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Routes to qualifying

There are a number of routes you can take to qualify to practise as a solicitor in England and Wales. The most common route is the 'graduate route', which means taking either a law degree or other degree followed by a Graduate Diploma in Law course, then the Legal Practice Course and period of recognised training.

Here, you will find detailed sections on all routes into the profession:

Upon successful completion of the required 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.

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 or the Law Society's legal education and training policy page.

Qualifying with a law degree

The route most students take to becoming a solicitor is to complete a qualifying law degree. The Solicitors Regulation Authority is 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 will need a strong academic record with at least three good passes in any academic A level subjects to get into most universities. You can choose to study full time, part time or by distance learning. You must 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 six years whether you are studying full or part-time.

The foundations of legal knowledge form the academic stage of legal education and are compulsory for students seeking to enter the vocational stage of training. You must obtain a pass mark of 40 per cent in each of these 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 will then need to complete 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 same requirements for the academic stage of training. These are the foundation subjects covered in a qualifying law degree course.

If you have any other degree you can choose to either 'convert' this degree by taking the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or you could join the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).

Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)

Most students who hold a degree in another subject choose to take the GDL course, which covers the foundations of legal knowledge required for completion of the academic stage of training. A list of GDL providers can be found on the SRA's website. The GDL can usually be taken full time for one year, or part-time for two years.

CILEx offer an alternate route into the solicitors’ profession. Some students are attracted by the ability to earn while they learn on the job which the CILEx route offers. Further information is below.

Non-graduate route

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 take longer than the graduate route, it 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.

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The Legal Practice Course

Regardless of the way in which you have completed the academic requirements to become a solicitor, you must complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) prior to qualifying. The LPC will help you to develop the practical 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) and a list of providers is available on the SRA's website.

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, unless they are following the Apprenticeship route.

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 and 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.
Find out more about the period of recognised training

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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 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 from recognised training must complete the PSC before admission.

It is currently unclear whether those following the Apprenticeship route will be required to complete the PSC as the SRA are looking at the PSC in the context of the entirety of their review of legal education and training.

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

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

The PSC consists of three subject areas taught through face to face tuition for a minimum number of hours:

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

Fees

Your firm/organisation will pay the fees and reasonable travel for the PSC.

The PSC is offered by professional skills course providers. The Solicitors Regulation Authority provides further details about the structure and accreditation of the PSC on its website. Please also see the SRA website for the Professional skills course information pack.

You may apply for exemption from one or more modules on the PSC if you consider that you have the appropriate experience or qualifications which are equivalent in scope and level to the PSC written standards. Further information can be found in the Equivalent Means information pack.

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Apprenticeships

From 2016 new legal apprenticeships are being offered as an alternative to the traditional graduate route to qualification. Apprentices can qualify as solicitors, legal executives or paralegals while working for their employers. The standards expected of apprentice solicitors are the same as those expected of all solicitors, with rigorous assessments before they are admitted to the profession. An apprentice receives a salary and will complete a combination of classroom and work-based learning.

Further information is available on the SRA's website and https://www.getingofar.gov.uk/.

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 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 their apprenticeship.

Duration

Five to six years. This may be reduced if exemptions from training are applicable.

Requirements / Apprenticeship standard

In order to successfully qualify as a solicitor, through the apprenticeship routes, students must demonstrate that they meet the requirements of the apprenticeship standard.

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Qualifying from outside the UK, the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme

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 (QLTS) 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. 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

The assessments are only available at Kaplan QLTS and you should contact them directly to register and arrange your assessment programme. 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.

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 six-hour 180 question test which assesses Part A of the Day One Outcomes
  • Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) - This assesses parts 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 Northern 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.

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