During my studies at Preston College, my law tutor and former solicitor was able to outline the possible routes. But, there are many who never studied law at GCE – and that’s not unusual. So, there seems to be a lot of confusion as to the professional route to becoming a practising solicitor, and so I would just like to ‘clear the air’ on this matter.
The fast route
Or more commonly referred to as the Law Graduate Route, this route is virtually the quickest way into the profession. You need to have level three qualifications (college level) to enrol on an LLB Law Degree. This can be done five years part-time or three years full-time. Please be careful when looking for a course, because BA Law is not the same! LLB is the qualifying law degree which is regulated by the legal profession, and it will be a necessity for the next step. You then need to study the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Following the LPC, you will need to complete a training contract. This is a two year period incorporating the Professional Skills Course. You should secure your training contract in your second or third year of the LLB, and you are expected to maintain at least a 2:1. You can find a training contract by applying to solicitor firms. Following completion of the training contract, you are admitted on to the roll of solicitors. Be cautious of ‘retention’ statistics when applying for a firm. Ideally you want to apply to a firm which is going to retain it’s trainees, rather than one which leaves them job less or working as a paralegal.
The GDL route
People who take this route can make very competent specialist solicitors. So, you need a degree in any subject, again three years full-time or five years part-time. You could have a BA in Environmental Science for example. The next step is the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or ‘conversion course’ (one year full-time or two years part-time). Ideally you should find a training contract during the GDL, or you might be subject to what is basically ‘training contract clearing’. From the GDL, you can progress onto the LPC and then the training contract. You would probably make a fantastic energy solicitor with a BA in Environmental Science!
The CILEX route
There’s no other humorous way to describe it, it is a very admirable route. Become a member of the CILEX (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives), undertake examinations while working under the supervision of a solicitor in a firm, complete the GDL, complete the LPC, period of recognised training via CILEX, complete the professional skills course and become admitted onto the roll of solicitors. Though it is not the fastest way in to the profession, it is useful for those who want to go straight into work. Until the completion of the LPC, you can work part-time in a firm as a paralegal earning your way through your studies. There will be issues with regards to funding, and there will be initial tests to complete. Although I don’t know much about CILEX, I have seen the test papers and I would strongly recommend choosing AQA for your A-Levels (hoping that the syllabus doesn’t change any time soon). I recommend that you take a look at the CILEX website for more information here!
What’s the cheapest way in?
The first route is the cheapest way in. Not only because there is less tuition to pay for, it is easier to finance your studies. You can apply to the Student Loans Company to finance your LLB law degree, and this will cover tuition fees (£9,000 per year) and maintenance (living allowance) consisting of grants and loans. However, although the SLC will fund the foundation year which some do before progressing to undergraduate level, they will not fund the LPC year – no tuition and no maintenance. Historically, many would take the part-time course while working to fund their studies and put a roof over their head, or take out private loans from banks.
But there is a solution! The exempting law degree is now being offered as a four year course by universities across the country. Student finance will finance a four year combined course such as undergraduate courses incorporating the postgraduate courses (masters). This means that you can get maintenance and tuition loans! The exempting law degree combines the LLB and LPC in four years and is recognised by the Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as a qualifying LLB law degree with an LPC qualification. Find out who is offering the exempting law degree here. However, the LPC elements of the course are difficult, and the university will require students to maintain good grades from day one or they may be diverted onto the LLB programme.
So after reading all 850 words of this article, you should be very well informed when it comes to making a choice about which route to take. For further questions, you are welcome to leave comments. For more information about become a solicitor, the Law Society has made a great input here.