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Routes to qualifying

There are a number of routes via which you can qualify to practise as a solicitor in England and Wales. 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.

2016 will see the introduction of new legal apprenticeships in England as an alternative to the traditional graduate route to qualification.  It is not a requirement to study for a degree as part of the apprenticeship.  The Trailblazer Apprenticeship receives a salary and will consist of a blend of on and off the job learning.  

If you have already qualified as a lawyer overseas and wish to practise in England and Wales, you can transfer under the SRA Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme Regulations 2014.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is the regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales and sets the regulations and standards for the solicitors' profession, including entry and training requirements. The SRA is currently undertaking a major review of entry and training into the legal profession. For the latest information see the SRA website.

Here, you will find detailed sections on:

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', and you will find a list of institutions offering qualifying law degrees on the SRA website.

Not all degrees are qualifying law degrees, you should ensure that if you wish to qualify as a solicitor that the programme you undertake is 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.

If you wish to take a part-time course, apply directly to your chosen institution - the SRA's list of institutions shows which can be studied part time.

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 maximum number of attempts permitted for any of the foundations of legal knowledge subjects within a qualifying law degree is normally three. 

The foundation subjects are:

  • contract, tort
  • constitutional and administrative law, criminal law
  • property law
  • equity and trusts
  • law of the European Union


After gaining your degree

Once you have your degree, you may then progress to the vocational stage of training, which includes the Legal Practice Course and the period of recognised training.

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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 chartered legal executives. The minimum entry requirement is four GCSEs, (including English) or equivalent.  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.

If you want to know more about the structure and availability of training via this route, see the CILEx website, or contact the organisation by email: info@cilex.org.uk or telephone 01234 841000.

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. There is more detail about this in the Equivalent Means information pack.

  

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 Information Pack (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.

If you have acquired relevant previous knowledge and skills you are able to apply to the SRA for exemptions from all or both of either Stage 1 or Stage 2 of the LPC.

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)

For advice on how to prepare for the LPC, see the Legal Practice Course Information Pack (PDF).

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The period of recognised training

The period of recognised training 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 period is for two years although it can be reduced if you have gained suitable and relevant previous legal experience.

See our period of recognised training contract page for further information.

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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 period of recognised training. Those qualifying through the CILEx route may take the course at the end of their route. Those individuals that are exempt for recognised training must complete the PSC before admission.

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.

Core structure

The PSC consists of three subject areas:

  • financial and business skills
  • advocacy and communication skills
  • client care and professional standards

There is a compulsory core element of 48 hours tuition with assessments and an elective element of 24 hours tuition.

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Compulsory core

The compulsory core element entails face to face tuition for a minimum number of hours:

  • client care and professional standards (12 hours)
  • advocacy and communication skills (18 hours)
  • financial and business skills (18 hours)

Electives

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 period.

The PSC is offered by professional skills course providers.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority provides further details about the structure and accreditation of the PSC  Professional skills course information pack (PDF).

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Apprenticeships

2016 will see the introduction of new legal trailblazer apprenticeships in England as an alternative to the traditional graduate route to qualification. Apprenticeships are already available in Wales. Apprentices will be able to qualify as solicitors, legal executives or paralegals while working for their employers. The standards expected of apprentice solicitors will be the same as those expected of all solicitors with rigorous assessments in the same way as all solicitors receive before they are admitted to the roll. The apprenticeship receives a salary and will consist of a blend of on and off the job learning.

As the scheme progresses further information will become available at www.sra.gov.uk and www.apprenticeships.gov.uk

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Entry requirements

It is not a requirement to study for a degree as part of the apprenticeship. Individual employers will identify any relevant entry requirements but the government recommended minimum entry requirements are:

  • 5 GCSEs, including mathematics & English - grade C or above (or equivalent)
  • advocacy and communication skills
  • 3 A Levels (or equivalent) - minimum grade C

And/or

  • relevant employer- led work experience
  • level 3 advanced apprenticeship in a relevant occupation - business administration, legal services, providing financial services
  • level 4 higher apprenticeship in a relevant occupation - legal services, professional services, and providing financial services (may be entitled to exemptions from training)
  • paralegal apprenticeship (may be entitled to exemptions from training)
  • legal executive apprenticeship (may be entitled to exemptions from training)
  • law degree/graduate diploma in law/legal practice course (entitled to exemptions from training)

Assessment

Apprentices will first be assessed through functioning knowledge tests, which will consist of a timed exam in an assessment centre and a work-based assessment. They will then take a standardised practical legal exam, which must be completed within the last six months of an apprenticeship. Apprentices will undertake a combination of classroom and work-based learning.

