This is a common misconception as law firms now recruit more widely than ever from Non-Russell Group as well as Russell Group universities. But what other options do those interested in becoming a solicitor actually have?
With this in mind, as part of their mission to encourage wider participation in the legal profession, BPP University Law School has summarised three alternative routes you can take to become a solicitor without having a law degree.
- Non-law graduates
Non-law graduates are just as sought after by law firms as law graduates. A number of leading law firms’ training contract cohorts have a law/non-law split of around 50/50. Why? The skills, knowledge and approach of those from a non-law background to legal problems, especially STEM graduates, tend to be very different.
Non-law graduates have, traditionally, been able to qualify as solicitors by:
- taking a law conversion course after their degree (e.g. the GDL or PGDL);
- moving onto the Legal Practice Course alongside their law graduate peers, and then
- a two-year training contract at a single employer, usually a law firm.
The LPC is in the process of being replaced by a new qualification pathway, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) which all future solicitors will need to pass (unless they are still eligible to qualify under the outgoing LPC regime). So what is the new pathway for non-law graduates?
The SQE, which was introduced in September 2021, is a centralised set of exams (SQE1 and SQE2) with a broad syllabus of ‘black letter law’, practice-based subjects and practical skills. All new entrants to the profession* are required to pass the SQE (unless they are eligible for the outgoing LPC).
In theory, non-law graduates are able to sit the SQE without undertaking a law conversion course, but that would be foolish in most cases, as a good law conversion course, such as BPP’s Law Foundations Course (or PGDL), is still, in practice, required by non-law graduates, to ‘catch up’ with their law graduate peers, and there is an expectation from most firms that non-law graduates should take the time to get a solid foundation on core legal principles before embarking on the SQE.
After completing a law conversion course, BPP’s non-law graduates can proceed with the SQE. Some providers like BPP offer their Law Foundations Course and SQE1 Preparation wrapped up in a Master’s which is eligible for postgraduate funding of £11,836 from the Student Loans Company. In order to qualify, as well as passing the SQE, candidates need to complete two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE), which can be acquired at up to four employers. In fact, QWE can be accrued before, during or after a candidate studies for and sits the SQE, so it’s really flexible.
- Solicitor Apprenticeships
For those who are interested in ‘earning and learning’ then another option to becoming a solicitor is by doing an solicitor apprenticeship, which most start after their A levels as an alternative to going to university.
A solicitor apprenticeship, which takes candidates six years to qualify as a solicitor, offers the opportunity to experience real-life scenarios first-hand by working in practice alongside your studies, for which you would be released from the office for one day per week. Working in the law supports your learning and vice-versa, which enables you to build your confidence, knowledge and skills year on year. A law degree is included in some solicitor apprenticeship programmes (like BPP’s), but not all of them. At the end of the 6-year journey, solicitor apprentices need to pass both parts of the SQE (SQE1 and SQE2) in order to qualify as a solicitor.
To qualify for an apprenticeship, a candidate will, in most cases, need to have five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (previously A* to C), as well as three A-Levels, although it is fair to say that the A level grades achieved by many candidates who secure solicitor apprenticeships aren’t that much different to those who go down the more traditional route and secure a place on a law degree.
- Qualifying as a Legal Executive (CILEX)
If university isn’t for you or you aren’t able to secure a solicitor apprenticeship, there is another option for those who, ultimately, want to qualify as a solicitor, which is to initially study and qualify as a legal executive through the Chartered Legal Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX).
Similar to the solicitor apprenticeship route, those wanting to become a solicitor can start a CILEX course without a degree. In fact, A levels are not required to start the journey but you will need at least four GCSEs (Grade C or above or Grades 9-4), including English Language or English Literature.
Like solicitor apprentices, CILEX candidates train on the job, by working in a legal environment alongside studying, but whereas solicitor apprentices tend to move around a firm’s departments, many legal executives specialise in particular areas quite early on. The time it takes to qualify as a solicitor via the CILEX route varies considerably. In fact, many CILEX members choose not to qualify as solicitors, but those who do are now required to pass the SQE. Most are likely to be exempt from undertaking any further Qualifying Work Experience as the work they will have undertaken in the years leading up to their taking the SQE is likely to ‘count’, although this is ultimately up to the regulator, the SRA, to sign off on.
Jonny Hurst, a former law firm partner and senior lecturer at BPP University Law School shared his insight into the matter of different routes to becoming a solicitor:
“Despite alternative routes like CILEX and solicitor apprenticeships becoming more popular pathways to qualifying as a solicitor, there are still many misconceptions about them. Recent research has revealed that parents could be ‘holding their children back’ by assuming that solicitor apprenticeships and alternative qualifications are not as valuable as traditional degrees.
“Being able to work and gain experience while getting a qualification has got to be one of the most helpful forms of education, as it allows a student to obtain real-life practice experience alongside their studies, whilst getting a head start in the office environment they will be working in for the rest of their careers.
“With university fees at an all-time high, it is crucial that aspiring solicitors consider every possible route that is available to them.”