The professional body for solicitors is The Law Society, but the regulatory function is undertaken by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). This body lays down the training rules and is responsible for any changes in the regulations.
Qualifying as a solicitor - pre September 2021 - "The Law Degree/GDL/LPC Route"
You are most likely to qualify under this route if you have already started an undergraduate law degree, GDL, LPC or training contract prior to September 1st 2021. For first year law students arriving in Oxford in October 2021, you may also be able to follow this route if you accepted your offer of a place or paid a non refundable deposit prior to September 21st 2021 (inclusive). In all cases, continuation along this route will depend on the ongoing availability of existing post graduate courses and the routes that legal employers will adopt for their trainees. Last year (2020/21 hires) we already started to see some firms moving future trainees to the SQE route and once firms start to move to the new system these traditional courses could disappear relatively quickly.
1. The academic stage
This is satisfied by completing either a qualifying law degree or, for graduates of other disciplines, a conversion course, the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), sometimes still referred to as the CPE, available on a one-year, full-time or two-year, part-time basis. Another option at this stage is the two-year Senior Status Law Degree, available at a number of universities. Both of these courses are common to both would-be solicitors and barristers.
2. The vocational stage
For solicitors this is the Legal Practice Course (LPC), also available on a one-year full-time, or two-year part-time basis and as a 7 month course (known as the Accelerated LPC). Some providers also offer the opportunity to study an LPC LLM (involving an additional research module) or even an LPC MSc in Law, Business & Management (with additional case study report).
3. The practical stage
This consists of a two-year “period of recognised training (PRT)” (previously and more commonly still known as a Training Contract) in a solicitor’s practice or other legal department authorised for training by the SRA. Normally this is undertaken after completing the LPC. During the training contract (PRT) the trainee also completes the Professional Skills Course.
Applying to courses: GDL, Senior Status Law and LPC
Details of all institutions offering courses for the academic and vocational stages may be found on the SRA website and on the Central Application Board’s (CAB) website. Note that applications for all these courses are normally assessed, and offers made, without interview.
Graduate Diploma in Law
This information is for GDL (also known as the CPE) applications (for non law students or law students who do not hold a "Qualifying Law Degree" for the English and Welsh jurisdiction).
- Applications for full-time courses only are made through the Central Application Board. This online application system contains details of, and links to, all GDL course providers, a number of whom attend our annual Law Fair in November. Application for part exemptions to the GDL should be requested of the provider. Full exemption to this course should be made to the SRA.
- Applications can now be made for the GDL on a rolling basis across the year prior to entry so there is no closing date. While there is no CAB closing date, some institutions may ask for applications to be made before a certain date in order to have a place guaranteed (subject to meeting their criteria) or to meet a deadline to be considered for funding from that institution.
- Once an application is received by CAB it is then released to the institutions and offers can be made from then on. Different institutions may respond at different rates and some courses/institutions may be more popular than others.
- There remains a statutory cooling off period for acceptances made.
- We advise you to research the institutions carefully, to visit if possible and, when ready, to make your application in good time.
- The application form allows applicants to select up to 3 institutions and is only for applications to full time courses. Applications for part time variants should be made directly to the institution concerned.
- There is a requirement to attach undergraduate degree transcripts. Referees will also be needed so please check in advance who that will be and brief them accordingly.
- GDL, Exempting Law degrees and CPEs will continue to be validated by the SRA for the academic year 2021/22 . Students must have accepted an offer for one of these courses on or before 31/8/21 for courses which start on or before 31/12/21. After this date, these types of courses will not be validated by the SRA (except in some exceptional circumstances) as it will no longer be a requirement to have this specific type of law degree with SQE.
Institutions select on the basis of academic achievement and motivation as shown in the personal statement and references. Most successful applicants will have at least a 2:1 and evidence of suitability for their intended career. Some institutions will give preference to those who can demonstrate good reason for their need to study at that particular institution, e.g. studying near home.
Where to do your GDL?
Most employers are not overly concerned where you do the conversion course, but some of the leading City practices do require their future trainees to study at their preferred institution. They are likely to be more concerned with regard to the LPC – a factor you might like to discuss with them, should you hope to complete a training contract with them.
There are no independent assessments available. However, you may wish to consider some of the following factors in your decision making:
- Academic rigour – talk to tutors and students, check out destinations, use the Quality Assurance Agency for general institution reviews.
- Teaching & assessment methods used.
- Geographical location.
- Cost of course and opportunities for funding or financing from the provider.
- Preference of law firms that you may be seeking to apply to for a training contract
- Study options – many providers offer part time and study mode options including distance learning.
- Reputation of their LPC and destination data of its students.
- Access to the profession, careers fairs and events, general careers support and work experience/work.
