Whether you’re thinking about a career in law or you’ve already started your legal qualifications, you might be wondering which route to becoming a lawyer is the best.
The traditional route
The traditional route to becoming a lawyer is the solicitor route which involves:
- Taking a Law Degree/LL.B (3 years);
- Completing a Legal Practice Course (1 year);
- Completing a training contract (2 years); and
- Completing the Professional Skills Course (12 days).
If you already have a degree, it may be possible to take a conversion course (GDL) which is typically one year, rather than doing the entire three year law degree from scratch.
This route can be completed over a longer period of time, allowing you to gain work experience and support yourself financially as you study. However, it has its challenges.
Traditional route : challenges and benefits
Whilst many still take a traditional route, it is expensive and finding a training contract can be a challenge.
The first challenge of this route is the expense. Law degrees are typically £9,250 per year for 3 years totalling £27,750, with the cost of sustaining yourself during your studies on top.
The Open University currently charges a slightly more competitive £17,568 with the option of remote study, allowing you to work at the same time. This is great if you’re entering the profession later on and have family commitments.
Student loans are available and these aren’t currently repayable until your income reaches £25,000 – but you’ll still accumulate a lot of debt.
On top of the cost of the LL.B, Legal Practice Courses are in the region of £16,000. However, if you opt for a combined LPC and LL.M, you may be able to get a £10,000 post graduate student loan to help with the costs – and universities will sometimes let you pay for the rest by instalments.
Finally, the Professional Skills Course adds around £1,500 of additional costs. However, sometimes employers cover this, particularly where they have given you a training contract.
The second challenge of this route is the availability of training contracts. Whilst 17,855 students embarked on their law degree in 2016/17, just 5,728 new traineeships were registered with the SRA in the year ending July 2016. The training contract issue is one of the reasons why the Law Degree / LPC route is to be scrapped and replaced with a new solicitor ‘super exam’, going forward. This new exam will be brought in no earlier than September 2020 – in the meantime, it is envisaged that anyone who has started on the traditional route will still be able to qualify that way.
Despite its challenges, the SRA route to qualification still remains popular. As a solicitor, you will be able to undertake reserved legal work such as preparing conveyancing documents and grants of probate, within your area of expertise. Solicitors can also set up their own law firms three years after qualifying – and it is envisaged that if proposed changes to the SRA Handbook are introduced, this may be possible immediately after qualifying.
Alternative routes and regulators
There are many other routes to becoming a qualified lawyer, including extensive opportunities with CILEX. Your choice of route will depend on your resources and goals.
For example, if you have completed a law degree or the GDL, the Graduate Fast Track diploma offers a way to qualify as a lawyer without undertaking the traditional and costlier LPC. This requires that you take two Level 6 practice subjects and an additional course in Client Care Skills, bringing you to ‘GCILEX’ accreditation.
You’ll also need to complete three years of qualifying employment, supervised by an Authorised Person which can be a Solicitor or Chartered Legal Executive. Some of this can be completed whilst studying, but the last year must be as GCILEX. Once completed, you can then attain the title of Chartered Legal Executive (FCILEx) – a qualified and recognised lawyer.
The Level 6 Practice Units are currently £595.83 + VAT each and the client care course is currently £616.67 + VAT with CILEX law school (which allows remote study). It is therefore immediately obvious how cost effective this route is in comparison with the LPC. Of course, with this route, there is no option to qualify as a solicitor (unless you later take the LPC) – but you need to decide if this is important to you. Many law firms now advertise for a Solicitor or Chartered Legal Executive and you will see that both are charged at the same rate under the Government fee scale guidance.
“With students entering university expected to leave with an average student debt of £55,000 the CILEx route is ideally placed to provide an affordable route to a career in law. Our qualifications cost just £9031 from start to finish.” ~ The Institute of Chartered Legal Executives
What can a Chartered Legal Executive do?
Chartered Legal Executives perform a similar role to that of a solicitor.
When deciding on your route to qualification, it’s important to keep in mind what your goal is. Do you want to work for a solicitor’s firm, or would you like to set up your own practice? Do you want to represent clients in court, or would you like to work in-house for a private company? Your choices will help guide which route to qualification you choose.
Without the supervision of a solicitor
Chartered Legal Executives can carry out most legal work without any supervision, provided that it is not ‘reserved’. Around 80 – 85% of legal work is not reserved – click here for a list of work that is. So, for example, if you’d like to start providing advice on employment law or writing Wills for people, you’ll be able to do this after you qualify without the help of a solicitor.
With the supervision of a solicitor
Chartered Legal Executives can also carry out reserved work if either:
- They are supervised by an Authorised Person (this means a Solicitor, or a Chartered Legal Executive who has obtained practice rights to carry out the reserved work themselves); or
- They have applied for practice rights independently, so that they do not need supervision to carry out reserved work.
If they are supervised, they have some rights of audience – so, for example, they can appear in chambers hearings in the county court and High Court, and in the Family Court (save for before a single Lay Magistrate or bench of Lay Magistrates). They can also apply for specific wider rights of audience relating to civil, criminal or family litigation.
With independent practice rights
Chartered Legal Executives can apply for additional rights allowing them to carry out reserved work without supervision.
Independent practice rights are available for:
- Criminal litigation and advocacy
- Family litigation and advocacy
- Civil litigation and advocacy
- Immigration advice and services
Chartered Legal Executives can apply to be Advocates and will have rights to appear in open court (you can find out more here).
Typically you’ll need to show competence to be awarded practice rights without supervision. However, this might be through the work you have done during your qualifying employment.
As you can see, Chartered Legal Executives have very similar practice rights to a solicitor. The main difference is that they have to apply for additional rights after they qualify if they want to carry out reserved work – whilst by contrast, solicitors can carry out reserved work as soon as they qualify.
Qualifying as a solicitor through CILEX
Chartered Legal Executives can qualify as a solicitor through the CILEX route, without needing a training contract.
Although the opportunities offered by CILEX are very extensive, some people have their heart set on the title of solicitor and for this, CILEX offers another route worth considering.
If you complete your LL.B and LPC, you can then register with CILEX as a Graduate (GCILEX). After you’ve completed 3 years of qualifying employment, you’ll be entitled to admission as a Fellow (FCILEx) Note that you can complete part of your qualifying employment whilst studying – you just need to complete the final year as ‘GCILEX’. You’ll also get 43 weeks credit for completing your LPC, although if you were working at the same time, you can’t count that employment as well.
Once admitted as a Fellow, you’ll need to complete the Professional Skills Course – but as you’re taking the CILEX route, only the core subjects are needed, reducing the completion time to 8 days (and reducing the cost). Once this has been done, you’ll be entitled to enrol as a solicitor.
Your qualifying employment must be supervised by an Authorised Person which can be a Solicitor or Chartered Legal Executive – and you’ll also need to complete a portfolio to demonstrate your skills along the way.
Whilst this route does not save you much money, it does have the huge benefit of not needing to find a traditional training contract. Once you qualify as a solicitor, you’ll be able to practice in any area of law within your competence.
This route is covered in more detail in our article Why you don’t need a training contract to qualify as a solicitor.
The aim of this article has been to explain some of the alternative routes to qualification and exciting practice rights now on offer from CILEX. Whilst we don’t yet know what the new solicitor’s super exam will look like (or indeed, cost), there are certainly a wide range of attractive non-traditional options for those struggling with the cost of training, those unable to get a training contract and those who need to find a flexible route into the industry whilst supporting a family.
If you have a law degree and you are interested in working for us, you may like to check out our recruitment page.