If you have found this page then it is likely that you are looking for information about how to become a solicitor in the UK. The role of a solicitor in the UK is wide-ranging and covers all kinds of legal fields including criminal law, civil law, property law, corporate law, and family law. These are just some of the legal areas of work solicitors participate in.
Pursuing a career in law can be intellectually stimulating and rewarding at the same time. Qualifying as a solicitor does take a great deal of commitment and requires you to study for a number of years. It is a competitive process but if you are committed and keen to qualify as a solicitor then there are various different ways in which you can qualify.
What do Solicitors do?
- Provide expert advice
- Provide assistance to business in their daily operations
- Represent and defend clients
- Protect rights
- Manage risk
- Researching legislation and cases
- Drafting documents, letters, and contracts
- Representing clients in court
- Liaising with barristers
The work of a solicitor can be divided into two main areas:
- 1. Contentious work: this is work that relates to disputes and usually ends up in a court or a tribunal.
- 2. Non-contentious work: this refers to work that is not relating to any dispute or disagreement. So this would involve dealing with the legal aspects of buying and selling assets, or making a will.
Solicitors work in many different places, these can include:
- Law firms
- In-house within larger organisations (such as banks or supermarkets)
- In local authorities
- At the Crown Prosecution Service
- At law centres
What Qualifications do You Need to Become a Solicitor?
In order to qualify as a solicitor, the most common route to qualification is doing GCSEs, A levels, a degree, and then the Legal Practice Course. This is then followed by the successful completion of a training contract.
The minimum academic requirements according to the Law Society are:
- Minimum of 5 GCSEs (grade 5 and above)
- A levels
- Degree: this does not have to be a law degree, but if you do not do a law degree then you have to do another year of study after your degree undertaking the Graduate Diploma Course (GDL) which effectively acts as a conversion course.
- Legal Practice Course (LPC): once you have completed your degree (and, if required, the GLD) you will then complete the LPC. This vocational course teaches you the practical application of the legal principles you will have learned during your degree or GDL.
This is the more traditional route to becoming a solicitor in terms of qualifications. From 2021 there will be a new route of qualification, this route is called the Solicitor Qualifying Examination (SQE).
Solicitor Qualifying Exam (SQE) 2021
If you want to qualify as a solicitor via the SQE then there are some differences to the traditional route mentioned above. Firstly, you will not need to have a law degree to do the SQE, and no conversion course such as the GDL is required. You will need a university degree.
Instead of the LPC, you will be required to undertake two mandatory assessments, and then two years of work experience that will qualify you to become a solicitor. Anyone pursuing this route of qualification can gain work experience from up to four different legal settings so it is more flexible than the standard training contract.
The SQE has been introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the governing body that regulates solicitors. The SRA introduced this new route of qualification to address concerns that the traditional route of qualifying a solicitor meant that some new solicitors were unprepared for practice.
The SRA is also keen to facilitate entry to the profession by alternative routes and this in turn should widen access to those wanting to become solicitors. The SQE enables solicitor apprentices to qualify as solicitors.
The solicitor apprentice route involves 20% of study time alongside 80% working in a law firm, so it is more of a practical learning route than the ones mentioned above as you learn as you study. Apprentices are assessed via the SQE.
Qualities of a Solicitor
In addition to the qualifications mentioned above, there are certain key skills you will need to become a solicitor. These include the following:
- Attention to detail
- Independent research
- Reviewing and interpreting the law and cases
- Strong communication skills (verbal and written)
- Capacity for working hard
- Commercial awareness
How to Become a Solicitor After a Law Degree
Once you have completed your law degree, you will need to apply for and complete the LPC. This course is run at certain institutions in the UK so you will need to apply to your chosen provider when your law degree is coming to an end and secure your place.
If you have not done a law degree you will need to complete the GDL before enrolling on the LPC. The GDL is effectively a conversion course that teaches you the basic principles of law over a year, once you have successfully completed the GDL you can then undertake the LPC which is more of a vocational course focusing on skills.
The normal career progression for a solicitor looks something like the list below:
How Much Does it Cost to Become a Solicitor?
Typically it costs between £9,000 - £17,000 for the LPC and between £9,000 and £12,000 for the GDL. The fees will depend on where you study. You can complete these courses in one or two years (part-time). In addition to these fees, you will need to consider living expenses and travel costs. If you manage to secure a training contract at a large firm then they may pay all your LPC/GDL fees for you.
