Why you don’t need a training contract to qualify as a solicitor

Qualify as a solicitor

In 2015-16, 17,335 UK students were accepted to study undergraduate law in the UK. However, in the year ending 31 July 2015, just 5,457 graduates were registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, marking the start of a training contract.

Less than 1 in 3 law graduates will secure a training contract (now known as the ‘period of recognised training’). So it is perhaps surprising that more people do not explore alternative ways to qualify as a solicitor.

Qualifying as a solicitor via CILEX

Qualifying as a solicitor via the CILEX route does not require that you secure a training contract.

The SRA’s website states:

Exemption from the period of recognised training

If you are a Chartered Legal Executive who has satisfied the requirements of the academic stage through study or exemptions granted, and completed the LPC, and been engaged as a Chartered Legal Executive in the practice of law, we will exempt you from the requirement to undertake a period of recognised training as required by regulation 5 of the Training Regulations 2014. You are also exempt from the elective elements of the Professional Skills Course. This exemption is automatic and you do not need to apply to us. However, when you apply to be admitted as a solicitor, you will need to provide us with evidence of your qualification as a Chartered Legal Executive.

Source: SRA

Fellows who have completed the LPC  are exempt from the requirements of a training contract. They do have to complete the core elements of the Professional Skills Course (PSC) however (typically 8 days training – contrast with those who go down the traditional training contract route instead, who would also have to complete the additional ‘elective’ elements of the PSC which take approximately 3 further days).

There are various ways to qualify as a Fellow. It is important to understand that if you want to ultimately qualify as a solicitor, you need to ensure that you take a route that meets the SRA’s requirements for both the academic stage and the vocational stage of training.

Here is one example route to qualification as a solicitor through CILEX:

  • Complete a qualifying law degree (LL.B) or the GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law).
  • Complete the LPC
  • Complete the core elements of the Professional Skills Course
  • Complete 113 weeks of qualifying employment, with a break of no more than 12 months – the final year must be spent as a “Graduate member of CILEX” (you must have completed the LL.B/GDL and LPC before you can apply as a Graduate member).
  • Enrol as a Fellow with CILEX
  • Enrol as a solicitor

Currently the cost to apply as a graduate member is £660 – this includes both your membership fees and exemption fees because you have done the LL.B/LPC rather than completing the CILEX courses.

Typically, 3 years qualifying employment is needed to qualify as a Fellow. However, CILEX give 43 weeks ‘credit’ for completing the LPC – hence, 113 weeks is the required amount with the above route.

Note that you can complete part of your qualifying employment while studying. However, you will not get both the 43 weeks credit for the LPC and additional credit for working at the same time.

The following illustrates a possible route to qualifying which includes working at the same time:

Qualifying without a training contract

What is ‘qualifying employment’?

Qualifying employment is defined in the CILEX Work Based Learning handbook as follows:

To be in qualifying employment you must be employed by either:

an authorised person in private practice;

an organisation where the employment is subject to supervision by an authorised person employed in duties of a legal nature by that firm, corporation, undertaking, department or office; and

in each case, you must undertake work that is wholly of a legal nature for at least 20 hours per week.

During completion of the qualifying employment, you will put together a log book which shows you have met certain outcomes. There are 27 work-based learning outcomes to meet. You will need to provide 2 examples of meeting each outcome, except for 7 of the outcomes where you only need to provide one example. So, in total you will need to provide 47 examples. Your supervisor (who must be an Authorised Person), will work with you on gathering evidence that the outcomes have been met and will sign to show you have completed the outcomes.

An Authorised Person includes a Solicitor or Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives. This means you can complete your qualifying employment at any firm that employs a qualified practising solicitor or Fellow – provided that they are happy to work with you and sign off your log book.

Qualifying employment is in no way less onerous than the legal work you would undertake on a training contract. The benefit is that your employer does not need to offer a broad range of legal work to be able to supervise people for qualifying employment. Unlike a training contract, you can complete your qualifying employment even if the firm does only a limited range of work (for example, conveyancing and wills). This opens up the opportunity to many more law firms.  Although you will get a narrower range of experience, you will get substantially more training in the area you want to practice in.

Q: If I qualify as a solicitor through CILEX, can I practise in any area of law?

A: In theory, you could – qualifying through CILEX doesn’t limit you in any particular way. You’ll be a solicitor in the same way you would be if you qualified the traditional way, i.e. with a training contract/period of recognised training.

However, principles 4 and 5 of the SRA Code of Conduct require that you:

4. Act in the best interests of each client; and

5. Provide a proper standard of service to your clients.

Additionally, the SRA code includes these outcomes:

O(1.4) You have the resources, skills and procedures to carry out your clients’ instructions; and

O(1.5) The service you provide to clients competent, delivered in a timely manner and takes account of your clients needs and circumstances.

