The path to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales is a little complicated, though it leads to a rewarding career. This guide breaks the process down and introduces you to the SQE - a new qualification that all aspiring solicitors in England and Wales must pass.
What does a solicitor do?
A solicitor is a qualified legal practitioner who gives advice and support to clients. Solicitors can work with individuals, groups, and large organisations. They don't represent clients in court (or wear the wigs!) — they deal with all the paperwork and the legal side of things outside of a court. If their case goes to court, they get in touch with a barrister who represents their client instead.
- Attend meetings with clients
- Interview and give advice to clients
- Research the law and apply it to their case
- Create and negotiate legal documents
Some solicitors are employed by a law firm. Others are employed ‘in-house’, which means they work for a company and only do their legal work. It's pretty common for solicitors to start their career at a law firm, then go on to work ‘in-house’ after they've built up some experience.
How to become a solicitor
In 2019, the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) announced introduced the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in England and Wales. This replaces other qualifications you might have heard of, like the GDL and the LPC. All students sit the same SQE exams, regardless of what they have studied to prepare them for their career.
Academic qualifications and the exam
You need to have an undergraduate degree, or an equivalent qualification or level of work experience (for example, an equivalent level apprenticeship or degree apprenticeship).
You’ll also need to pass the SQE exam which is in two parts. SQE1 is multiple choice and tests you on your functioning legal knowledge — for example: land law, wills, or contract law.
SQE2 is a series of oral and written exams and will test you on how you apply your knowledge to practical legal skills — for example: advocacy, dispute resolution, or criminal litigation.
Check the SRA website for the most up-to-date exam topics.
Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
Before, during, or after taking your SQE, you need to have two years of relevant work experience. This could be a two-year (or longer) work placement with a law firm - also known as a training contract - or work experience with up to four placements (six months each) as a paralegal or volunteering at a legal advice centre.
Training contracts give you structured, supervised, work-based learning. You’ll complete a number of ‘seats’, (which last six months each) across four different departments. You might get to choose which ones you work in, but some firms will choose for you. You'll also be given a supervisor who will answer your questions and assign you tasks.
Some training contracts guarantee a job offer with the training provider at the end, but if you don’t receive an offer don't panic; you’ll apply for newly-qualified solicitor positions like you would with any other job. Sign up to a few well-established recruitment consultants, keep close tabs on the websites of the firms you're looking to apply to, and use the time to get even more experience and build your skills.
Character and suitability
Once you’ve completed your exams and QWE, the SRA will assess your character and suitability to be a solicitor. This is to check you have the integrity to practice law in the working world.
The first part of this process is a screening which includes a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check. This makes sure you are suitable for working with young and/or vulnerable people. You’ll also need to complete an application which demonstrates your legal integrity according to the SRA’s set of rules. See ‘Good stuff from elsewhere’ for more on this.
For more on how to get ahead in your soliciting career, check out the Law and law studies profile in the Subjects library to find guidance on how to gain relevant experience and make your university application stand out.
Good stuff from elsewhere
What is the SQE?
Find specific details on the SQE requirements, including exam topics and character suitability, on the SRA website.