What do I have to do to become a solicitor in England and Wales?

Becoming a solicitor in England and Wales

There are three main stages involved in becoming a solicitor in England and Wales.

  1. The first is studying law from an academic perspective.
  2. The second is the legal practice course, which is vocationally focused and specifically related to the skills and knowledge required of a solicitor.
  3. The third is applying that knowledge during a training contract.

Academic law qualifications

All prospective trainee solicitors in England and Wales must have a law degree or complete a conversion course if their first degree subject is a subject other than law.

If you haven’t studied law as an undergraduate, you’ll need to study law before tackling the legal practice course. You have a few options for this – a conversion course (either the common professional examination [CPE] or the graduate diploma in law [GDL]), a postgraduate LLB, a senior status law degree or a masters in law.

For many planning on a career as a solicitor, this first stage is covered by taking a qualifying degree in law. If you already have a qualifying law degree under your belt, you can move straight to the vocational stage and apply for the legal practice course (LPC).

The legal practice course (LPC)

To become a solicitor in England or Wales, you need to pass the LPC. Delivered in two stages, the LPC acts as a bridge between the initial academic stage and training with a firm of solicitors.

Stage 1 covers the core practice area modules and practical legal skills. Stage 2 is made up of the elective modules focused on different vocational areas, such as employment law. You should check with the course provider to see what options they offer.

The course takes one year full time (two years' part time) and costs from around £7,500–£14,750 depending on the provider. Over 30 accredited institutions in England and Wales offer the LPC.

Some institutions offer the option to pay by instalment and there are bursaries available. Some law firms offer to pay for the LPC as part of a recruitment package.

Applications for full-time LPC courses are made through the Central Applications Board (CAB) – www.lawcabs.ac.uk. To study part-time, you should contact the individual institution directly.

Training contract (or period of recognised training)

The final stage of the qualifying process for solicitors is the hands-on professional training that takes place at a firm of solicitors (or similarly qualified organisation). This is sometimes done in conjunction with the LPC. A full-time training contract usually lasts two years.

Training includes basic skills, experience and training in at least three distinct areas of law, as well as both contentious (when there is a dispute at the heart of the case) and non-contentious work (when there is a transaction at the heart of the case, such as mergers and acquisitions or conveyancing). The areas of law covered will vary from firm to firm depending on its specialisms.

A small, specialist or boutique firm may offer one or more of these areas as a secondment to another solicitors’ firm. Larger firms can offer a number of placements, or seats, in different departments – often organised as four rotations each lasting six months.

The minimum salary for a trainee solicitor is now the national minimum wage (the SRA scrapped its minimum salary recommendations in 2014), but city firms can offer over £40,000 to outstanding candidates.

Professional skills course

During your training contract, you’ll also need to pass the compulsory professional skills course (PSC). The course is split into compulsory core modules and electives and takes the equivalent of 12 days’ full-time study.

The PSC core modules are;

  • Financial and business skills (includes an exam)
  • Advocacy and communication skills
  • Client care and professional standards.

The elective modules can be selected from a range of different areas of law and types of practice – depending on your interests or the firm’s specialisms.

The PSC is regulated by the SRA and offered by accredited providers (some firms will arrange in-house training with an authorised provider) and distance learning is available across some of the elective modules.