Back to overview

Beginner's Guide

Legal career paths

updated on 23 March 2018

GCSE

The foundation of your career and the essential first step – good grades are vital if you want to progress in your legal career.

A level

Again, good grades are essential. Some universities favour traditional, academically rigorous subjects such as history (A-level law is not usually specified).

Non-law degree

Lawyers are not required to have studied law at university! It is possible to do a non-law degree and then do the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).

Law degree

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

GDL

Like the law degree, the one-year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) concentrates on the seven foundations of legal practice. When combined with a non-law degree, it is equivalent to a law degree.

BPTC

The one-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is the vocational stage of training to be a barrister.

LPC

The one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) is the vocational stage of training to be a solicitor.

Pupillage

Pupillage is a compulsory, year-long period of training before qualification as a barrister. Pupils practise under the guidance and supervision of a pupil supervisor.

Period of recognised training/training contract

The period of recognised training (traditionally known as a ‘training contract’) is a period of paid employment and training with a law firm or other approved organisation before qualification as a solicitor. In most cases this will take the form of a two-year formal traineeship.

Barrister

Barristers offer advice on specific legal issues and are on the front line, representing clients in court.

Solicitor

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

CILEx chartered legal executive

It is also possible to practise law as a chartered legal executive – a qualified lawyer (though not a solicitor) who is trained to specialise as an expert in a particular area of law. The route to qualification is to complete CILEx 3 and CILEx 6 (or CILEx Graduate Fast Track for those with a law degree) and three years’ qualifying employment. You can also do a chartered legal executive apprenticeship. For more info, go to www.cilex.org.uk.

Intermediate legal apprenticeships

A legal apprentice is someone who joins a law firm straight from school, rather than going to university. You receive paid, on-the-job training and gain competence in legal skills, commercial skills and professional conduct. For more detail on the different types of apprenticeship, visit our legal apprenticeships section.

Solicitor apprenticeship

The solicitor apprenticeship is a six-year programme of paid, on-the-job training, integrating a law degree, which ends in qualification as a solicitor. The entry requirements are five GCSEs graded A*-C and three A levels graded B or above (or equivalent work experience) - but academic requirements can vary between employers.

Paralegals

Paralegals have traditionally worked alongside solicitors in law firms as support staff, although in practice many paralegals do the same work as trainees or newly-qualified 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 fulfil the SRA’s qualifying requirements without undertaking a formal period of recognised training. You can also do a paralegal apprenticeship. For more detail on what paralegals do and how to become one, visit our Paralegals section.


Change ahead: the Solicitors Qualifying Examination

Anyone who starts an undergraduate degree after Autumn 2021 will have to take the Solicitors Qualifying Examination, a new assessment that must be passed to qualify as a solicitor. This will replace the current GDL and LPC coures, and the period of recognised training may also change. For more information, take a look at our SQE page.