How to Become a Solicitor in the UK
To become a solicitor in the UK you normally start with a degree. It can be a law degree or a degree in a different subject, followed by a law conversion course or graduate law degree. After the degree, specific vocational qualifications and in-work training are then required to practise as a solicitor.
Each nation – England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland – has its own legal system and regulators, who decide on the training to qualify as a solicitor. Click on the links below to find out the details. If you're not sure which law career is right for you, see our page on the work of solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is the regulating body for England and Wales; they decide what is required to qualify and practise as a solicitor here. The current pathway has three stages to become a solicitor – but be aware that this will soon be changing (see the panel on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination/SQE).
- Legal knowledge
- Vocational qualifications – Legal Practice Course (LPC)
- In-work training – Period of Recognised Training (PRT)
In England it's also possible to qualify as a solicitor through a degree apprenticeship. Find out about the Trailblazer Solicitor Apprenticeship.
The SRA are changing the pathway to become a solicitor, introducing a new two-part Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). This will start no earlier than September 2020. If you start a qualifying law degree or law conversion course before the SQE is introduced you can choose to follow either the old OR new route to qualification. Find out more about the SQE further down this page.
Usually the starting point for a career in law is a qualifying law degree (QLD) – or a non-law degree, followed by law conversion course or graduate law degree. A 'qualifying' law degree includes all the elements of legal knowledge specified by the regulating body (in this case, the SRA). To find out more, please see our page on qualifying law degrees and law conversion courses. Graduates of these courses can progress into any legal career.
If you already work in a legal role, it is possible to become a solicitor without going to university. You can apply to the SRA for exemption from all or part of the training. In turn, the SRA will need evidence of how, under supervision, you have achieved the required standard of skills and learning through 'equivalent means'. The simplest way is to gain qualifications through CILEx, the Chartered Institute for Legal Executives. You can see our page on Chartered Legal Executives to find out more. The SRA will also consider other evidence on a case by case basis; please refer to the SRA for details.
What does the Legal Practice Course cover?
There are two stages. The first covers core knowledge and skills, while the second has elective options that allow students to specialise.
- Stage 1 covers the three core practice areas of business law, property law and litigation (both criminal and civil). Students gain skills in advocacy – i.e. putting forward their client's case – as well as interviewing and advising clients. Written skills are developed in practical legal research and drafting, i.e. creating binding legal text such as contracts or wills. Other areas cover professional conduct and regulation, taxation, and the administration of estates.
- Stage 2 elective options. These may be chosen in line with the student’s training contract (if they have one) or in an area of work where the student hopes to secure a traineeship.
Assessments include exams, research assessments, written assignments, and oral presentations. LPC providers approach these differently. Some offer ‘open book’ exams where students can bring text books, being assessed on the application of theory to a specific issue.
About Legal Practice Courses
LPC providers are authorised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Courses run full-time and part-time (evenings and weekends). Accelerated options are available but most courses are nine months full-time.
The LPC may be offered as part of another course. For example, there's the undergraduate Exempting law degree (see our page on qualifying law degrees and law conversion courses). Or it may be part of a master's degree such as an MSc, or more frequently an LLM in Legal Practice. This opens up the possibility of postgraduate loan funding, dependent on eligibility; courses must be a full masters of 180 credits and not a ‘top up’ masters. Institutions offering the masters-level course include BPP, Nottingham Trent, the University of Central Lancashire, the University of Law, the University of the West of England and more.
Entry requirements and applications
Entry requirements are a minimum 2:2 in a qualifying law degree, or non-law degree followed by law conversion course. Candidates with relevant professional qualifications may be considered e.g. from CILEx (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives).
Students may also need to provide proof of their English Language ability; for example, international students who are not from a majority English speaking country.
Applications for full-time places are made via the Central Applications Board (CAB). Part-time applicants normally apply direct to the relevant institution.
How much does the LPC cost? Is funding available?
Full-time course fees vary from £9,500–16,215 for UK/EU students, with part-time course fees pro-rata. Fees are often higher for international students.
- If the LPC is combined with an undergraduate or masters degree, a student loan may be available.
- If a student has gained a training contract with a law firm, they may be funded to take the LPC.
- Some LPC providers offer bursaries and scholarships to help with course fees.
After the Legal Practice Course, students must complete in-work training for two years, if working full-time. They will gain practical experience in at least three distinct areas of English and Welsh law and complete a Professional Skills course. PRT applicants take a suitability test.