Indicative behaviours include:

IB(1.7) Considering whether you should decline to act or cease to act because you cannot act in the client’s best interests.

These provisions will always limit you to only providing advice and legal services in areas that you are competent. To provide a client with advice and services in an area for which you have no past knowledge or experience would not be acting in their best interests or providing them with a proper standard of service. If you do not have the knowledge or experience to properly serve your clients in relation to a particular matter, you should not act. This applies regardless of how you qualified – through the CILEX route or through the traditional route.

But why be a solicitor, anyway?

Whilst in the past CILEX lawyers haven’t always been regarded as on a par with solicitors, the attitude towards Chartered Legal Executives has changed significantly in recent years. As a Chartered Institute, CILEX is now recognised as one of the three core approved regulators of the legal profession alongside barristers and solicitors.

Fellows are trained just as rigorously as solicitors in terms of the amount of training – and in fact, a Fellow will always have more practical experience than a newly qualified solicitor (compare the above route to qualification to that of a solicitor). The main difference is that Fellows tend to specialise in niche areas of law, while solicitors often cover a broader range (although this does not have to be the case). Fellows and solicitors do, however, have almost identical rights. They are fee earners and their work is charged directly to the public. Their hourly rates are the same as solicitors:

Source: Gov.uk

Fellows can be partners or can run their own law firm.

A subtle difference between solicitors and Fellows arises in respect of reserved work.  The vast majority of legal work (perhaps 70 – 80%) is unreserved. Reserved work includes things like probate and conveyancing.

A Fellow is an ‘Authorised Person’ approved to carry out reserved work under the Legal Services Act (in the same way as solicitors and barristers).

If a Fellow wants to carry out reserved work, they can either:

(a) be employed by a solicitor OR

(b) apply to CILEX for the rights to provide reserved legal services independently.

So a Fellow with sufficient experience can, for example, start up their own conveyancing or probate firm, with the permission of CILEX. The difference is that they have to take one additional step – apply to CILEX for practice rights in respect of the reserved work. These will usually be granted if the Fellow has gained experience already in the area they want to work in. A Fellow does not need to ask CILEX for permission to start up their own firm if the firm will only offer legal services in unserved areas (i.e. most legal areas) – however, there is an overriding responsibility only to practice within the individual’s area of competence.

Fellows are Commissioners for Oaths and can have extended rights of audience in civil, criminal and family proceedings if qualified as a Legal Executive Advocates, allowing them to represent their clients in the County Court, Family Proceedings Court, Magistrates’ Court including the Youth Court, Coroners Court and in most Tribunals depending on the area of law in which they practice.

Fellows can also be judges – and may apply for the following positions: District Judge, District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts), Deputy District Judge, Deputy District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts), Judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Employment Judge, Road User Charging Adjudicator, and Adjudicator (regulation 17 Civil Enforcement of Parking Conventions). You can find out more here.

Some areas of legal work are classed as ‘regulated’ rather than reserved. This means they can only be carried out by authorised persons. The regulated areas include immigration, claims management and insolvency. CILEX can authorise Fellows to carry out immigration work. The Ministry of Justice authorises the provision of claims management services and Fellows can apply to be authorised although may already be exempt. The Insolvency Service regulates insolvency practitioners who must pass an exam (regardless of their legal background) – you can find out more here.

“There is now no limit to what Chartered Legal Executive Lawyers can achieve within the legal profession” – First Chartered Legal Executive Judge, Deputy District Judge Ian Ashley-Smith.

With all of the above in mind, and given that most law firms advertise for either a solicitor or Legal Executive at the same rates of pay, you might wonder why anyone would need to apply to be a solicitor. However, at April King Legal we appreciate that the title of solicitor is important to some of our team and we support our trainees in attaining it, if this is their goal. We work closely with CILEX to offer our team a comprehensive programme of training and fantastic work opportunities that we believe are beyond those offered in many traditional law firms.

The times, they are a changin’

The SRA is introducing a new route to qualification for solicitors – the Solicitors Qualifying Examination. More information can be found about this here. Once introduced, domestic candidates who have started a Qualifying Law Degree, CPE, LPC or Period of Recognised Training before September 2021 would be able to choose whether or not to qualify under the old route (subject to availability) or to take the SQE. If they take the SQE, they must meet all the SRA’s requirements (including holding a degree or equivalent, and undertaking the requisite workplace experience).

Update: You can find an update about the proposals here. The SQE is to be introduced Autumn 2021.

Work for us

April King Legal supports its team in qualifying as either a Fellow or solicitor through the above route or a suitable alternative. Click here to see our current vacancies and to find out how to apply.

The above information is correct at time of publishing. You should contact CILEX and the SRA to confirm your route to qualification. We are always happy to advise those who are interested in working for us as to whether they would be eligible to qualify as a solicitor through the CILEX route.