress in your legal career.
The academic stage between GCSE and undergraduate level - again, good grades are essential. Some universities favour traditional, academically rigorous subjects such as history (A-level law is not usually specified).
The solicitor apprenticeship, contained within the Trailblazer suite of standardised apprenticeships, is a six-year programme of paid, on-the-job training which ends in qualification as a solicitor. The entry requirements are five GCSEs graded A*-C and three A levels graded C or above (or equivalent work experience). The apprenticeship also integrates a law degree, which is obtained at the end of the fourth year. Apprentices learn law and legal practice alongside gaining competence in legal skills, commercial skills and professional conduct.
Lawyers are not required to have studied law at university! It is possible to do a non-law degree and then do the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
The qualifying law degree, or LLB, covers seven compulsory subjects: public, criminal, contract, tort, property, equity and trusts, and EU law.
Like the law degree, the one-year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) concentrates on the seven foundations of legal practice. When combined with a non-law degree, it is equivalent to a law degree.
The one-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is the vocational stage of training to be a barrister.
The one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) is the vocational stage of training to be a solicitor.
Pupillage is a compulsory, year-long apprenticeship before qualification as a barrister. Pupils practise under the guidance and supervision of a pupil supervisor.
Period of recognised training/training contract
The period of recognised training (traditionally known as a ‘training contract’) is a period of paid employment and training with a law firm or other approved organisation before qualification as a solicitor. In most cases this will take the form of a twoyear traineeship.
The training contract is a compulsory, two-year paid employment contract with a law firm or other approved organisation before qualification as a solicitor.
Barristers offer advice on specific legal issues and are on the front line, representing clients in court.
Solicitors give advice and assistance on matters of law; they are the first point of contact for those seeking legal advice and representation.
CILEx chartered legal executive
It is also possible to practise law as a chartered legal executive - a qualified lawyer (though not a solicitor) who is trained to specialise as an expert in a particular area of law. The route to qualification is to complete CILEx 3 and CILEx 6 (or CILEx Graduate Fast Track for those with a law degree) and three years' qualifying employment. For more info, go to www.cilex.org.uk
A legal apprentice is someone who joins a law firm straight from school, rather than going to university. He or she receives paid, on-the-job training in law and legal practice, as well as gaining competence in legal skills, commercial skills and professional conduct. As per the diagram, it is possible to train for an intermediate apprenticeship, which is aimed at school leavers who have not done A levels. Entry requirements are five GCSEs graded A* to C (or equivalent). Apprentices will develop skills to assist in the progression of cases on an administrative level. It is a 18-21 month course. It can lead on to further training on the paralegal apprenticeship, which is a 24-30 month course (more on this below). For more detail on what apprentices do and how to become one, visit our Legal apprenticeships section
Paralegals have traditionally worked alongside solicitors in law firms as support staff, although in practice many paralegals do the same work as their trainee or newly-qualified solicitor counterparts. Paralegal roles provide a good route into the profession for students and graduates, either as valuable work experience before applying for a training contract or as a way to fulfil the SRA’s qualifying requirements without undertaking a formal period of recognised training. The paralegal apprenticeship, contained within the Trailblazer suite of standardised apprenticeships, delivers paralegal competence in a particular legal practice area. Entry requirements are five GCSEs graded A*to C and three A levels graded C or above (or equivalent). It is a 24-30 month course. It can lead on to further training via the solicitor apprenticeship route to qualify as a solicitor, although there are only minimal exemptions available. It is also possible to go on to qualify as a chartered legal executive, although smaller numbers of paralegals take up this option when compared to the solicitor apprenticeship option. For more detail on what paralegals do and how to become one, visit our Paralegals section