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Q. Which GCSEs and A levels do I need to study in order to become a lawyer?

A wide range of GCSEs and A levels are open to you if you intend to become a lawyer. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, because it is not essential for you to take a degree in law, you may want to study something else at degree level. You will then of course need to plan your studies in relation to that. Secondly, because law is not always available as a subject at this stage, a wide range of subjects are acceptable as preparation for a law degree. As a consequence, any GCSEs (although these must include English and Maths) and A levels are acceptable so long as they are academic. It is important to achieve good grades as many law firms will look at your A level grades as an indication of your academic ability even if you go on to achieve a 2:1 at your degree.

Q. Do I need to have a law degree in order to become a solicitor?

A. No, you can study either a law or a non-law degree. If you study a non-law degree you will need to complete a one-year conversion course called the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or complete a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). You must then undertake a vocational course known as the Legal Practice Course (LPC). 

Q. Is a Legal Executive the same thing as a Solicitor?

A. No, although some Legal Executives have also qualified as solicitors. The Legal Executive qualification differs from that of a solicitor in the way students are trained. Most solicitors study full-time for at least four years prior to commencing their training contract with a law firm or legal department. Legal Executives, in contrast, usually combine practical and academic training from day one which enables them to 'earn while they learn'.

Q. Can Fellows and Members of ILEX (Institute of Legal Executives) go on to qualify as Solicitors?

A. Yes. Members and Fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) who have undertaken further courses and training in compliance with the Law Society's training regulations may be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors of England and Wales. ILEX students are normally employed in legal practice in their training programme which allows them to acquire the practical skills and experience required by the profession at an early stage in their careers. The security of employment may also alleviate funding difficulties. Another benefit is that Fellows of ILEX may be given exemption from the two year training contract.

Q. I'm an overseas lawyer: how do I qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales?

A. You may be eligible to apply under the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Regulations 1990. You will have to apply to the Law Society for a certificate of eligibility to sit the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test. Once your certificate has been issued, you will be able to apply to sit the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test.

Q. If I want to become a solicitor, what do I do after my Legal Practice Course?

A. After you have passed the Legal Practice Course you must then serve a two-year training contract within a firm or organisation authorised to take trainee solicitors.

Q. What experience do I need to get while I'm doing my training contract?

A. You must receive training in at least three separate areas of English law including contentious and non-contentious experience. You must also gain experience of the skills you will need to practice as a solicitor.

Q. I want to become a barrister and I am told that I must become a member of an “Inn of Court”; what is this?

A. There are four Inns of Court (Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray's Inn). Anyone wishing to train for the Bar must join one of the Inns and the Inns alone have the power to call a student to the Bar. Only those called are able to exercise rights of audience in the superior courts of England and Wales as barristers.

Q. I want to train to become a barrister; what is a Pupillage?

A. Pupillage is the final stage of the route to qualification at the Bar in which the pupil gains practical training under the supervision of an experienced barrister. Pupillage is divided into two parts: the non-practising six months during which pupils shadow their approved pupil supervisor and the second practising six months when pupils, with their approved pupil supervisors permission, can undertake to supply legal services.

Q. What should I do to get a Training Contract?

A. In general, recruiters cannot help you to find a training contract. This is because law firms will not pay agencies to find trainees and the reason for this is that they simply don’t have to! The competition for training contracts is intense and law firms will not pay a fee for a candidate without a minimum of 6 months relevant legal work experience. The best way to find a training contract is to:

  • Telephone the firms you are interested in to find the name of the person you should write to and what is the best way to contact them (email, letter, telephone, personal visit). Never write a letter addressed ‘to whom it may concern’ ; this shows a lack of research and in nine out of ten cases will result in your letter being put straight into the bin! 
  • Do not at this stage limit your search to a small number of firms. Making applications to just 30 or 40 firms will make success difficult. The legal market in Birmingham is vast with approximately 900 practises in the West Midlands. Make your target at least 100 firms but obviously 200 would double your chance of success.
  • Draft a suitable letter or email but before sending it do a spell check and ask somebody else to review it for any errors. Many firms comment upon the amount of LPC Graduate CVs and letters that have spelling and grammatical errors; this can be fatal to your application.
  • Be careful not to over specify your career interests and goals. The reality of a training contract or paralegal work is often that it will be the first opportunity to find out what legal work you enjoy. You need therefore to keep your options wide open at application stage to ensure your potential future employer gives you the opportunity to find out what is right for you.
  • Be very careful not come across as over confident and arrogant and do not say that you know that you will be a ‘fantastic solicitor’ or make claims of ‘what you can do for their law firm’; HR Managers and Senior Partners will be aggravated by this and it will not help to progress your application.
  • Do not become focused on just large commercial firms. The majority of firms in the UK are high street based providing legal services to members of the public. It therefore follows that most of the legal career opportunities are in this sector of the market.
  • Follow up a letter / email with a telephone call or better still call into the practise in person. This demonstrates your enthusiasm and tenacity.
  • If you succeed and are offered an interview with a firm, whether it is for paralegal work or a training contract you must prepare fully and research the firm as much as you possibly can. Paralegal work can lead to a training contract so you must take the interview very seriously. This is a highly competitive business and you must make the most of every opportunity.