Taking a law degree is probably the most straightforward as your studies include everything required for the academic stage of training. If your degree is not in law, you can still become a solicitor, but you will need to realign your studies and also take the Common Professional Examination/Graduate Diploma in law course. Qualifying with a law degree
One of the routes to becoming a solicitor is to complete a qualifying law degree. The Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Council are responsible for setting out the conditions a law degree course must meet in order to be termed a ‘qualifying law degree’.
Getting a place at university
Competition for places on law degree programmes is fierce, and you’ll need a strong academic record with at least three good passes in any academic A level subjects to get into some universities. You can choose to study full time, part time or by distance learning. Apply for full-time study through UCAS, which has a searchable database of courses offered by higher education institutions, including details of entrance requirements and information about the universities and colleges.
What to expect during your studies
You are required to complete your degree within one year of the normal period for a full-time study programme, or within two years of the normal period for a part-time study programme. The foundations of legal knowledge form the academic stage of legal education and is compulsory for students seeking to enter the vocational stage of training. You must obtain a pass mark of 40 per cent in each subject, regardless of the pass mark set by the institution itself. The foundation subjects are:
- obligations including contract, restitution and tort
- public law (including constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law)
- criminal law
- property law
- equity and the law of trusts
- law of the European Union
You also will be expected to have appropriate expertise in legal research skills and the English legal system. If your aim is to qualify as a solicitor, your degree is valid for seven years: after this, it is considered ‘stale’ for qualifying purposes and you will need to take refresher exams if you subsequently decide to become a solicitor.
After gaining your degree
Once you have your degree, you must enroll as a student with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and obtain a certificate of completion of the academicstage of training. You may then progress to the vocational stage of training, which includes the Legal Practice Course and the training contract.
Qualifying without a law degree
Everyone who wants to become a solicitor must complete the academic stage of training. This is covered in a law degree course, but if you have any other degree there are two routes open to you: 1. Join the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (see below) 2. Take the Common Professional Examination (CPE)/Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)
Candidates with no prior degree
If you already work in a legal office, you can join the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), which is the governing body for legal executives. You must pass examinations to qualify first as a member and later as a fellow. Qualifying by this route takes a long time, is demanding and academically challenging, and requires that you enter and maintain CILEx-approved legal employment. The CILEx examination framework enables you to fulfil the requirements of the academic stage of training, including the foundations of legal knowledge.
Common Professional Examination/Graduate Diploma in Law (CPE/GDL)
CPE/GDL courses cover the foundations of legal knowledge required for completion of the academic stage of training. If you don’t have a degree, you may be able to qualify as a solicitor by this route, but you must be either a mature student or hold a suitable academic or vocational qualification. The Solicitors Regulation Authority provides definitions of mature student and academic/vocational qualifications in the SRA Training Regulations 2011.
The Legal Practice Course
Before you become a solicitor, you must complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC). The LPC will help you to develop the skills needed to work in a firm of solicitors. The SRA sets the standards for LPC providers in the Legal Practice Course Written Standards (PDF). The LPC is a key element of vocational training to become a solicitor. It must be completed by everyone who intends to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. The LPC will:
•prepare you for practice
•provide you with a general foundation for subsequent practice.
•Before commencing the LPC, you must:
•complete academic training (or be exempt from it)
•apply for student membership of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
For advice on how to prepare for the LPC, see the SRA guide: The Legal Practice Course: what you are expected to know before you start. Download the guide (PDF)
The training contract
The training contract is the final stage of the qualifying process and involves working as a trainee solicitor in a firm of solicitors or other organisation authorised to take trainees. The training contract period is for two years although it can be reduced by up to six months if you have suitable and relevant previous legal experience. See our training contract page for further information.
Professional Skills Course
Passing the Professional Skills Course (PSC) is the final stage to becoming qualified as a solicitor. Law graduates, and non-law graduates who have completed the Common Professional Examination or a Graduate Diploma in Law, attend the PSC during the course of the training contract. Those qualifying through the CILEx route may take the course at the end of their route. See the qualification route map (PDF)
What does the course consist of?
The PSC requires the equivalent of 12 days of full-time attendance, building on the vocational training provided in the Legal Practice Course. It comprises three core modules, and elective courses relevant to specific types of practice and areas of law.
•Client care and professional standards (two days)
•Advocacy and communication skills (three days)
•Financial and business skills (three days, plus exam)
You must complete 24 hours of elective courses, of which no more than half may be by distance learning. You can choose from a range of subject areas. Elective courses may be completed at any time during the training contract.
How is the PSC run?
The standard course consists of eight days of face-to-face tuition, spread over a number of months, interspersed with periods of normal work in the office. On the fast track course, the core modules are covered over eight consecutive days. The Solicitors Regulation Authority provides further details about the structure and accreditation of the PSC (PDF).