Alternative routes to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales
There are two main routes to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales.
Primarily this has involved gaining a Qualifying Law Degree/Graduate Diploma in Law ('law conversion course') and the Legal Practice Course, before completing a period of recognised training and additional Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requirements.
From September 2021, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route provides a more flexible, and potentially cheaper, pathway to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales. Whilst not exclusively so, it provides another university graduate route for entry into the profession.
While the majority of solicitors will still qualify through the university route, alternative routes are also available to train as, or gain entry to the professional roll as, a solicitor for those who do not want to go to university due to e.g. caring responsibilities, the financial implications or other reasons.
Some of these routes will involve elements of the new SQE route:
Legal apprenticeships are available in many settings, including as a solicitor, a paralegal or a chartered legal executive. They provide you with the opportunity to ‘earn as you learn’ from experienced colleagues. Many employers will provide funding to support the costs of training during your apprenticeship so you get the benefit of a zero-cost route to qualification, plus a salary.
You do not have to hold a degree to start an apprenticeship but you will be expected to study on and off the job to progress. Around 80% of your time will be spent in the office, with 20% in the classroom. We highlight below one specifically for solicitors but you can find out further information about a range of apprenticeship routes.
These are an alternative for those who do not wish to go to university full time. The standards expected of apprentice solicitors are the same as those expected of all solicitors and ultimately assessment to become a solicitor will be by the SQE route. However, you do not need to hold a degree to start a solicitor apprenticeship.
Entry requirements vary among employers but the minimum standard is 5 GCSEs including Maths and English and 3 A levels, all at grade C or above, or equivalent qualifications or work experience. NB. Graduate solicitor apprenticeships are also available for those with a degree.
You can choose to apply to start a solicitor apprenticeship after A levels but you may also consider it as a route to take as part of a career change later in life, balancing work and study with other commitments.
Access further guidance on solicitor apprenticeships
Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) route
A Chartered Legal Executive (CILEX) lawyer specialises in a particular area of law, and has trained to the same standard as a solicitor in that area of law. Fully qualified and experienced CILEX lawyers are able to undertake much of the work that solicitors do, with some exceptions.
CILEX is the governing body for Chartered Legal Executives. If you work in a CILEX-approved role, you can apply to join CILEX.
You do not have to hold a degree to become a CILEX lawyer.
Entry requirements for the entry stages of this pathway are 4 GCSEs including English at C or above, or equivalent.
Apprenticeships are also available through the CILEX route.
If you are already qualified as a fellow of CILEX, you may apply for admission to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) solicitor roll, providing you can satisfy certain conditions. This will enable you to work as a solicitor in England and Wales. More information is available on the SRA website
For those qualifying as a CILEX lawyer through the new CILEX professional qualifications (CPQ) at foundation, advanced and professional levels, coming in 2022, you can in future choose to apply for admission to the SRA roll through the SQE route, but may be exempt from some of the SQE requirements. Further discussions are underway on this with the SRA.
Further information about qualifying as a CILEX lawyer is available on the CILEX website.
Existing qualified lawyers
Already qualified lawyers, including barristers in England and Wales, can gain admission as a solicitor in England and Wales via the SQE route from September 2021. To do so, qualified lawyers must:
Qualified lawyers will not be required to do qualifying work experience, as the SRA will recognise their existing qualification and experience.
If a qualified lawyer is granted an exemption from SQE2, the SRA may require them to demonstrate their English or Welsh language competence.
Further guidance is available on the SRA website.