For those wanting to qualify as a solicitor, it can be an expensive route to qualification and you have to be committed to the profession. However, the new SQE route that will be introduced in September 2021 will cost £3,980 and is a more affordable route to qualifying as a solicitor.
If you want to qualify via the solicitor apprentice route although you will not incur fees for attending university, you will still have to pay the SQE costs unless the law firm you are undertaking your apprenticeship with agrees to pay the fees (many of them do!).
Is it Hard to Become a Solicitor?
Qualifying as a solicitor in the UK does take a great deal of time and commitment. It requires at least 6 years of study and training and securing a training contract and apprenticeship is a competitive process.
Training contracts can be very difficult to secure and many of the mid to large firms require you to apply 2 years in advance of starting your training contract. According to Law Society statistics, in 2018-2019 the number of training contracts available was 6,344. However, in 2020 the pandemic did impact the number of training contracts available but the good news is that the numbers are rising back to pre-pandemic levels.
Many graduates who do not secure a training contract take up positions as paralegals in law firms and in-house legal teams. This enables them to learn practical skills whilst continuing their search for a training contract, and many paralegals end up securing a training contract at the firm they work in as a paralegal. So, if you do not secure a training contract straight after the LPC do not worry, there are many ways of qualifying as a solicitor and in the meantime you should get as much experience as you can by working in a law firm as a paralegal.
For paralegals, there is also another route to qualification and this is known as the ‘equivalent means route’. If you are a paralegal wanting to qualify via the equivalent means route then you need the following:
- Experience is at least 3 different areas of law
- Minimum of 2 years experience of working in legal teams or law firms
An application via the equivalent means route is rigorous and time-consuming and you will have to provide evidence of all the experience you have gained. The cost of making the application is £600 and there is no guarantee that you will succeed.
There are steps you can take that will help you stand out amongst the numerous applications for training contracts:
Frequently Asked Questions
How many years to become a solicitor in the UK?
Studying full time it can take 6 years to qualify as a solicitor. This includes the law degree, LPC and a training contract lasting two years. If you do the GDL then that is another year to add on.
Can a barrister become a solicitor?
Yes. Normally, those wanting to become barristers will apply to the Bar instead of the LPC. After they complete the Bar they then need to secure a pupillage and qualify as a barrister. However, barristers can become solicitors and, in order to do so, they need to undertake some additional exams and show they have 2 years’ worth of legal experience covering at least 3 areas of law.
Can a legal executive become a solicitor?
Chartered Legal Executives can become solicitors and the good news is that they are exempt from having to complete the training contract.
How to become a solicitor without a training contract
As mentioned above, an alternative route such as the SQE and solicitors’ apprenticeship route means that you can qualify without a training contract. These alternative routes mean you can gain experience that enables you to qualify as a solicitor. There is also the paralegal ‘equivalent means route’ that enables paralegals who have completed the LPC to qualify as solicitors if they can prove to the Law Society that they have gained enough experience to qualify without the training contract.
Why do you want to become a solicitor?
Many people want to become a solicitor because they want to work in a profession that helps other people. If you enjoy problem-solving, working with other people in a client-facing role, working with documents, and advising people of their rights then becoming a solicitor is a good profession for you.
How to become a sole practitioner solicitor
A sole practitioner is a solicitor who practices independently. Sole practitioners usually set up their own law firm where they are the only practising solicitor. In order to become a sole practitioner, you will have to have practised as a solicitor for a minimum of 36 months within the last decade. You will also need specific authorisation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
How to become a solicitor after a law degree
As mentioned above, after a law degree you will need to complete the LPC, and then complete a training contract at a law firm. You can also qualify via the SQE route from September 2021.
Do you need a law degree to become a solicitor?
No, you don’t need a law degree. You can do any degree you want but once you have done it you will have to undertake the GDL before you can proceed to the LPC. Many firms are happy to consider students who have studied non-law degrees.
Can a solicitor be a judge?
Yes, a solicitor can be a judge. Many working solicitors work as part-time judges. The Judicial Appointments Commission that deals with the appointment of judges welcomes applications from solicitors. In order to apply to become a judge solicitors will need a minimum of 5-7 years of experience of working as a solicitor.
Can a solicitor become a QC?
A QC refers to Queen’s Counsel, and they are advocates appointed by the monarch to be one of her advisors. Prior to 1995 only barristers could become QC but now solicitors can also become QC.
Can you become a solicitor without going to university?
Yes, you can follow the apprenticeship route or through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.