Any self-respecting course will encourage you to visit and be happy to provide more information. Many also hold open days - now available virtually
Be aware that it is not a requirement to have a training contract before commencing the GDL. Indeed the vast majority of students starting the course do not have training contracts arranged. However, you are advised to review your own circumstances and assess your tolerance of risk.
Senior Status Degrees
An alternative for non-Lawyers to the GDL is to take a two-year Senior Status Law Degree, which includes the seven ‘Foundations of Legal Knowledge’ but which allows for more in depth study and greater choice of subjects. This course is available at some 28 institutions on a full-time basis, with some on a part-time basis also. These include the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, City, Leeds, London (including Birkbeck), Oxford, Sheffield and Cardiff. Contact the relevant Law Faculty for application procedures and prospectuses.
For these courses application is normally made via UCAS, but check with each institution. For Oxford and Cambridge the 15th October deadline will apply. Do also check with the institution the fee level charged as this course is second first-degree-level course and thus is not eligible for the same types of government funding as first degrees.
Legal Practice Courses
- A central clearing system also operates for full-time courses with applications made via the CAB. All relevant institutions will be detailed on this website and the information kept up-to-date.
- As with the GDL, there is no closing date, but a rolling timetable instead and we advise making applications in good time in the year before entry.
- Completed applications made via the site will be released to the institutions weekly. Institutions can then respond with offers from then on, although some may be able to turn round their offers more quickly than others.
- Applicants are advised to carry out their own research on the institutions that they wish to apply to and read the guidance notes on the CAB website to ensure they include all relevant information on the form. Transcripts and references will be required.
- All part-time applications should go directly to the course provider.
- Institutions apply the same kind of selection criteria as for the GDL.
- The vast majority of employers prefer their trainees to attend a specific course. If you have started your LPC and then secure a training contract during the course, your employer may decide to switch you into their preferred institution or to let you remain, often depending on how far into the course you have progressed. You are perfectly free to apply to any firm for a training contract, even if you have already started your LPC in their non preferred institution.
- Some employers may insist that their trainees select the optional courses (electives) that are appropriate for their practice. It is always worth checking the views of employers on this issue.
- If you are a non-law student you will find that most institutions which offer both a conversion course (GDL) and the LPC will guarantee a place to those who pass their conversion course.
Please note: If you think you have any “character & suitability issues” that may affect your ability to qualify as a solicitor then we strongly advise that you contact the SRA approximately 6 months before starting the LPC to allow the SRA time to follow their procedures.
Qualification as a solicitor - post September 1st 2021 - the "SQE Route"
The new route to qualification will be quite different to the old! The aim of this new system is to open access to the profession partly by reducing costs of training and partly by making training more flexible. At the same time, high standards can be assured through centrally set assessments which examine competence to practise. There will be no regulation of the law degrees or post graduate law courses; instead there will be a centrally set and marked set of exams combined with a period of qualifying work experience (QWE). Both law and non law students will still be able to qualify as solicitor as before but the courses and experiences you take on the way will look and sound different.
From September 1st 2021 to qualify as solicitor you will need:
- A degree (or equivalent)
- To have passed SQE 1 (legal knowledge & application) and SQE 2 (practical legal tasks & knowledge)
- To have completed 24 months of full time (or equivalent) Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
- To be of satisfactory suitability and character
Full details are on the SRA website
SQE 1&2 - what, when and how?
- Will test your functioning legal knowledge (FLK) across two 5 hour assessments split over 2 days. The format is Single Best Answer multiple choice. Content is similar to a Law degree/GDL. The first assessment covers Business Law & Practice, Dispute Resolution, Contracts, Tort, Legal Systems of England & Wales, Constitutional and Administrative Law, EU Law and egal Services. The second assessment will cover Property Practice, Wills & the Administration of Estates, Solicitor Accounts, Land Law, Trusts, Criminal Law and Practice
- Cost will be £1558.00
- Tests can be taken at Pearson VUE test centres available across the UK and internationally
- Results will follow in 6-10 weeks
- Bookings are open from July 2021 and close on 26/9/21 and the first assessments will be in November 2021,the next in July 2022
Preparing for your SQE exams
Unlike in the old system of qualification there is no mandatory or regulated legal study requirement for entering into the SQE. Gone is the concept of a "qualifying law degree" with its compulsory courses. In its place though are a plethora of different types of preparatory course options - many with different titles, duration, format and costs and being offered by new and different providers. It is likely that you may want to consider taking some preparatory course even if you have studied law before although it is not compulsory to do so. This might be because the law you have studied didn't cover the topics that will be assessed, or you may have studied law outside of the English & Welsh jurisdiction or you may just be very unfamiliar with the SQE1 exam technique of "single best" answer. Deciding on which course is likely to depend on your own particular circumstances - the type and amount of law you have already studied and the types of exam technique that you are used to and how you like to learn. The exams are likely to be tough but it is early days to be able to know more.
