How do I get into law?
There are multiple routes into the legal profession for school leavers and university graduates. You can qualify as a solicitor, a barrister or a chartered legal executive, and can enter the legal profession through an apprenticeship. However, some roles may only be accessible from certain paths (for instance, you can’t currently qualify as a barrister through an apprenticeship), so it’s important to plan out your route for getting into law in advance.
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There’s no getting around it: law is an intellectually challenging subject and profession, and whether you want to qualify through an apprenticeship or a university degree, you’ll need to show you have the potential to cope with that by getting high A level (or equivalent) grades.
There are no essential subjects you need to take to get into law but we recommend you choose subjects:
- in which you have an interest and think you can get good grades. It varies but most universities/law recruiters want to see a minimum of ABB at A level (or equivalent) – many of the top law schools and big commercial law firms will ask for AAB and A*AA.
- which develop the skills needed in law. As well as being clever, you also need good research, communication and analytical skills to be a successful lawyer so think about which A levels develop those skills – eg history, English, science or maths.
Should I study law at A level?
You don’t need to choose law at A level in order to become a lawyer – only study it at that stage if you are genuinely interested in it. Don’t feel obliged to choose it as it won’t give you an advantage – universities and law employers will treat it the same as any other A level when considering your application.
Many universities exclude A levels in critical thinking or general studies from their A level entry requirements so, if you want to study those subjects, treat them as an extra rather than as one of your core A levels.
If you’ve decided to go to university before qualifying as a lawyer, the next important choice to make is whether you study law or another subject. We take you through the factors to consider when choosing what degree to study to work as a lawyer?
The competition for graduate roles can be fierce and applicants with excellent academic results and a demonstrable interest in law will stand the best chance of securing a place. As such, it’s important to pick a degree that you think you’ll enjoy and be able to do well in. Work experience will also be a key factor in securing a graduate law role; and most aspiring lawyers will have completed at least one piece of formal work experience, called a ‘vacation scheme’ at a law firm and a ‘mini-pupillage at a barrister’s chambers.
- Find out more about what’s involved in vacation schemes on our graduate site here, via our graduate site TARGETjobs.
- Learn what a mini-pupillage is and how it can lead to a graduate job by reading this article on our graduate site TARGETjobs.
The law degree is designed to cover the areas of law you are likely to come across as a qualified lawyer. By opting to study a law degree, you are choosing the quickest route into your career. Once you have graduated, you can choose to apply for pupillage at a barristers’ chambers or to apply for a training contract at a solicitors’ law firm.
If you choose to study law, some universities will require you to complete the LNAT (or National Admissions Test for Law) – a two part test that is part of the application process for law courses at certain universities. The test is designed to help you decide whether law is the right career path for you as well as allowing those nine universities to check whether you will be able to cope with the demands of the law degree. Find out more about what the LNAT involves and which universities require it here.
The majority of law degrees last for three years. First-year students are able to apply to open-days and insight weeks at law firms and can take part in marshalling (work-shadowing judges). Some mini-pupillages may be open to first-years, but, along with vacation schemes, the majority are intended for second-year students.
Applications for the Bar training course (which you need to become a barrister) tend to be open between November to January for final-year students and aspiring solicitors can apply to training contracts in the summer between their second and third years, and in the autumn term of their final year.
You don’t need to study a law degree at university to work as a lawyer. In fact, most law recruiters have a very balanced intake – recruiting roughly 50% each from law and non-law backgrounds. If you study a non-law degree at university (eg, history, French or maths) you will need to complete a one-year postgraduate conversion course, which will condense the three-year law degree into a single year. This course is usually called the GDL (graduate diploma in law) or the CPE (common professional examination). You are not putting yourself at a disadvantage in choosing a non-law degree.
The skills that lawyers need can be developed through any degree and the specific knowledge from some degrees can be applied to certain areas of law, for example STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and language graduates are particularly sought after by law firms and chambers.
If you want a career in law and are planning to study a non-law degree, be sure to plan ahead to get relevant work experience. Recruiters will want to see that non-law students are genuinely interested in a career in law. Some law firms run special work experience events and schemes for non-law students and many vacation schemes and mini-pupillages will also be open to non-law students.
You can’t dive straight into a job as a lawyer straight after university, even if you’ve studied law. After completing a law degree or conversion course (such as the GDL), aspiring lawyers need to complete a postgraduate qualification. The qualification, and what it involves, will depend on whether you want to become a solicitor or a barrister.
Qualifying to be a solicitor: the LPC and the SQE
Aspiring solicitors must complete the legal practice course (or LPC) after their law degree or GDL. They can then start their training contract at a law firm, during which employees are known as ‘trainee solicitors’. If a graduate has already secured a training contract, their law firm may offer sponsorships and grants to pay for (part of) the LPC. After the two-year training contract, trainees will be qualified as a solicitor and will usually have the title of ‘associate’.
A new qualification process for solicitors is being introduced – the SQE or Solicitor’s Qualification Examination. All graduates, whether they have studied a law degree or a non-law degree, will complete the same exams – so non-law graduates will not have to complete a GDL, though it may still be beneficial. However, you may still be able to qualify through the old system (the LPC) depending on when you started studying/will graduate.
Qualifying to be a barrister
Aspiring barristers have to complete a Bar course (which may be known as ‘Bar Vocational Studies’ or the ‘Barrister Training Course’ depending on the course provider) after their degree or GDL. They then need to secure a one-year pupillage at a barristers’ chambers – barristers in training are known as pupil barristers. They become tenants on qualification and, as their career progresses, aim to become a QC (Queen’s Counsel). A limited number of senior barristers are made QCs each year in recognition of outstanding ability and experience. The process is also known as ‘taking silk’ due to the tradition of being allowed to wear a silk gown once the barrister is awarded this honour.
- Read our article on school leaver routes into law careers for more detail on starting work as a school leaver.
You can enter the legal profession as an apprentice. It is possible to qualify as a solicitor through an apprenticeship. These are usually open to school leavers with A levels (or equivalent) and typically take around 6 years (a similar period of time that a degree and LPC would take). Apprentices will usually work in law firms, while studying for law-related qualifications alongside this. While qualifying as a solicitor through an apprenticeship may not be faster than going to university, apprentices will likely have more practical work experience than university graduates.
- What do legal apprentices do on a day-to-day basis? Read our article on apprentice’s working life to find out.
It is also possible to become a paralegal through an apprenticeship. You will usually need GCSEs (or equivalent), and you may study towards relevant qualifications (such as a certificate in legal services). After qualifying as a paralegal, it may be possible to cross-qualify as a solicitor, although this will require further professional qualifications and study.
- Find out more about what’s involved in a solicitor apprenticeship. Read our apprentice profile here.
Qualifying as a chartered legal executive
Becoming a chartered legal executive through CILEx is the ‘third route’ into the legal profession (alongside becoming a solicitor or a barrister). You can enter this route from a number of different positions depending on what level of qualification you have. For instance, if you have A levels (or equivalent) you may be able to start studying for level 4 qualifications. After completing a number of qualifications, you will be required to completed a work-based learning portfolio, which is done through work experience. After this is submitted, you will be qualified as a chartered legal executive.