There are fewer trainee positions than there are candidates – securing a PRT is highly competitive. Vacation schemes are short-term legal placements that can be applied for by second-year law degree students or final-year non-law degree students. These can help with securing a training contract either directly, through contact with a law firm, or by enhancing the student’s CV.
It is possible to gain exemption from the PRT through 'equivalent means' but this must be through supervised training in a work-based setting. It must also cover the range of legal experience required by the SRA. If you are struggling to get a PRT, it may be worth considering training with CILEx (see our page on Chartered Legal Executives). Bear in mind that the route for training will change after the Solicitors Qualifying Examination is introduced – but if you've started on the 'old' route, then you must finish by that route.
Once all education and training requirements are met, solicitors entering the legal profession must pass a final assessment on their character and suitability. Practising solicitors must be registered with the SRA.
Back to How to become a solicitor in England and Wales. Below, see Trailblazer apprenticeships and the SQE.
In England, you can now become a solicitor through a level 7 higher apprenticeship while working for a law firm. The training is equivalent to a masters and may include the award of a degree. Apprentices must also pass the SRA’s new SQE examinations (see below). Apprenticeship standards have been set by the government, working with employers and professional bodies. Places are advertised by employers as they become available.
Entry is open to post-A Level candidates, with no age restrictions. Normally taking five to six years, the apprenticeship can be reduced to a minimum of two years depending on whether the applicant has relevant work experience, a previous related apprenticeship, or other legal qualifications.
Training is paid for by the employer and apprentices are paid no less than the relevant minimum wage – with some firms offering a higher starting salary.
In Wales, a level 7 higher apprenticeship framework was approved by the Welsh Government in March 2015.
Those completing a Trailblazer solicitor apprenticeship have fulfilled all the requirements to practise as a solicitor.
The SQE will be a common, centralised entrance exam. It will test applicants on their functioning legal knowledge (SQE Stage 1) and their practical legal skills (SQE Stage 2), through written and practical assessment. Those starting the route to qualify as a solicitor after the SQE is introduced will require:
- A degree in any subject, or equivalent qualification such as a level 7 apprenticeship or professional qualification or experience.
- Passing part 1 and part 2 of the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).
- Two years' qualifying work experience, which can start before part 1 of the SQE is taken.
- Passing a final character and suitability test, as at present.
If you are considering university after the proposed SQE starts...
Although it simply requires a degree in any subject (or equivalent qualification), those who haven't taken a law degree are likely to need a preparatory course to be able to pass the SQE exams. The SRA anticipates a range of preparatory courses will be developed and will compile resources to inform students as these are established. Law degrees may also incorporate work experience to gain the in-work training required. If you are taking a law degree after 2020, check with the university to ensure it will prepare you for the SQE if you wish to become a solicitor.
If you begin a qualifying law degree or a law conversion course before the SQE is introduced...
You can opt to follow the existing path to qualify as a solicitor, or take the SQE route, as both pathways will overlap for a number of years. However, you will not be able to swap from one route to the other.
Solicitors here are regulated by the Law Society of Northern Ireland, while the Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS) at Queens University Belfast oversees professional training for both solicitors and barristers. The stages of training are:
- Legal knowledge – law degree or law conversion course
- Vocational qualifications – PgDip Professional Legal Studies
- In-work training – Apprenticeship
In Northern Ireland, 'recognised law degrees' include eight foundation subjects. The IPLS has a list of acceptable law degrees on their website. It includes some degrees from England and Wales, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland but NOT the LLB in Scots Law. The Law of Evidence is required in Northern Ireland; it can be taken as a separate exam if necessary. To find out more, please refer to our page on qualifying law degrees and law conversion courses.
The Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS) at Queen’s University, Belfast is responsible for training the legal profession in Northern Ireland. Trainee solicitors and barristers complete a similar course and are awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Professional Legal Studies (Bar or Solicitor as appropriate).
What does the Solicitor's course cover?
Students gain knowledge of practice and procedure in a broad range of areas. These include high court, county court and consumer law, as well as criminal procedures, family law, company law and partnership. They learn about accounts, insolvency, and revenue, along with conveyancing, drafting wills and more. The course has elective options. Client skills are developed, including advocacy (arguing the client's case), interviewing and negotiation. Written skills cover drafting legal texts and legal research. Trainee solicitors also learn about practice management.
In areas of joint training, separate tutorials or practical exercises may be given to solicitors and barristers. Other areas are taught separately. For example, solicitors get more training on land law and conveyancing.
In Northern Ireland the PgDip Professional Legal Studies is preceded and followed by the in-work training that together forms the two-year apprenticeship for solicitors.
