Solicitor career path

Before you begin, you need to know that the route to qualify as a solicitor is changing in 2021 with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).

The SQE will replace the GDL and LPC as the assessment that all solicitors will have to pass in order to qualify. Use LawCareers.Net to find out everything you need to know about the SQE. In addition, you can keep alert to what's going on via the SRA's website and LCN's News section.

Up until 2021, the current route to becoming a solicitor is remaining 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:

  • 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?

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 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.

The big training contract application deadline date shared by most firms is 31 July every year. However, firms are free to recruit and offer training contracts at any time following the scrapping of the mandatory recruitment code of practice in 2015. This means that the traditional deadline of 31 July may change, as more firms recruit and offer earlier, but currently a very large number of firms still place their application deadlines on 31 July.

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. 

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.

Summer holidays

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. 

Firms are permitted to offer training contracts to students from the first year of university onwards, although before 2015 they were 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.  

Most 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 GDL students

Autumn term
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. 

Spring term
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. 

Summer term
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.

LPC 

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, a bit like an apprenticeship. Many training contracts follow the format below.  

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!