Becoming a solicitor is tricky. Here's how to get started.
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.
Now 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 2023 will mostly be for training contracts starting in 2025. Many of the firms included in our True Picture reviews have deadlines for applications on 31 July; the rest mostly 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 the SQE and required legal work experience, which could be through 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.
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 Chambers Student True Picture reviews of individual firms will help you enormously to distinguish between them.
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.
Vac 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.
As seen from the helpful diagram at the top of this page, the route to qualifying as a solicitor now comes down to successful completion of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination. This involves two sets of exams (SQE1 and SQE2), and the completion of 24 months of qualifying legal work experience. Whilst technically the Solicitors Regulatory Authority does not require individuals to complete any prep courses before sitting their SQE exams, it is highly recommended that you do as it will give the best chance for passing the assessment.
Whilst the GDL has been abolished and replaced with the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL), firms generally require non-law graduates to have completed some form of PGDL or law conversion course before applying for their training contracts, or to be willing to complete one under the sponsorship of the firm. Don’t see this as a barrier to qualification though – around half of all solicitors in England and Wales did not study law before this stage!
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, but competition for training contracts is.
If you’re offered a training contract by a commercial firm which recruits two years in advance, it will usually pay your PGDL (where required) and SQE course and exam fees, plus a living allowance or maintenance grant. 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. Whilst some firms are following their traditional training contract route but now with the SQE instead of the LPC, law firms are also beginning to offer training programmes following more of a graduate-apprenticeship-style route, where the SQE is studied for and taken alongside working at the firm, so it’s always worth looking for those kinds of opportunities too, as they allow you to gain experience leading to qualification, whilst earning a salary and having your training paid for.
The LPC is still available for some aspiring solicitors, but only if you meet certain requirements. Before 1 September 2021, you must have completed, started, or accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit for the CPE, the LPC or a training contract. Alternatively, before 21 September 2021, you must have completed, started or accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit for a qualifying law degree that began before 31 December 2021.
Although the SQE has introduced increased flexibility for fulfilling the requirement of QWE, training contracts aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
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.