Qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales with a law degree

Qualifying as a solicitor in England and WalesIf you have a law degree it is relatively simple to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales.

Stage one

Your law degree must cover all seven foundations of legal knowledge: contract and tort, criminal law, equity and law of trusts, law of the European Union, property law and public law. Institutions that offer qualifying law degrees in the UK can be found on the Solicitors Regulation Authority website.

If you hold a degree from an overseas university, you should apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for a Certificate of Academic Standing. This is the process by which the Law Society confirms your eligibility to attend a law course in England and Wales and is evidence that your qualifications meet the minimum requirements for admission -– usually equivalent to a lower second-class honours or above and competency in the English language.

If your course is not eligible then you will need to follow the route to qualification as a non-law student.

Stage two

Next, you need to complete the Legal Practice Course which is compulsory and will need to be completed whether or not you intend or have taken an Masters in Law in the UK. The LPC is the final qualification needed to become a solicitor in the UK and is a practical course designed to ensure trainee solicitors have the knowledge and skills they need. The course is offered at institutions across the country and takes one year full time or two years part time.

Currently, LPC courses are broken down into five broad areas: core, compulsory, pervasive, skills and elective. Core covers ethics, basic skills, taxation, the European ‘context' and probate/administration of estates. Compulsory consists of litigation and advocacy, business law and practice, and property law and practice. Pervasive areas are those that should be considered in the context of the other areas of the course. They comprise professional conduct and client care, European Union law, revenue law, accounts and the Human Rights Act. Skills includes practical legal research, writing and drafting, interviewing and advising, and advocacy. Elective requires that three subjects are studied from a range of corporate and private client topics.

A new Legal Practice Course has been announced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. It will be available from September 2009, and mandatory from September 2011 as part of their new education and training framework. The changes aim to give flexibility to students and a real opportunity for all firms to influence the shape of LPC courses.

The current LPC is delivered full time in a single block over one academic year and part time over two academic years. Students must study three compulsory subjects (stage one) and three elective subjects (stage two) from a range offered by each provider. The new structure allows students flexibility over when the elective subjects can be completed. They will be able to undertake the vocational electives during or after some work experience in the training contract or work-based learning (WBL) and pursue practice-specific electives.

Providers will also get considerable freedom to design courses for particular students and areas of legal practice, which is expected to lead to some providers offering several different tailored forms of the LPC. Practitioners can influence the legal topics, the emphasis given to different compulsory modules, the context for the course and the stage two electives offered by a provider. Law Society assessments are made after a three-day visit to the provider by Law Society assessors; they include details of the provider's current offerings, its strengths and weaknesses, and a list of recommendations made by the Law Society to the provider and the current grade or rating assigned to the provider by the assessors. These reports provide you with an impartial assessment of each law school and are a good start to your research into courses.

Applications for full-time courses are made online. Application forms (for full-time courses) are available from September until 1 December in the year prior to you requiring a place with offers announced in the following February. For example, to start the course in September 2015 you must make your application by December 2014 (first round). Applications for places on part-time Legal Practice Courses must be made direct to the providing Institutions and are subject to alternative deadlines.

Qualifying as a solicitor

Stage three

The training contract, which includes the Professional Skills Course, is the final stage on the path to qualifying as a solicitor. The training contract is a two-year period of practice-based training started after completion of the Legal Practice Course. The format of the training contract can vary, with larger firms tending to have a more structured programme in place than smaller firms.

Law Society guidelines stipulate that whichever firm you train at you must be allocated a ‘training principal' who will be responsible for providing sufficient, balanced and useful work, to answer your questions and to give guidance and feedback on your performance. The training principal will also keep training records to ensure that your training matches the Law Society's requirements.

It is normal, especially in the larger firms, as part of your training contract for you to spend blocks of six months in different departments (eg six months in four departments, or twelve months in one department and six months in another two) these are usually called 'seats'. In smaller firms, the training will not be so structured, although the Law Society does require that you cover at least three areas of work during your training contract. These areas should encompass both non-contentious and contentious work, and an ‘appreciation and understanding' of litigation.

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