The apprenticeship begins September–December, the full-time vocational course at IPLS runs from January–December, and finally students resume their apprenticeship from January–August.
Entry requirements and applications
Entry requirements are a recognised law degree, or a non-law degree followed by a law conversion or graduate law degree. Check the approved courses on the IPLS website. Applications are made online from September to mid-November and students also sit an admissions test. International students must be able to prove their English language skills.
Fees and funding
In 2017/18, UK/EU fees are £9,350.
Eligible students may be able to get a postgraduate loan. Another option is a Professional and Career Development Loan. Scholarships may be available from Queen’s University Belfast.
As outlined above, in Northern Ireland the two-year apprenticeship starts before the vocational qualification and finishes after it. Apprenticeships are under a master; this is a qualified solicitor of seven years standing. Apprenticeships may be advertised on law firm websites, undergraduate noticeboards or by The Law Society. Students normally make direct contact with masters, sending them a detailed CV. The apprenticeship begins on the same day for all trainee solicitors.
On completion of their apprenticeship, having passed all examinations, apprentice solicitors can apply for a Practising Certificate. Initially they cannot practise on their own or in partnership for at least two more years.
The Law Society of Scotland regulates individual solicitors and law firms in Scotland. They accredit providers of the LLB in Scots Law, as well as the vocational Diploma in Legal Practice. The stages of training are:
- Legal knowledge
- Vocational qualifications – PEAT 1 (Diploma in Professional Legal Practice)
- In-work training – PEAT 2 (traineeship)
Scotland has a separate legal system to that of England and Wales. Commonly, a trainee solicitor starts with a degree in Scots law; accelerated courses are available for non-law graduates. A dual Scots and English law degree qualifies students to practise as a solicitor in both jurisdictions. Students must take exams in the subjects specified by the Law Society to continue onto the vocational qualification. To find out more, please refer to our page on qualifying law degrees and law conversion courses.
In Scotland, those who work in the legal sector may be able to enter a three-year 'pre-PEAT training contract' with a Scottish solicitor. As well as working, they will need to complete coursework and professional exams set by the Law Society.
Professional Education and Training Stage 1 (PEAT 1) is commonly known as the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP). It is taken by both trainee solicitors and advocates, who follow the same path as solicitors for most of their training. As elsewhere, getting a traineeship after the DPLP is highly competitive. Some firms recruit years in advance, while other places may become available while students are on the DPLP.
What does the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice cover?
Six Scottish universities are accredited to run the course by the Law Society of Scotland. The course is nine-months full-time, or two-years part-time. Assessments are determined by the university. They may include exams, written assignments, online multiple-choice tests, or client interview scenarios using actors.
Entry requirements and applications
Entry is normally via the LLB in Scots Law or more rarely, a non-graduate who has completed a three-year 'pre-PEAT training contract' with a Scottish solicitor (see above). In all cases, entry will be based on the marks achieved at first exam sitting in subjects specified by the Law Society. International students must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English.
Applications are open from February–April; do note the arrangements for where these are to be sent, as it is not straightforward...
- Those with the LLB in Scots Law submit their applications to the university where they completed their law degree, even if their first choice for studying the DPLP is at another university. Exact requirements vary by provider so please refer to university websites. Applicants can also indicate any university where they would not wish to study.
- Applicants on a pre-PEAT training contract apply direct to their first choice DPLP provider.
- Candidates should indicate if they have secured a training contract to follow the DPLP, as this may help them secure a place.
How much does the DPLP cost? Is funding available?
In 2017/18, UK/EU fees range from £7,100–8,000 (including materials), with international fees from £7,400–18,250. Part-time fees are pro-rata.
Eligible students may be able to access a postgraduate loan. Another option is a Professional and Career Development Loan. Scholarships may be available from universities.
PEAT 2 is known as the traineeship, where the skills and values learnt on the DPLP are honed 'on the job'. Both solicitors and advocates are required to complete a period of in-work training as a solicitor; for solicitors, this is two years. The Diploma is valid until the end of December two years after it was awarded; extensions can be applied for. Before starting the PEAT 2 traineeship, trainees must first apply for an entrance certificate.
Large firms often advertise for traineeships up to two years ahead – so students completing an LLB may apply during the final year of their degree, before starting the DPLP. The Law Society recommends that trainees are paid £18,000 in their first year of training and £21,500 in the second (figures from June 2017).
Qualified solicitors are registered with the Law Society of Scotland.
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