Options may vary from a very short course (revision) together with exam practice which might be suitable for those with an undergraduate law degree through to law masters courses, suitable for law or non law undergraduates which cover all the preparation required for both SQE 1 & 2. Studying a masters level course may also mean that you can apply for a government student loan. Here are some examples of possible courses:
- Example 1:College of Legal Practice offers a study programme of 2 units( SQE1 Preparation £1800, SQE 2 Preparation £2300, Legal Skills Modules from £800)
- Example 2:University of Law offers LLM Legal Practice (eventually to replace their LPC)which prepares students for SQE 1 and 2 , £12,900 to £16,500
- Example 3: Nottingham Law School: LLM in Law and Legal Practice ( for non law undergraduates) - incorporating SQE1 Preparation £12,000
- Example 4: Barbri Preparation Courses for SQE 1 £2999 and SQE 2 £2999 ( variety of durations)
Remember that the cost of the courses does not include the costs of taking the exams (SQE 1&2)! Be on the look out for providers to offer discounts to attract to you sign up with them but do your homework about the type of course you need given your circumstances and future career plans.
What to look out for when deciding on a course?
- For SQE 1: does the content cover the 7 Foundations of Legal Knowledge subjects eg tort law, criminal law, administrative law, trust law, property law, EU law, constitutional law? Does it cover the vocational and practical legal subject areas (similar to stage 1 of the LPC)? Are there regular and repeated opportunities to develop and be tested on single best answer papers in exam conditions?
- For SQE 2: Does the content develop your core legal skills (written and oral) and allow you to practise them and receive feedback?
In addition you may wish to look for employability and skill development opportunities, format options (online, in person, duration, location etc.), costs, opportunities for scholarships and bursaries, additional workshops on new areas such as leadership, revision and study guides and so on.
Application to SQE prep courses will still be through the Central Applications Board. All course options are listed on their site
Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
Under the new system there is still a requirement to have 24 months of work experience prior to qualification. This could be through a trainee position in a law firm which is just like the existing training contracts but it could look and feel quite different to this with some employers. More flexibility has been introduced meaning that students will no longer have to rely on a training contract as the dominant form of experience. We expect them to continue - especially in large commercial firms but this new system should help those trying to build careers in areas such as crime, family and other legal aid funded work where traditionally there have been far fewer training places.
In future QWE:
Qualified Lawyers (i.e. from anywhere outside the English and Welsh jurisdiction)
Recruitment of lawyers within England and Wales who are already qualified in other jurisdictions is equally varied and also subject to the rules of the SRA.
From September 1st 2021 any qualified lawyer who wishes to gain the qualification of solicitor has to follow the new SQE route to qualification by sitting the same SQE 1 & 2 exams. Qualified lawyers will not though, need to complete the qualifying period of work experience. The Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), which was set up for the assessment of international (and intra UK) lawyers seeking to qualify as solicitors in England and Wales, has now been phased out (except for those already booked to sit the exams).
Details on what you need to do are on the SRA website, together with how to apply for any exemptions to SQE 1 and 2.
As a result of the UK leaving the EU, there have also been changes for Registered European Lawyers - please consult the SRA website for the details of these changes.
Before embarking on requalification, ensure that you also speak to relevant personnel within law firms for information on how firms view and manage hiring qualified lawyers. They may or may not see requalification as a requirement, depending on the work you will be doing and the experience you have. If your post qualification experience is limited though (usually less than 2/3 years), a firm may suggest that you apply for a Training Contract.
Recruitment of qualified lawyers in the UK happens through a variety of ways; directly by law firms on their websites; regular jobs posting on online legal job sites; through recruitment agencies and through networking. Securing a position as a qualified lawyer will likely depend on your area of expertise, the equivalent amount and type of experience that you have, and the business needs of the firms. You will also need to consider your visa status. For the most complete and up-to-date information, check Oxford University’s webpages or the UK Council for International Student Affairs’. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org for specialist visa help.
Which route should I follow for qualification - GDL/LPC or SQE?
Some students may find themselves in the position of having to decide which of these two routes to follow. The SRA provide some guidance on this on the SRA website but it may come down to a mix of factors - timing, costs, job opportunities as they apply to you and your circumstances. We will be happy to talk through your individual situations via a careers appointment.
- When you meet law firms in Oxford, ask them if they intend to make any changes to their recruitment for those applying in 2021/22 and read their websites for any SQE plans which have already been announced. Attend the many online events will will help you understand how firms will manage SQE.
- Steer your main focus towards thinking about your motivations for being a solicitor and for the firms you may be interested in. In many cases, the law firms will take care of the qualification details for you and will let you know which system they intend to put you through for their firm.
- Discuss any concerns you have with your law Careers Advisers.