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Qualifying as a solicitor or barrister

The routes to qualification for law graduates, non-law graduates and non-graduates plus information re training, financial considerations and obtaining work experience

There are a variety of routes available to qualify as a lawyer but the shared feature of all of the routes is that the academic requirements are generally high and competition is fierce. In addition the financial cost of qualification can be significant. For a law graduate the academic stage of training will take 4 years, for a non-law graduate 5 years. In these days of top up fees and student loans many law students will start work with a significant amount of student debt.

So why is the competition so fierce? Well, the work of a lawyer is interesting and challenging and the financial rewards can be significant. Studying law is in itself fascinating with it’s implications for society as a whole. It therefore is no surprise that it is a valued and sought after career.

Planning ahead

If considering a career in the law, your academic standards will need to be high from an early stage. GCSE’s and A levels should ideally be at A or B grade. Most legal employers will be looking for a minimum 2.1 at degree level.

In addition obtaining work experience can be vital. At school, make enquiries of your careers office or even of family and friends regarding unpaid work experience. For undergraduates, many solicitors firms offer student vacation work schemes. For those seeking a career as a barrister, many barristers’ chambers offer work experience via “mini-pupillages”.

It is essential to plan ahead. Many law firms and barristers chambers will invite applications for training contracts or pupillages (see below) two years prior to the anticipated completion of the academic stage of training i.e. in the second year of an undergraduate law degree or the third year of a non-law degree. Some large law firms offer sponsorship for their future trainee solicitors with a contribution for course fees or even living expenses. Not unsurprisingly competition to work for those firms is intense and if you leave your application too late, you will be unlikely to secure sponsorship.

Which route?

There are two main branches of the legal profession, solicitors and barristers. It is also possible to practice in the law as a legal executive or a licensed conveyancer. The work of these different types of lawyers and the routes to qualification are as follows:


Historically solicitors were considered the “general practitioners” of the legal profession but this is now rarely the case. Most solicitors will specialise in a specific area of the law. Solicitors may work in private practice, most commonly in a private partnership but increasingly in limited liability partnerships (LLPs). A solicitors practice is owned by its equity partners or in the case of an LLP, by its members [see Partnership – to be or not to be? for further information on partnership]. Solicitors may also be employed in various Government departments or work in industry. A solicitor is the first point of contact for a client, whether an individual or a company, seeking legal advice and will deal with the day to day management of the legal work and advice [see Choosing a specialisation for more information on the work of solicitors].

Both law and non-law graduates may qualify as a solicitor. For law graduates the further training required is the Legal Practice Course (LPC) a one year course offered by a range of colleges and universities. For non law graduates the LPC must be preceded by an additional one year’s study by way of a law conversion course – the Common Professional Exam (CPE) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).

Academic and vocational study is then followed by a two year training contract either with a firm of solicitors or with another authorised body such as a Government organisation or a local authority.

The solicitors’ professional body is The Law Society. The Law Society website includes a wealth of information on training and a career as a solicitor – see


Barristers are generally self-employed, although some may work in industry or government. Barristers will usually work in a set (or chambers) with other barristers. Each barrister contributes to the overheads of their chambers from earnings. This is one of the oldest examples of co-operative working!

Most barristers will specialise in a particular field of the law. The key difference between the work of solicitors and barristers is that barristers will generally (but not always) undertake more court advocacy than a solicitor and have higher rights of audience. In addition, save for some limited exceptions, clients do not have direct access to the advice or representation of a barrister. A barrister is usually instructed by a client’s solicitor.

The academic stage of training for a barrister is the same as for a solicitor until the final year when a prospective barrister will attend a one year course called the Bar Vocational Course (BVC). This is followed by a pupillage, a year of vocational training split into two six month periods. Most pupillages take place under the supervision of a “pupil master” in a barristers chambers but it is possible to undertake a pupillage with, for example, the Crown Prosecution Service.

The professional organisation for barristers is The Bar Council and more information on training and a career as a barrister may be found at

Legal Executives and Licensed Conveyancers

Legal executives are qualified lawyers specialising in a specific area of the law. Further information on qualifying as a legal executive is available at the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) website at: To study for ILEX qualifications the minimum qualifications are four GCSE passes at minimum grade C, including English. One of the key appeals of qualifying as a legal executive is financial as legal executives can train whilst in employment and their training may be employer sponsored. Legal executives can go on to qualify as a solicitor via various routes – a detailed guide may be found on the ILEX website.

Licensed conveyancers specialise in property law. The Council for Licensed Conveyancers is the regulatory body and provides training for this branch of the legal profession. The CLC website may be found at

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