updated on 03 March 2020
Be aware that the route to qualify as a solicitor is changing in 2021 with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
The SQE is a new system of assessments that all solicitors will have to pass in order to qualify. Under the new system, prospective solicitors do not need a law degree or non-law degree plus a law conversion. Instead, they must have a degree in any subject, pass the SQE and complete two years’ qualifying work experience. The LPC will no longer be part of the qualifying process. Use LawCareers.Net to find out everything you need to know about the SQE and keep up with what's going on with LCN's News section and the SRA's website.
But until 2021, the current route to becoming a solicitor remains in full swing. And anyone who starts a law degree, GDL, or LPC before 2021 will still be able to qualify and be exempt from the SQE when it is introduced.
Read on to learn more about the career path of a solicitor.
First-year law and second-year non-law students
As you consider this career path, ask yourself the following question:
For help with all of these and more, use LawCareers.Net’s starting out section.
You should try to arrange some summer work experience to begin checking out the different types of firm (note that some formal work placement schemes don't take place for another year, though). Above all, work at achieving and maintaining good grades: when it comes to applying for formal work placement schemes and training contracts - firms will definitely want to know your first and second-year grades, not just what degree you've ended up with.
Second-year law and final-year non-law students
Autumn term, winter holidays and spring term
Decide whether you genuinely believe that law is a career which will suit your character and skills through further research into the profession. Go to your careers advice service and discuss the profession generally with a careers adviser. Attend law firm presentations on campus and at firms' offices, and develop your networking skills. Research and apply for work placement schemes (which take place every winter, spring and summer). Attending vacation schemes is a great way to get a feel for the range and types of practice available to you. See Work placement scheme deadlines for closing dates.
The big annual training contract application deadline shared by many firms is 31 July. However, firms are free to recruit and offer training contracts at any time, so increasingly there are vacancies to apply to all year round.
Most university law careers fairs take place in October/November. They represent your best chance to meet people from the firms face to face. It is best to have done some preliminary research so you can ask intelligent questions. Many firms also organise on-campus presentations during these two terms.
Look into the funding possibilities for your postgraduate legal training (eg, local education authority grants) and check closing dates for applications.
Non-law degree students will need to apply for a place on a law conversion course (often known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)). If you intend to study full time and start your course before 2021, you should apply through the Central Applications Board (www.lawcabs.ac.uk) from September onwards in your final year of university. There is no longer a closing date for applications; rather, applications are dealt with as they are submitted and institutions are notified weekly of new submissions. Applications for part-time courses must be made directly to the provider. Applications for part-time courses must be made direct to the provider.
Apply for further vacation work placements for the summer vacation. Thoroughly research the application procedure for training contracts, especially those at firms you are interested in. By now you should be shortlisting the firms to which you want to apply.
Most major law firms will require training contract applications during this period (from mid-July onwards). See Training contract deadlines for specific dates. Gain some further work experience, either on a formal work placement scheme or through other means.
Firms are permitted to offer training contracts to students from the first year of university onwards, although they used to be encouraged to wait until at least a student’s second year.
Although some students are offered training contracts in their first year at university, it remains the case that most offers go to second years and above.
Many application deadlines fall throughout July, with 31 July the main deadline date shared by dozens of firms. Deadline information will be updated here on LawCareers.Net if anything changes.
Final-year law and law conversion/GDL students
If you intend to qualify through the current route and not take the SQE, you must apply for a place on the Legal Practice Course (LPC) through the Central Applications Board from September onwards in your final year at university. As described above, the application system has changed so that there is no longer a closing date for applications; rather, applications are dealt with as they are submitted and institutions are notified weekly of new submissions. Applications for part-time courses must be made directly to the provider.
From 2021, the system will change with the introduction of the SQE. New SQE preparation courses are in development. Technically they are not compulsory to take the exams, but realistically students – especially non-law graduates – will need to undertake legal education and training to pass the exams. Check LawCareers.Net regularly for the latest information on new courses as it emerges.
The SRA runs character and suitability checks on those wishing to train as solicitors, and will require you to disclose any information related to this. If you do have such issues (eg, a police caution), you need to disclose this at the earliest opportunity – and at least six months before you would anticipate starting a training contract. Undergoing a character and suitability check before starting the LPC costs around £100.
If you haven't succeeded in obtaining a training contract, keep applying! You might want to consider delaying starting the LPC if you are yet to find a training contract, given the competitiveness of the job market; time spent gaining experience and focusing on applications should give you a better chance of success.
At this stage, delaying the LPC could mean that you have to take the SQE instead. In theory, the SQE route will be less expensive in terms of course fees than the LPC, but unfortunately, we simply don’t know how much the SQE route will cost overall because there are so few details about the new SQE preparation courses (technically optional, but realistically essential to pass). LawCareers.Net will bring you this information as soon as it is available.
Remember that even once the SQE comes into force in 2021, the LPC will remain a valid qualification until as late as 2032, so you can still apply for training contracts. January 2022 is likely to be the last start date for LPC programmes.
LawCareers.Net recommends only taking the LPC if you have secured a training contract, because of the high cost of the course and the intense competition for legal roles. If you have yet to find a training contract, keep making further applications throughout your LPC year until you get one. Attend as many law fairs as possible and check vacancies in the LCN Jobs section and the Law Gazette.
The SRA requires providers to split the LPC in half, separating the compulsory Stage One subjects from the elective Stage Two subjects, which can then be completed during the training contract. However, the one-year option remains the most popular way of doing the course. Find out more about the LPC here.
Training contract/period of recognised training
The traditional training contract – or ‘period of recognised training’ – is a two-year employment contract with a law firm or other approved organisation, a bit like an apprenticeship. Many training contracts follow the format below.
Ensure that your training contract has been registered with the SRA (your firm will usually do this for you). The format of the training varies from firm to firm, but most firms operate a series of departmental rotations (most often four seats in separate departments, each lasting six months). On-the-job training is provided throughout and is supplemented by courses and lectures during the two-year training period.
Around the middle of your second year, most firms will make post-training job offers and you will know whether you are going to be offered a position upon finishing your training contract – hopefully in your preferred department. Approximately 12 weeks before your training contract is due to end, the SRA will send you the necessary forms so that you can apply to be formally admitted to the roll of solicitors. Provided that all necessary training conditions have been satisfied, you will be admitted to the roll. Congratulations – you are a solicitor!