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A Career In Law: Which Route Should I Take?

Traditionally, you may think that there are only two options when considering a career in law – to either become a solicitor or a barrister. You may also think that in order to embark upon such a career, you must have completed your undergraduate studies at University.

The Law Society has been reviewing the different routes aspiring lawyers make take in order to become qualified. There are now many avenues open to those wishing to pursue such a career, including apprenticeships, and studying whilst working, which do not require the candidate to have completed an undergraduate degree.


There are now many potential ways in which you can become a solicitor.

  • The University Route

You must have completed an undergraduate degree, whether in law or otherwise.

An important point to note is that not all law degrees are considered by the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) to be a qualifying law degree: a program of study at University must meet various conditions in order to be considered a qualifying law degree for the purposes of proceeding further with a legal career.

If you have not studied law at undergraduate, you would then be required to complete either the Graduate Diploma in Law, (GDL or ‘law conversion’), or Common Professional Exam (CPE).

A law degree covers seven core subjects, which are studied in a concentrated manner during the year long GDL or CPE; namely criminal law, equity and trusts, contract law, European Union law, tort law, property law and public law. The GDL and CPE follow the same general structure and can be studied over one year full time or two years part time.

Once you have completed the GDL or CPE, you can proceed to study the Legal Practice Course (LPC) over either one year full time or two years part time. This is the vocational stage of training for aspiring solicitors and encompasses elements such as advocacy, client care, accounts and interview techniques.

Following successful completion of the LPC, you must secure a training contract with a firm in order to complete your training. This is usually a two, or sometimes three, year period of recognised training and paid employment with a law firm or other organisation which has been approved by the Law Society. A training contract enables you to understand the practical application and implications of the law; and you will develop legal skills, commercial and financial awareness, negotiation, drafting and advocacy skills; and potentially most importantly, have hands on experience in order to develop your client care skills.

  • The Apprenticeship Route

More recently, since 2016, a solicitor’s apprenticeship has been introduced which is a six year period of training alongside paid employment. You must have obtained good GCSE and A Level results (or equivalent work experience) in order to be able to follow this route of qualification.

The apprenticeship involves similar elements to the more traditional route of training outlined above, such as legal practice and professional conduct. A law degree is obtained at the end of the fourth year, with qualification as a solicitor at the end of the six year period. You will be assessed throughout the training period, including exams and work based assessments.

  • The Final Stages of Qualification

One of the final stages in order to become a qualified solicitor is the Professional Skills Course (PSC) which covers finance and business skills, advocacy and communication skills, client care and professional standards.

Finally, you become registered with the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority. After registration, you can then apply for your practicing certificate, which allows you to then practice as a solicitor. At this stage, you then become a member of the Law Society.

The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority are currently discussing the possibility of introducing a ‘Solicitor’s Qualification Exam’ which trainee solicitors would have to take and pass prior to becoming a qualified solicitor at the end of their training. The details are currently being debated; and it is due to come in to force towards the end of 2020. Final details are yet to be published.

Legal Executive

You can become a Chartered Legal Executive (a qualified lawyer) through an alternative route of study by joining the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, or ‘CILEx’. You can begin studying at various stages depending on the level of prior study you have completed. Study can be conducted alongside working full time, providing the added benefit of earning whilst learning.

If looking to begin studying CILEx directly after having completed your GCSEs, you must study both Level 3 (equivalent to A level) and Level 6 (degree level).

After having studied a law degree, or a non law degree followed by the GDL or CPE, you can proceed directly to ‘CILEx Graduate Fast Track’. This would be in lieu of completing the LPC followed by a training contact in order to become a solicitor; or BPTC followed by a pupillage to become a barrister. If you have studied the LPC and have been unable to secure a training contract; you can study the Fast Track of CILEx with certain exemptions.

All CILEx candidates then must carry out three years of employment which meets the CILEx criteria to be considered as ‘qualifying employment’ in order to then become a Legal Executive.


Paralegals work alongside solicitors in a support capacity. The formal route to becoming a paralegal is to complete a paralegal apprenticeship which is a period of training for a minimum of two years. There is often then an option to continue on to the solicitor’s apprenticeship to become a solicitor.


In order to become a barrister the candidate must have completed an undergraduate degree either in law, or a non legal discipline followed by studying the GDL or CPE.

You must then proceed to complete the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which is the vocational element of the training in order to become a barrister, which can be studied one year full time or two years part time. The emphasis is on practical work and covers compulsory subjects including advocacy, civil litigation, drafting, opinion writing and professional ethics.

Finally, you must then secure a pupillage. This is a year-long apprenticeship-style position with a barrister’s chambers where the pupil shadows a barrister in order to gain experience and practices under the guidance of a supervisor. It is divided in to the ‘first six’ which is non-practicing and the ‘second six’ which is practicing. This is the final stage of training before then being ‘called to the bar’.

Once you have completed your pupillage you will then need to find a tenancy which is a base with a barrister’s chambers from which you will practice.

What the Future Looks Like

The Law Society, which is the body that regulates the legal profession and sets the standards for training, is currently reviewing the different ways of entering in to and training within the legal profession. There may be many further routes in the future which candidates may follow in order to become a legal professional to ensure that a career in law is open to the best and brightest candidates no matter what level of education they are able to afford or attend.

This article was produced on the 4th September 2016 by our Communications team for information purposes only and should not be construed or relied upon as specific legal advice.