Becoming a solicitor as a mature student or career changer
The qualification system for solicitors has changed.
In September 2021 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) introduced a new route to qualifying as a solicitor, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).
On this page:
- Challenging assumptions and overcoming barriers
- Research, think and plan ahead
- Funding opportunities
- What does the law say?
The term ‘mature student’ is used when referring to those who attend university or college beyond the average age starting point.
Typically, this would refer to those starting undergraduate studies over the age of 21 or postgraduate studies over the age of 25.
Challenging assumptions and overcoming barriers
The legal market is difficult to access, with relentless competition for outstanding academic results, training positions and placements for essential legal work experience.
This environment can become even more challenging if you are a mature applicant and a career changer.
However, mature entrants are one of the fastest growing areas of admissions to the solicitors’ profession.
Statistics from our 2020 annual statistics report show that 5.5% of solicitors admitted to the roll of solicitors in 2019/20 were over the age of 40.
Age is not a barrier to qualifying as a solicitor.
Organisations are increasingly recognising the invaluable insight and experience, beyond the law, that mature entrants and career changers can bring to a business to help shape a dynamic and diverse workforce.
If you have decided to break into law, it's important to be realistic about what the next few years ahead will require of you:
- strong commitment
- hard work
Be mindful that there are many qualified applicants pursuing a career as a solicitor: the environment is competitive.
You will need to work on gaining relevant legal work experience and demonstrating how your knowledge and previous experience are relevant.
Individuals often underestimate the level of research and time needed to prepare a quality application – make sure you allow enough time.
This is your opportunity to demonstrate that while you may not fit the mould of usual recruits, your life and work experience would be a great asset.
Choose your firms/organisations wisely. Many firms run open days. This will give you an insight into the culture of the firm and help you decide which firms you're best suited to.
The journey is long with many barriers but it is not impossible.
See our interviews with career changers who share tips on how they successfully made the career move.
Research, think and plan ahead
Before making any big decisions or changes, take time to think about what you really want to get out of this change.
Law is a broad subject. Think about what you're interested in and which area you might want to practise. You can then apply to firms which specialise in those areas.
Given the competitive environment, forward planning and preparation is essential.
It might feel difficult to make these decisions so far in advance, but you should start researching the firms or organisations you might want to apply to.
Your research will give you an understanding of what type of law the firm undertakes and which clients they work with. This can help you establish the type of firm you might want to work in.
Unless you already have a specific area of the law in mind, you should spend some time increasing your knowledge of the legal market.
You can do this by:
- visiting libraries for advice on relevant literature
- spending time in a court and sitting in on a trial
- reading the legal press
- visiting law fairs
- speaking to professionals
- attending open days and evenings hosted by law firms
- volunteering in legal environments
- joining relevant LinkedIn groups
Draw from your existing experience and knowledge. Depending on what industries and roles you have worked in before, you may be able to build your legal career from that.
Find out what motivates you and where your interests are, as working as a solicitor will feel much more rewarding if you have an interest in the work that you do.
If you have family or work commitments, managing your time will be a challenge.
Think about how you will prioritise your time. Devoted time is needed for studying, researching, gaining legal work experience and writing applications.
Consider your financial situation – tuition fees are high and you may not have the time to work full time.
From 1 August 2014, firms were no longer obliged to pay trainees a minimum salary above the national minimum wage.
As a matter of good practice, we recommend that trainees should be paid a minimum salary of:
- £26,068 in London
- £23,122 outside of London
This recommendation is reviewed annually.
Larger firms usually offer a starting salary higher than the recommended amount.
You should consider that a trainee salary is likely to be a pay cut compared to your previous earnings.
Studying law is difficult, it requires time and dedication and a whole new way of thinking. Spend enough time evaluating what the next few years and your future life will look like, being a solicitor is rarely a 9-5 job.
The more insight and knowledge that you have, the better equipped you will be to make an informed decision on whether the change is worth making.
On our becoming a solicitor page, you will find information on the routes to qualification and advice on entering the profession.
Funding and support are available if you are looking for ways to fund your studies.
The Law Society Diversity Access Scheme
The Diversity Access Scheme is a scholarship, awarded every year to ten aspiring solicitors from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Each award includes:
- Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) scholarship
- a professional mentor
- work experience placement
The Diversity Access Scheme opens every year for applications in February.
Increase your chances of success
No one can market you better than yourself.
If you are a mature student and a career changer, it might be more challenging to get a training position, depending on which firms/organisations you are targeting.
But it is not impossible: much of it depends on how much time and effort you put in.
To increase your chances, you should have excellent academic results.
Many firms use A-level and degree grades as a way of sifting applications.
If you achieve anything below a 2:1 degree, your chances of getting a training position with certain firms decrease significantly unless you can show that extenuating circumstances led to your lower results.
Increasingly, students are considering undertaking a masters' in law, thinking that adding a few extra letters to their qualification might attract certain firms as it demonstrates a further in-depth legal knowledge.
Many firms remain neutral about a masters' degree and would not rate this higher than candidates having undertaken relevant work experience.
Previous experience is your edge
While legal work experience is valuable, the advantage of being a mature student and career changer is you have first-hand experience and knowledge from your previous roles and life experiences.
Employers will also look at what other attributes, valuable insight and experience you can bring to a law firm or organisation if they were to offer you a training position.
It is up to you to market yourself to your best potential.
Before you can impress an employer in person you need to do so on paper.
Not all your previous experience will be relevant – think about how it links to the needs of the firm or organisation you're applying to.
Consider the knowledge, qualities, skills and insights that you have developed and how they are transferable.
Think about your more general transferable skills, such as:
- communication skills
- meeting deadlines
- problem solving
This is where your previous experience gives you a clear advantage, so it is important that you can demonstrate this in your applications.
What does the law say?
Age discrimination is when you are being unfairly treated because of your age.
The Equality Act 2010 provides a legal framework that states it is unlawful to discriminate directly or indirectly anyone because of their age. The law also protects against harassment and victimisation.
The law applies to:
- all workers
- further and higher education institutions
- career guidance institutions
- vocational training providers
This means that, regardless of your age, you should be able to qualify and be employed to work as a solicitor.
The default retirement age of 65 has also been abolished, which means you have the right to request to carry on working past the retirement age. However, it will be up to your employer to approve or deny this request.
In some instances, the law does allow age discrimination if this can be objectively justified, but the employer needs to be able to clearly demonstrate how this has been justified.
Most employers will have policies in place covering a wide range of HR areas to make sure age discrimination is prevented and that where policies allow such discrimination, they need to be objectively justified.