Becoming a solicitor

ROUTES TO QUALIFICATION AS A SOLICITOR

Training Contract

A training contract is the final stage on the path to qualification as a solicitor. You will be a trainee solicitor for two years after you have completed your Legal Practice Course (LPC). Trainee solicitors must gain practical experience in at least three distinct areas of law with a recommended three months in each. You will usually complete four six-month seats in different areas of law, but this will vary with each firm. 

The application process is extremely competitive. YLAL has provided some tips on securing a training contract.  

Application Forms

  • You need to know where you would like to work before you can start any application forms. Where do you want to work? What type of lawyer do you want to be? Do you have an interest in a particular area? Have you visited any open days?
  • Do not copy and paste. This is a pet hate among recruiters. You need to tailor your application to the firm you are applying for. 
  • Make a meaningful application. You can do this by making sure that you read and answer the questions. Each sentence should be important. 
  • Do not rush or submit your application close to the deadline. The firm will be able to tell when an application has been submitted. 
  • Make sure that you keep a copy of your application. You will want to be able to read through it if you reach the next stage.
  • Proof read your application or ask a family member or friend to check for any mistakes. If you want a mentor to check over any applications for legal aid roles, find out more about our Mentoring Scheme

Interviews / Assessment Centres

  • Be prepared. There will be questions about you, your application, the firm, your skills and commercial awareness. You can practice your answers to common questions before hand. For example, they are likely to ask why you would like to work for their firm.
  • Read about current affairs related to law and your proposed areas of work. You can follow our Facebook page and Twitter account to read news articles and stay up to date.
  • Read up on recent cases from the area of law you are interested in. This includes blogs such as Nearly Legal, Pink Tape, The Secret Barrister etc. Check out our Blogs and Podcasts page for ideas.
  • Do not panic. Give yourself a few seconds to prepare an answer. A pause will sound a lot better than rushing to say something you have not thought about. If you still do not understand a question you should ask.
  • Speak to friends and colleague. You may know people who have already been interviewed and will be able to ask them for advice. 

Justice First Fellowship 

The Justice First Fellowship Scheme was established in 2014 to support the next generation of students committed to public interest and social justice issues who want to pursue a career in social welfare law.

Find out more on their website

The Fellowship provides:

  1. Pupillage, Training Contract and CILEx Qualifying Employment placements for law graduates seeking to pursue careers in social welfare law;
  2. Fellows with time and resource during their training period to develop and implement a project that will advance access to justice in some way;
  3. Additional support, training and opportunities for Fellows to gain skills and feel part of a wider movement of people committed to access to justice.

Fellows will be recruited in the summer/autumn to commence work in their host organisation in the following January. This is a unique opportunity to qualify into social welfare and previous hosts have included Law Centres, the Public Law Project and Bar Pro Bono Unit. Details of the host organisations and the nature of the role available in each are generally finalised each spring and published on the website as they join the scheme.

Competition for places is intense. Priority will be given to students from less advantaged backgrounds as part of a related objective to advance mobility and diversity in the profession. 

CILEx

If you would like to earn as you learn then the CILEx may be suitable for you. Chartered legal executives are qualified lawyers like solicitors or barristers. 

You can start CILEx at several different stages in your career. 

  • If you do not have a law degree you would complete the level 3 qualification which is equivalent to A levels and the level 6 qualification which is equivalent to a degree. This would cost around £9,500 and would take around 4 years to complete part time.
  • If you have a qualifying law degree you can complete a graduate fast-track diploma as an alternative to the LPC or BPTC. This would cost approximately £3,250 and would take around 1 year to complete part time. 
  • If you already hold an LPC or BPTC you will be exempt from all CILEx qualifications and can immediately apply to become a graduate member of CILEx and use the designatory letters ‘GCILEx’. You will need to complete the qualifying employment requirement which includes preparing a portfolio but once you have completed this you will be a chartered legal executive lawyer. 

Once you have qualified as a chartered legal executive you can ask the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for exemption from the training contract and become a solicitor rather than a chartered legal executive if you want to. 

Equivalent Means

You can apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for exemption from any part of the route to qualification as a solicitor. 

Find out more about Equvalent Means on their website

You can apply for exemption for the period of recognised training. This means that you could qualify as a solicitor without having to do a training contract.

You will need at least two years of experience in three distinct areas of law, supervision of your work, references from your supervisor and regular reviews/appraisals. You complete an application form where you provide evidence for the skills required to become a solicitor. This is similar to CiLEX as you will prepare a portfolio of evidence.  

Find out more about the Period of Recognised Training on their website

The application and your supporting evidence are sent to the SRA for approval with a cheque for £600. The SRA aim to provide you with a decision within 180 days. Remember that if you follow this route you may have to pay for your PSC. This will cost around £1,000 to £2,000. It will depend on which provider you choose and whether you want to take additional electives. 

Solicitors Qualifying Exam 

We are grateful to YLAL member, Hena Rupal, for this write-up on SQE

The Solicitors Regulatory Authority ('SRA') has recently introduced a new route to qualify as a solicitor, called the Solicitors Qualifying Exam ('SQE'). The SQE is due to be introduced on 1 September 2021, subject to final approval from the Legal Services Board. The SQE has been introduced to replace the LPC/training contract route to becoming a solicitor. Instead of completing the LPC and a training contract after a law degree/conversion, students will have to pass the SQE and complete two years of qualifying work experience. The SQE is a series of exams divided into two stages:

  • The first stage, SQE1, is made up of two papers, lasting 10 hours in total. Each paper has 180 single best answer multiple choice questions. SQE1 assesses functioning legal knowledge and tests the ability to identify legal principles and apply them to client problems and transactions as well as professional ethics. 
  • The second stage, SQE2, assesses candidates’ practical legal skills. The assessment involves a series of 16 oral and written tasks, lasting a total of 14 hours. 

There are two sittings of each exam per year and students must have passed SQE1 before taking SQE2. 

The total cost of taking both SQE assessments will be £3,980. However, these fees do not include the cost of any preparation courses. These costs are still unknown. A list of universities and law schools which are developing preparation courses can be found here. Student loan funding is not currently available for any of these assessments. 

Under this new system, students still have to complete two years of qualifying work experience. The work experience can be done during or after completing SQE1 and 2, and must be signed off by a solicitor. Some firms will still want to train their own solicitors during a two-year training contract, but the work experience can be completed in other ways, such as by working as a paralegal in a law firm, in a student law clinic or volunteering at a law centre. Placements can be split over four firms or organisations. 

Students who start their law or non-law degree after September 2021 will have to take the SQE. Students who have already started a law degree, GDL or LPC will have a choice to qualify under the old route or do the SQE. If these students choose the old route, they will have until 31 December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor. 

YLAL was encouraged by the SRA’s intention of improving social mobility in the sector through the revamp of the route to qualification; however, we are not convinced that the SQE will in fact do this in the suggested form. We have concerns relating to the cost of qualification and the lack of funding options available for the assessment. We are also extremely concerned about the areas of law which have been excluded from the SQE, specifically family, housing and social welfare, immigration, employment and public law. We remain unconvinced that the SQE will in fact improve diversity and social mobility in the sector and believe that in its current form it is likely to have an impact on the sustainability of the sector and the recruitment of new solicitors in the excluded areas of practice. In addition we are concerned about the impact this new route will have on legal aid providers and their ability to train and employ junior legal aid lawyers.

We will keep this page updated with any developments, but in the meantime, you can find our consultation responses and other writing on the SQE here

YLAL Jobs 

Find out about current opportunities in legal aid roles on our Jobs page