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Beginner's Guide

Legal career paths

updated on 30 August 2023

For the most up-to-date version of this diagram, check out The Beginner's Guide to a Career in Law.


The foundation of your career and the essential first step.

A level

Universities and employers will likely look at your A-level grades. A-level law isn’t a requirement to becoming a lawyer.

Non-law degree

Lawyers don’t have to study law at university. A non-law degree can be followed by a law conversion course or non-law specific SQE preparation.

Law degree

The qualifying law degree, or LLB, covers seven compulsory subjects: public, criminal, contract, tort, property, equity and trusts, and EU law.

Law conversion

A law conversion course packs the key learning of a law degree into one year (if studying full time). Following the introduction of the SQE, a law conversion isn’t required to become a solicitor.

Bar course

The mandatory stage of training to become a barrister that follows your law degree or law conversion course. There are a range of options at different law schools, serving different learning styles and budgets.


The Legal Practice Course (LPC) is being replaced by the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).


The SQE is the assessment you must pass to qualify as a solicitor. To qualify through the SQE, you’ll need a university degree (law or non-law), to pass SQE1 and SQE2 exams, pass the SRA’s character and suitability assessment and have completed two years’ QWE.

SQE preparation courses

It isn’t mandatory to complete an SQE preparation course before taking the SQE, but it’s advised. There are a range of SQE preparation courses for law and non-law graduates, differing in length, price and content. You can search SQE preparation courses via LCN’s course search tool.


Pupillage is a compulsory, year-long period of on-the-job training before qualification as a barrister.


Qualifying work experience (QWE) (which can take place in the form of a two-year training contract or an apprenticeship) is a period of paid training before qualification as a solicitor. QWE can be completed in up to four separate placements taking place before, during and after SQE study. That said, many law firms prefer to train their future lawyers themselves.


Barristers offer advice on specific legal issues and represent clients in court.


Solicitors give advice and assistance on matters of law; they’re the first point of contact for those seeking legal advice and representation.

CILEX chartered legal executive

A chartered legal executive is a qualified lawyer (although not a solicitor) who’s trained to specialise as an expert in a particular area of law. The CILEX Professional Qualification provides three outcomes: CILEX Paralegal, CILEX Advanced Paralegal and CILEX Lawyer.

Intermediate legal and paralegal apprenticeships

A legal apprentice starts their career straight from school. You receive paid on-the-job training in legal and commercial skills, and professional conduct. For more on the different types of apprenticeship, read The Law Apprenticeships Guide.

Solicitor apprenticeship

The solicitor apprenticeship is a six-year programme of paid training, integrating a law degree, which ends in qualification as a solicitor. The entry requirements are usually five GCSEs graded 9 to 4 and three A levels (grade requirements vary), or equivalent work experience. Solicitor apprentices must pass the SQE to qualify.

Graduate solicitor apprenticeship

The graduate solicitor apprenticeship is a new addition to the growing ways to qualify as a solicitor. It’s designed for candidates with a qualifying law degree (or equivalent qualification) and non-law graduates who’ve completed a conversion course, and can take between two to three years to complete. It works in a similar way to the traditional training contract and involves on-the-job training and preparation for the SQE assessments.


Paralegals have traditionally worked as support staff, but in practice many experienced paralegals do the same work as solicitors. 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 gain QWE as part of the SQE.