The route to becoming a solicitor can be complex and take several years. There are a few qualification paths you can take, so we’ve put together this step by step guide to help you choose which is for you. We will take you through the graduate route, the CILEx route, and the ‘equivalent means’ route. Each of these has an academic element and a vocational element which you will need to complete to meet the standards of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
There is some change on the horizon with regards to the qualifications required to become a solicitor. By 2020, the SRA intends to introduce a new ‘super exam’ known as the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). Read on to find out more about the proposed requirements.
The most common route to becoming a solicitor is the ‘graduate route’. This involves obtaining either a law degree or an alternative degree with a conversion qualification (Graduate Diploma in Law or GDL). You will then need to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and a two year training contract. Before completing your training contract, you will study for the Professional Skills Course (PSC). To become a fully qualified solicitor you will have to be accepted onto the SRA’s Roll of Solicitors.
Secondary education: You will need a good set of GCSEs and A-levels to be accepted onto a university law course, so the hard work should start early in your school career. Check university websites for entry requirements for law degrees.
University: If you choose to study something other than law at university, you will need to stay for an extra year to complete the GDL. Students with qualifying law degrees can skip this step.
LPC: The Legal Practice Course is a one year course (or two years if taken part time) which is designed to give you all the skills you need to work as a trainee solicitor before you start your training contract. As the LPC can be expensive, law firms will often offer sponsorship to promising students.
Training Contract: This is usually a two year period of training at a law firm. The SRA has recently relaxed its rules with regards to training contracts, so law firms have some freedom to choose how they will train you. It is important to research what a training contract at a particular firm might offer you to make sure it aligns with your career goals. You will also study for, and complete, the Professional Skills Course (PSC) during your training contract.
You have two options with qualifications from the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). The first is to get a degree and then take the CILEx Graduate Fast-Track Diploma. You will then need to complete the 3 year period of qualifying employment before you can apply to become a CILEx Fellow and a fully qualified Chartered Legal Executive. You can then take the LPC and PSC to qualify as a solicitor. You will be exempt from the training contract as you have already completed a period of training.
The second option is to pass your CILEx Diplomas at Level 3 and 6 which should take you around 5 years in total. You will then need to complete the 3 years qualifying employment before becoming fully qualified as a Chartered Legal Executive. You can then take the LPC and PSC and apply to be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors. This is one of the ways to become a solicitor without a law degree.
Either: University degree (and GDL for non-law degree) and CILEx Fast Track Diploma.
Or: CILEx Level 3 Diploma and CILEx Level 6 Diploma.
Qualifying employment: You will need to complete 3 years, 1 of which must be completed as a graduate member of CILEx.
CILEx Fellowship: You will now be able to apply to become a Fellow of CILEx and a fully qualified lawyer.
LPC and PSC: These qualifications are still compulsory for qualified Chartered Legal Executives before they can become solicitors.
Admission to Roll of Solicitors: If you have met the standards of vocational and academic training set by the SRA, you will be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors and become a fully qualified solicitor.
For more on this qualification route, see our article on becoming a Chartered Legal Executive.
In 2014 a new route was established to allow lawyers to qualify through ‘equivalent means’. This route is often called the ‘Paralegal Shortcut’ which can be misleading, as it can take many years to qualify via this route. Paralegals who have built up sufficient experience in 3 areas of law can take the PSC and qualify as a solicitor. It can take some time to build up the necessary experience to satisfy the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). More information on qualifying through the equivalent means method can be found in the SRAs Equivalent means information pack.
For more information on qualifying as a paralegal, see our Paralegal job description.
Note on Solicitors Qualifying Exam
The SRA are set to introduce a new exam by 2020 which all new solicitors will have to pass to become fully qualified. The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is designed as a standardised assessment which will ensure that all solicitors have reached the same level of knowledge and skill before they qualify. The three routes to qualify will still stand, with the LPC and training contract replaced. Instead candidates will have to complete 24 months of work-based learning which the SRA claims will be more flexible than the current system, and a two part exam based on the Statement of Solicitor Competence. The first part of the exam would be completed before candidates start their work-based learning and the second part at the end of this period.
To summarise, candidates will need the following to qualify as a solicitor through the new system:
- An academic qualification at degree level or equivalent (CILEx Level 6), or to have completed an apprenticeship.
- To have completed a period of work-based learning (around 24 months).
- To have passed the new SQE.
- To meet the character and suitability requirements of the SRA.
More information on these proposals can be found on the SRA website.
For more information on the role of solicitor, take a look at our job description.
The Law Society have created this handy infographic to show the steps in becoming a solicitor.