Back to overview

Solicitors

Solicitor career path

updated on 04 February 2022

The route to qualify as a solicitor changed in September 2021 with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).

The SQE is a new system of assessments that all solicitors must pass to qualify. Under the new system, prospective solicitors must:

  • have a degree in any subject (law or non law) or equivalent;
  • pass the SQE1 and 2;
  • complete two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE);
  • pass the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) character and suitability assessment.

Anyone who “completed, started, accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit” on or for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), Legal Practice Course (LPC) or training contract before the SQE was introduced in September 2021 can choose whether they qualify via the LPC route or the new SQE route.

There will be a long transition period from 2021 until 2032, in which candidates who are already on one of the former courses can qualify as solicitors in the ‘old’ way.

Although the SRA will continue to recognise the LPC until as late as 2032, candidates won’t necessarily have that long to qualify while avoiding the SQE. The training committee of the City of London Law Society, which represents City firms, has said that firms are unlikely to want to run two separate qualification systems alongside each other and are therefore likely to insist that all future hires take the SQE from 2022. That said, it’s important to check what plans your shortlisted firms have in place to adopt the SQE.

The SQE aims to provide more flexibility for students, enabling different approaches to preparing for the exams as well as completing QWE requirements. However, many law firms are set to continue relying on the trusted two-year training contract and hiring their future trainees two years in advance of their start date.

For more information, updates and advice on the SQE, head to LawCareers.Net’s SQE hub.

The timetable below sets out the most common route to becoming a lawyer.

First-year law and second-year non-law students

As you consider this career path, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does it mean to be a solicitor?
  • Am I cut out for the work?
  • Why do I want to be a solicitor rather than a barrister?
  • Do I want to practise in London or the regions?
  • In which practice area do I want to qualify?

For help with all of these questions and more, use LawCareers.Net’s starting out section.

You should try to arrange some 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). This is a good chance to identify the type of work and firm you might be interested in. There are often volunteering opportunities available too, for example at the Citizens Advice Bureau. That said, non-legal experience is also a great way to build transferable skills that will make you an attractive candidate to law firms.

You should also work at achieving and maintaining good grades: when it comes to applying for formal work placement schemes and training contracts, firms will want to know your first and second-year grades, not just what degree you've ended up with.

Aside from academics, it’s important that you’re enjoying time for yourself. Lawyers don’t want to recruit robots. So pick up a hobby, join a debating society, a running club or a football team. The skills you develop as you engage with these extracurricular activities will be valuable to a career in the legal profession, plus the experience will help you to grow into a well-rounded candidate who can do more than just regurgitate the law.

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 or vacation schemes (which take place every winter, spring and summer). Taking part in vacation schemes is a great way to get a feel for the range and types of practice available to you.

You can find a list of vacation scheme deadlines on LawCareers.Net. 

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.

You can see a list of training contract deadlines on LawCareers.Net. Not sure which firm you want to apply to? Use LawCareers.Net’s training contract search tool to find firms based on criteria that’s important to you – for example, region, law school sponsorships or US firm with London office.

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.

Discover what law firm recruiters want to see from prospective candidates at law fairs in the Meet the Recruiter profiles.

Look into the funding possibilities for your postgraduate legal training (eg, local education authority grants) and check closing dates for applications.

With the introduction of the SQE, non-law degree students are no longer required to complete a law conversion course (ie, the GDL). However, the SRA explains that non-law degree holders “will still need to learn the full range of subjects that are assessed in the SQE1 to give you the best chance of passing the assessment”. As such, you should apply for a place on a law conversion course or equivalent to fill your knowledge gap and ensure you’re in the best position to pass the SQE1 and 2 assessments.

 If you intend to study full time and start your course before 2023, for example, 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 direct to the provider. 

Spring holidays

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.

Bear in mind that there are no requirements about when to complete the QWE element of the SQE – only that it must be done before you apply for admission to the roll of solicitors. Candidates can do it before, during or after completing SQE1 and 2 but the work you do must be registered with the SRA.

There are various options that will count towards QWE, including the traditional two-year training contract, law degree placement, volunteering in a legal advice centre or working as a paralegal. It is likely that many firms will continue with the two-year training contract route (which will count as your two-years QWE) so, as ever, it’s important to check what your shortlisted firms are doing in this respect.

For more information on what counts as QWE and how it works and when you should undertake it read this LCN Says article from BARBRI.

Summer holidays

Most major law firms will require training contract applications during this period (from mid-July onwards).

You can see specific dates via LawCareers.Net’s Training contract deadlines page.

