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Beginner's Guide

Legal career paths

updated on 04 October 2021

GCSE

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

A level

Some universities favour traditional, academically rigorous subjects such as history (A-level law is not usually a requirement).

Non-law degree

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

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 Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), a law conversion is not required to become a solicitor.

Bar course

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

LPC

The Legal Practice Course (LPC) is the vocational stage of training to be a solicitor. From September 2021, it will be gradually replaced by the SQE.

Pupillage

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

Qualifying work experience/training contract

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

Barrister

Barristers offer advice on specific legal issues and represent 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

A chartered legal executive is a qualified lawyer (though not a solicitor) who is trained to specialise as an expert in a particular area of law. In Summer 2021 CILEX will launch the CILEX Professional Qualification which provides three outcomes: CILEX paralegal, CILEX advanced paralegal and CILEX lawyer. For more info, go to www.cilex.org.uk.

Intermediate legal and paralegal apprenticeships

A legal apprentice starts their career straight from school. You receive paid, on-the-job training in legal skills, commercial skills and professional conduct. For more on the different types of apprenticeship, visit the Legal apprenticeships section on LawCareers.Net.

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 9-4 and three A levels (grade requirements vary), or equivalent work experience.

Paralegals

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 fulfil the SRA’s qualifying requirements without doing a training contract.

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam 

From September 2021, anyone considering a career as a solicitor who starts an undergraduate degree must pass the new SQE. This will gradually replace the LPC and makes the work experience requirements for becoming a solicitor more flexible – qualifying work experience can be completed in up to four separate placements taking place before, during and after SQE study. For more information, see LawCareers.Net’s SQE hub.


Looks confusing?

This diagram aims to show the various routes to qualifying as a solicitor following the SQE’s introduction in September 2021. Talk to your careers adviser to discuss your options and use the SQE hub to stay up to date!