How do I get into law?

How do I get into law?
Find out about the routes into the legal profession and which A levels you need to choose to 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. However, some roles may only be accessible from certain paths. For instance, you can’t currently qualify as a barrister through an apprenticeship.

Getting into law: uni first, job later

Once you’ve decided that you’d like to pursue a career in law, the next decision is whether you would like to complete a law degree or study another subject at university followed by conversion course.

Studying for a law degree

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. We take you through the factors to consider when weighing up a law degree versus a non-law degree here.

Studying for a non-law degree

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 conversion course, also known as the GDL (graduate diploma in law). This conversion course condenses the three-year law degree into one year. You are not putting yourself at a disadvantage in choosing a non-law degree.

On-the-job training to qualify as a solicitor

You can’t dive straight into a job as a solicitor straight after university, even if you’ve studied law. Between graduating from your law degree (or GDL) and starting work at a solicitors’ firm you need to complete the postgraduate course known as the legal practice course or LPC. You can then start your training contract at a law firm. During the two-year training contract, employees are known as trainee solicitors. You will then be known as an associate once qualified and work towards becoming a partner, when you’ll help run the firm with your fellow partners.

The SQE: qualifying as a solicitor after 2021

The process for qualifying as a solicitor is due to change. A new process for qualification, called the SQE or Solicitor’s Qualification Examination, is planned to be introduced from Autumn 2021 onwards. 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. Even if you are due to graduate and qualify after 2021, it doesn’t mean you will automatically complete the SQE. Keep an eye on TARGETcareers and on employer’s websites for more information.

On-the-job training to qualify as a barrister

Aspiring barristers have to complete the Bar professional training course (or BPTC) 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.

Getting into law: starting work at 18

You can enter the legal profession as an apprentice. It is now 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.

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.

Qualifying as a chartered legal executive

Becoming a chartered legal executive through CILEx is the ‘third route’ into the legal profession. 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 qualifies as a chartered legal executive.

Which A levels do I need to get into law?

There’s no getting around it: law is an intellectually challenging subject and profession, and you’ll need to show you have the potential to cope with that by getting high A level grades. There are no essential A levels 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) , with many of the top law schools/big commercial law firms asking for between AAB and A*AA before they offer you a place on their degree course or job in law.
  • 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.
  • that are regarded as ‘facilitating subjects’ by the Russell Group of universities. Some A level subjects are more frequently required for entry to degree courses than others and the UK’s leading universities call these subjects ‘facilitating’ because choosing them at A level leaves open a wide range of options for university study. These include: maths and further maths, physics, biology, chemistry, history, geography, modern and classical languages, and English literature.

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.

Eight leading UK universities require applicants to take the LNAT (National Admissions Test for Law) test as part of their application criteria. 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.

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