How do you become a lawyer?

Solicitors timetable 2016/17

Your career as a solicitor

Orientation

It's never too early to start finding out more about a career as a solicitor. Do desk research by reading this website, keeping up to date with legal stories in the news, and reading the legal press. Attend law fairs and networking events. Use any personal contacts you have. Meet lawyers and find out what the job is really like.

Kent Law Fair 2015Now decide: do you really want to be a solicitor? If you do, know that a job is not going to fall into your lap; you'll have to work for it. But if you get good grades and do the right preparation, the solicitors' profession is an accessible one.

Understanding the process

Be aware that many firms recruit trainees two years in advance. Applications made in 2017 are for training contracts starting in 2019. Many firms have deadlines for applications on 31 July, though a significant number have their deadline earlier in the year, for example in January.

If you are an undergraduate law student, you can apply for training contracts from your second year onwards; non-law students can apply from their final year. Some firms, often smaller ones, recruit a year or less in advance.

The flowchart above assumes you will progress straight from university to law school and a training contract. This is not necessarily the most appropriate or achievable course of action for everyone; gaining work experience or doing a master's after your undergraduate degree can be valuable.

Applications

Our most important advice about applications is this: do your research and tailor your applications. When you apply to a firm you need to make clear why you want to train with that firm in particular. The Student Guide's True Picture will help you enormously to distinguish between firms.

You can find a lot of other application advice elsewhere on this website, as well as what recruiters are looking for and application and selection criteria.

Vacation schemes

Vac schemes are short one or two-week internships with a law firm. Most firms recruit trainees heavily from their vacation schemes, so getting a place on one can be an important step towards a training contract.

CloudsVac schemes also serve as a period of work experience – an opportunity to get to know a firm and to get to know the 
law. Elsewhere on this website you can find out more about vacations schemes and look at our table of vacation schemes compared.

Law school

All law graduates must complete the one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) before starting a training contract with an employer. Non-law graduates must complete the one-year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) first. Half of all solicitors in England and Wales did not study law.

If you don't have a training contract, think long and hard about whether you want to go to law school. The cost is high and while going to law school is a necessary requirement for gaining a training contract, it is by no means a sufficient one. Competition to get into law school is not tough; competition for training contracts is.

If you are offered a training contract by a commercial firm which recruits two years in advance it will usually pay your GDL and LPC fees, plus a living allowance. If you want to work for firms which pay future trainees' law school fees, we recommend you apply for (and gain) a training contract before starting law school.

Some law schools provide better training, opportunities for networking, and careers advice than others. Check out our law school reviews to uncover the differences.

Training contract

A training contract is a two-year period of training which you undertake in order to qualify as a solicitor. It involves gaining experience of several different areas of law and legal practice, usually by spending time in different departments within a law firm. Find out more about what a training contract is and the opportunities at different firms.

The solicitors' profession is a varied one. For example, check out our practice area overviews to find out what it's like to work in different fields on law.