Each year many students decide they would like to pursue a career in the legal profession. Out of these a large number decide they would like to study and train to become a solicitor. However, many make this decision without knowing nearly enough about the profession and the necessary steps to be taken on the road to becoming a solicitor.
Researching the profession, and the various ways to navigate the necessary study and training, is an absolute must if a student wants their journey to be a smooth and successful one. It will take an individual a minimum of 6 years to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales and the choices made along the way, and the timings of these choices, are an important factor in determining their success or not.
The first choice to make is whether or not to study law at university. To some students’ surprise, it is possible to become a solicitor having first studied a non-law degree. To do so merely requires an additional year of full-time study (or two years part-time) of a law conversion course (either the Graduate Diploma in Law or the Common Professional Examination). This is effectively a foundation course that teaches the basics in the main areas of law to then allow the student to go on to the next, and final, stage of study, the Legal Practice Course.
As well as applying themselves diligently to their studies, it is also important for students to obtain some form of legal work experience. This can either be in the form of formal work placements such as summer vacation schemes or less formal work shadowing placements or volunteering. Not only do these placements give a student a feel for the work solicitors do in practice it will also show to prospective employers that they have taken a keen interest in the law and have made some effort into researching different areas and firms.
Law degree students would normally apply for a place on a Legal Practice Course in their second/final year at university whilst non-law students would apply for the GDL or CPE up until the end of the January of their final year of their non-law degree. They would then apply for the LPC from their final university year but before the end of the summer term of the GDL or CPE.
The LPC is a year full-time course (or two years part-time) and is much more focussed on the vocational training needed to prepare students for life as a solicitor. New legal subject areas will be learnt but many are taught with their practical application in mind. Students are also taught specific legal skills they will need as a solicitor, such as interviewing skills and drafting skills.
Upon completion of the LPC the next step towards qualification is to undertake a training contract with a qualifying legal organisation, most commonly a private practice law firm. The training contract consists of working as a trainee solicitor and supporting a partner and other fee earners with practical legal work for various clients, or in-house in a company or other organisation.
Many law firms recruit their trainees solicitors two years in advance so law students need to be researching and making applications to these firms before the end of their second year at university and non-law students need to do the same before the end of their final year at university. Other firms do not recruit so far in advance but it is always advisable to check their deadlines for applications well in advance and diarise these in order to give plenty of time to submit good quality applications.
The training contract is a two year contract during which trainee solicitors gain experience of working in different areas of law. As part of the training contract, trainee solicitors must also complete the Professional Skills Course which gives further training in the specific skills demanded of them by the job of a solicitor. Assuming the training contract is completed in accordance with the requirements of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and the trainee solicitor passes the PSC, they will then qualify as a solicitor after two years and be admitted onto the roll of solicitors for England and Wales.
It is described as the essential guide for anyone considering a career as a solicitor in England & Wales, from the sixth former to those studying the LPC.