Solicitor career path
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Before we begin, you need to be alert to the fact that in April 2017 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) confirmed that it would be going ahead with its new ‘super exam’, which all prospective solicitors will have to pass in order to qualify. The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is to be introduced in 2020; for now, all students and trainee solicitors will still be able to qualify by the current route, while those who commence training just before or at the point at which the SQE is introduced will also be able to continue via the traditional route. All those who begin legal education and training once the SQE has been introduced will have to train under the new system and pass the SQE.
This means that as things stand, the information below is correct, but fundamental change is not far away. For more on the SQE and what it might mean, read our Feature, "The Solicitors Qualifying Examination; eerything we know so far". In addtion, you can keep alert to what's going on via the SRA's website and LCN's News section.
First-year law and second-year non-law students
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? These are the questions to be asking for those considering a career as a solicitor (although we advise keeping an open mind about that last one). Answers can be gleaned by delving into the law section of your university careers centre and undergoing a healthy dose of self-analysis.
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 research and apply for work placement schemes for your summer vacation (some firms also offer winter and spring schemes). It's a good idea to do a few schemes in order to get a feel for the range and types of practice available to you. Check out Work placement scheme deadlines for closing dates.
Worth noting is that as of July 2015, the Voluntary Code of Practice for the Recruitment of Trainee Solicitors (which most firms adhere to) was amended to “reflect modern practices”. The most significant change is that firms can now (i) set their deadlines for training contract applications at any point, although not before candidates’ penultimate year of undergraduate study, and (ii) make training contract offers at any point during candidates’ penultimate year of undergraduate study. In essence, this means that the traditional deadline of 31 July may change, as more firms recruit and offer earlier. However, for now a very large number of firms still place their application deadlines on 31 July. It is also worth noting that firms are not obliged to adhere to the code at all in any legal or regulatory sense, so some firms have even started offering training contracts to first-year students.
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 conversion course, known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). If you intend to study full time, 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). Check out our Training contract deadlines page for specific dates. Gain some further work experience, either on a formal work placement scheme or through other means.
It bears repeating that firms are now permitted to offer training contracts to students from the second year of university onwards, due to changes to the Voluntary Code of Practice for the Recruitment of Trainee Solicitors in July 2015 (previously, firms were encouraged to wait until students were in their final year of study before making training contract offers). The revised Code says that “employers can set their training contract application deadline at a point of their choosing” – that is, pretty much whenever they want as long as it is not before a student’s second year of university. However, as it says in the name, the code has always been voluntary, which means that some firms disregard it altogether and offer some training contracts to first-year students.
This year, the timetable still centred on the traditional training contract application deadline of 31 July, but it remains to be seen how firms will run their recruitment timetables next year and in the future. There is already some variation – 30 June was a big deadline date in 2017 – but it could be the case that in 2018, firms’ application deadlines are even more varied, so be sure to keep a close eye on how the situation develops, particularly with firms that interest you. Deadline information will be updated as and when we learn anything on LawCareers.Net.
Final-year law and GDL students
You must also 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.
The SRA runs character and suitability checks on students wishing to train as solicitors, and requires people 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 £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.
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 for adverts in the Law Gazette and in our Jobs section.
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. For more on the LPC, see our dedicated LPC page and our News section.
Training contract/period of recognised training
The traditional training contract – or ‘period of recognised training’, as it is now termed by the SRA – is a two-year employment contract with a law firm or other approved organisation, akin to an apprenticeship. In July 2014 the SRA implemented a number of changes to its training regulations, including a move to a more outcomes-focused approach which allows firms greater freedom to design the structures of their own training contracts. However, trainee solicitors are still required to meet the SRA’s competence statement (released in March 2015 and forming the basis of the proposed SQE) and most training contracts are still based on the following format.
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!