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. It is important that you check to see what plans your shortlisted firms have in place regarding the SQE and training contracts/QWE.  

Many application deadlines fall throughout July, with 31 July the main deadline date shared by dozens of firms. 

You can find the latest deadline information via the training contract deadlines page.

Final-year law and law conversion students

Autumn term

If you started your law degree or GDL before September 2021 and still 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. 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. 

If you intend to qualify via the SQE, you should begin researching SQE preparation courses, which have been developed in line with this new route to qualifying. Technically the prep courses are not compulsory to take the exams, but realistically students – especially non-law graduates – will need to undertake legal education and training to pass.

You can use LawCareers.Net’s guide to SQE preparation courses to compare the new courses on offer for the SQE.  

Spring term

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 must disclose this at the earliest opportunity – and at least six months before you would anticipate starting a training contract.

If there are no potential issues, the fee for undergoing the SRA’s character and suitability check is £39 and need only be done when you apply to be a solicitor.

Summer term

If you haven't succeeded in obtaining a training contract, keep applying! Regardless of which route you are eligible to take (LPC or SQE), cost is still an important factor to consider when looking for courses, course providers and firms.

For more on funding options, head to our Finances section or read LawCareers.Net’s Oracle on funding the SQE.  

SQE

The SQE is a new system of exams (not a course of study), introduced by the SRA in September 2021. All solicitors must pass the SQE to qualify – unless you meet the SRA’s transitional arrangements.

It is split into two stages – SQE1 and SQE2 – and candidates must pass both stages in order to qualify. SQE1 covers functioning legal knowledge and SQE2 covers practical legal skills and knowledge.

The rules on when you complete SQE and QWE offer flexibility but many firms are likely to have preferences regarding when and where you complete the QWE aspect.

The cost of taking the SQE is £3,980 – this just covers the exam fees, not the preparation course costs. Use LCN’s guide to SQE preparation courses for an idea of the sort of fees you can expect to be paying.

Preparation

Before taking the SQE, all candidates (law and non law) are being encouraged to complete a suitable SQE preparation course to prepare them for the SQE1 and 2 assessments.

If you’re a non-law student, while no longer required, you should still complete a law conversation course (or equivalent) to fill the knowledge gap prior to you starting a prep course. Some course providers might integrate the law conversion course into their non-law specific prep course.

For more advice for non-law students and law conversion courses, read LawCareers.Net’s Oracle which outlines the various options.

SQE1

SQE1 is made up of two exams, containing 180 multiple-choice questions each. You must complete both parts of the SQE1 in order to progress onto SQE2.

SQE2

SQE2 involves both oral and written assessments. For SQE2, candidates must obtain the overall pass mask for SQE2 as a whole in order to pass.

LPC 

Remember that even though the SQE is now in force, the LPC will remain a valid qualification until as late as 2032. That said, 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/QWE

Qualifying work experience (QWE) – which may traditionally take place in the form of a two-year training contract – is a period of paid or voluntary employment and training before qualification as a solicitor.

During the placement, candidates must be offered the opportunity to develop some (or all) of the competencies required to practise as a solicitor.

QWE can be undertaken before, during and/or after completing SQE1 and SQE2, at up to four organisations, including law firms, law centres and university pro bono clinics. The two-year total can be completed within a maximum of four separate periods of QWE.

You can complete your QWE in up to four organisations, in England, Wales or overseas. According to the SRA, your QWE could be made up of:

  • a placement during a law degree;
  • work in a law clinic;
  • at a voluntary or charitable organisation or law centre;
  • paralegal work; or
  • a training contract.

Find out more about the QWE, via LawCareers.Net’s SQE hub.

Registering QWE

You can record your QWE only once you have a completed and confirmed period of QWE – the end date cannot be in the future or blank. If you decide to complete QWE in separate periods and organisations, you will need to complete a separate application for each completed and confirmed period.

Each placement must be signed off by a solicitor at the organisation, compliance officer for legal practice, or failing the first two, another solicitor outside the organisation with direct experience of the candidate’s work. It is up to the confirming solicitor to decide whether the QWE meets the SRA's requirements. QWE is not assessed by the SRA, unlike SQE1 and 2.

Many firms will almost certainly continue to offer two-year training contracts. Firms are not obliged to shorten the period of training they offer if a candidate has already gained some experience, and many have training programmes that prepare solicitors for life within a specific specialism, working environment and client base.

If you’re doing a training contract as part of the LPC route to qualification, follow the below advice.

Year one

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.

Year two

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!