So, now you know what being a solicitor entails (and if you don't, click here), now it's time to find out how. The process of becoming a solicitor can be broken down into three stages:
- The Academic Stage - This covers your education, including your degree and law conversion course for non law graduates
- The Vocational Stage - This is where you complete your Legal Practice Course (LPC)
- The Training Stage - This is where you undertake a twp-year long training contract
You should bear in mind that training to become a solicitor is a costly business, so make sure you're 100% sure this is the career for you before you start.
The Academic Stage
The subjects you choose at A-Level really don't matter greatly, nor is it a requirement that you study Law. However, no matter the subjects that you choose, you should aim to get three A grades. If you already know that you want to go into a career in law, then it would be a good idea to try, even at this early stage, to get some work exprience in the legal sector, so try local solicitor's firms and magistrate courts.
If you are studying Law at degree level then you will have plenty of opportunities to get involved in relevant extra curricular activities, and employers will expect to see evidence that you have - there is really no excuse for not doing so.
- In your first year you should join the Law Society, and get involved with any activities or programs that are available to you. You should also try to get yourself some work experience, in the sector if possible.
- In your second year you should begin researching the law firms at which you would be interested in completing your training contracts. You should try to get yourself a placement within a law firm over the Christmas/Easter holiday breaks, and onto a summer vacation scheme to give you some relevant experience. You will need to apply for your training contracts before the end of your second year. Ideally, you will receive a training contract offer before you start your final year.
- In your final year your focus is mostly academic - get the best grades you can. Apply for a place on the LPC. You will need to register as a member of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, without having done so you will not be able to undertake the LPC. If you have not been offered a scholarship for your LPC then you will need to investigate funding options.
Law Conversion Course
If you are not studying Law at degree level, then:
- In your final year you should begin researching law firms that you may wish to complete your training contract with. You should also be looking to get relevant legal work experience and placements. You will need to apply for your Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) which is the conversion course you will need to take to practice law.
- In your conversion year you will now be at a stage where you can apply for the LPC. As above, you will need to register as a member of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, without having done so you will not be able to undertake the LPC, and if you do not have a scholarship then you will need to investigate funding options as well.
Applying for the LPC
The LPC is a very popular course, so applicants must ensure they can show:
- Enthusiasm and motivation to for the course and career
- A strong interest in business issues and good business acumen
- The ability to manage, analyse and process copious amounts of information
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- High levels of adaptability and resilience
- They have an even temperament and that they work well under pressure;
- High levels of self-confidence
The LPC - The Vocational Stage
Once you have graduated (and completed the GDL if necessary) you will now be ready to start the Legal Practice Course, which usually takes one year to complete, although it can be completed part-time over two years. There are a large number of institutions that offer the LPC, so it is best for applicants to research the modules on offer carefully to select the most suitable course for what they want to specialise in when they complete it.
The LPC is completed in two stages, and from September 2009 it is no longer necessary to complete stage 2 directly after stage 1, which means that applicants can spread out the cost of completion.
The first stage comprises of compulsory modules in three essential practice areas:
- Business Law and Practice
- Property Law and Practice
Stage 2 allows for candidates to choose their own electives. There is a huge range of modules on offer. Candidates are advised to study modules related to the area of law that they eventually wish to specialise in.
The Training Stage
Once you have completed the LPC, you will now be able to join the firm that offered you your two-year training contract. The training contract allows you the time and space to really get to know the profession from the inside. Normally you will complete between 3 to 6 'seats', which means that you will work in a particular department under a senior colleague. Usually once you complete the training contract, it would be in one of the seats you have trained in that will be, for the beginning at least, your area of specialism. Some firms also offer you 'secondment' opportunities; basically the opportunity to go to a partner firm in another country, to gain further skills.
Once you have completed your two years you are under no obligation to stick with the firm that trained you if it wasn't suitable for you; and they are likewise under no obligation to retain you. If you like the company and its work environment, then it goes without saying that you should try to impress them as far as you can.