Duration

5-6 years. This may be reduced if exemptions from training are applicable.

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Requirements / Apprenticeship standard

In order to successfully meet the apprenticeship standard leading to qualification as a solicitor, apprentices must demonstrate that they can:

Ethics, professionalism and judgement1. Act honestly and with integrity, in accordance with the law and with regulatory requirements and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)Handbook and Code of Conduct
2. Maintain the level of competence and legal knowledge needed to practise effectively, taking into account changes in their role and/or practice context and developments in the law
3. Work within the limits of their competence and the supervision which they need
4. Draw on a sufficient detailed knowledge and understanding of their field(s)of work in order to practise effectively
5. Apply understanding, critical thinking and analysis to solve problems
Technical legal practice1. Obtain relevant facts
2. Undertake legal research
3. Develop and advise on relevant options, strategies and solutions
4. Draft documents which are legally effective and accurately reflect the client's instructions
5. Undertake effective spoken and written advocacy
6. Negotiate solutions to clients' issues
7. Plan, manage and progress legal matters and transactions
Working with other people1. Communicate clearly and effectively, orally and in writing charge in any format or medium, under the terms of the Open Government Licence. Visit: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/opengovernment-licence
2. Establish and maintain effective and professional relations with clients
3. Establish and maintain effective and professional relations with other people
Managing themselves and their own work1. Initiate, plan, prioritise and manage work activities to ensure that they are completed efficiently, on time and to an appropriate standard, both in relation to their own work and work that they lead or supervise
2. Keep, use and maintain accurate, complete and clear records
3. Apply good business practice

Qualifying from outside the UK

If you are a qualified lawyer from an overseas jurisdiction, you may be eligible to transfer to the roll of solicitors of England and Wales under the Qualified Transfer Scheme without having to complete the full education and training requirements specified in the SRA Training Regulations 2014.  

The route to qualification via the QLTS is set out in the SRA Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme Regulations 2011.

To be eligible to apply, you must be a qualified lawyer from a recognised jurisdiction. Before you apply, see details of the transfer scheme, including the list of recognised jurisdictions, to check whether your jurisdiction is on the list. If you meet the eligibility criteria, you will probably need to undertake the QLTS.

As a candidate applying to transfer you will be considered under the QLTS rules and will be required to show that you are of good standing and suitable for admission as a solicitor in England and Wales - the suitability and character requirements are set out in the SRA Suitability test 2011.

How to apply

You should contact Kaplan QLTS to register and arrange your assessment programme.  The assessments are only available at Kaplan QLTS.  All assessments take place in London and are usually available twice a year.  Full details of the assessment, including the dates and fees are available at Kaplan QLTS.  For queries regarding eligibility please contact contactcentre@sra.org.uk

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Assessment

The assessment will test the Day One Outcomes which set out the legal knowledge and skills that all solicitors must have at the time of qualification. There are two stages to the assessment:

  • Multiple Choice Test (MCT) – this is a 6 hour 180 question test which assesses Part A of the Day One Outcomes
  • Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) - This assesses part C, D and F of the Day One Outcomes. This tests the skills of interviewing, advocacy / oral presentations, legal research, legal drafting and legal writing in business, civil and criminal litigation, property and probate

The MCT stage must be passed before you can progress on to the OSCE stage.

There is no need for candidates to provide separate evidence of their English language skills prior to registering for an assessment. The standard of your written, spoken, reading and listening English must however be appropriate for the assessment otherwise you are unlikely to pass.

Exemptions

You may be entitled to exemption from some or all of the QLTS assessments if you are:

  • a lawyer qualified in the EEA/EU/Switzerland and seeking to qualify via Directive 2005/36/EC (recognition of professional qualifications)
  • a  lawyer qualified in Northerin Ireland or Scotland
  • a barrister who has qualified in England and Wales who has completed a pupillage

Your eligibility to exemption will depend on the extent to which you have already met the Day One Outcomes. The SRA will assess eligibility based on information provided upon application.

If you are an LPC graduate you are entitled to claim full exemption from the MCT.

Non EU students

Students from outside the EU should follow the guidance provided by the Home Office UK Border Agency with regard to student and work permits.

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Admission to the roll

Upon successful completion of the qualification stages, you are deemed able to seek admission to the Roll of Solicitors and apply for your first practising certificate. All solicitors are subject to continuing professional development requirements.

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