How do I become a…

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Although graduates often have many different career paths available, it is not always clear how to pursue them. Every fortnight, I will seek to explain the best way to give oneself a chance of securing a position in one of these professions. This week, my aim is to answer the question of “how do I become a solicitor without a law degree?”

The practice of law encompasses a wide range of professional services. In its broadest sense, it includes legal advising, documentation and negotiations.

Unlike in forty-five of the fifty states that comprise the USA, those who have achieved a degree in a subject other than law are not exempt from the practice in the UK. In fact, there is even a way into the profession from for people without a degree at all. However, it goes without saying that it is advantageous to study law at university if it is the clear, chosen career choice after leaving school.

A law degree qualifies a student for the certificate of completion of the academic stage of training and effectively allows them to directly progress to the vocational stage of training. Anyone applying with a different education history will have to earn this certificate in another form, as it is a statutory requirement for a career in law.

For students with a degree outside of law, there are two options available in order to complete the academic stage of training. The logical route would be to take the Common Professional Examination (CPL)/ Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).

This course covers the foundations of knowledge that are essential to advance to the vocational stage of training. The second option would be to take the same path as someone with no degree at all.

At this point, it might seem pertinent to ask why not skip any form of degree completely and take the shortcut to a job in law? Despite the tempting prospect of no colossal student debt, this is not an advisable alternative, and there are two key reasons why. Firstly, the route to qualify for a legal career without a degree is a long and challenging one.

It is obligatory to fulfil the requirements of the academic stage of training to progress into the profession and this would require joining the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), which involves undertaking rigorous examinations.

Secondly, legal positions are extremely competitive and with other applicants boasting a wealth of experience and success in a high-pressured environment, it would be near impossible to get a foot in the door. A good degree demonstrates the ability to learn and retain information effectively. The transferrable skills acquired during one’s collegiate studies ultimately provide them with a stronger platform when vying for jobs.

However, there is an exception. Someone without a degree may be able to avoid the CILEx route and opt for the more manageable option of taking the CPL/GDL course if they are classified as a mature student that holds a suitable academic or vocational qualification, as defined by the SRA Training Regulations 2011.

If placed in this category, a person would be equally eligible as someone who has a standard degree to progress into the vocational stage of training. This is something that would provide little comfort to those who have heavily invested in a university education.

So whether by a law degree, the CPL/GDL, or the CILEx route, the academic stage of training is complete and one can move on to the next stages. Everyone is now in the same boat, so the following path to a career in soliciting will be the same for each individual from this point.

However, it is likely that people will reach this stage at different ages and with varying levels of experience.

The first phase of vocational training is referred to as the LPC or Legal Practice Course. This is designed to help candidates develop the skills needed to work in a soliciting firm. To be eligible for the LPC, one must have first registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Subsequently, candidates must fulfill a training contract. This involves moving into the workplace in order to gain sufficient experience as a trainee solicitor. The average training contract period is approximately two years, but varies depending on prior legal experience. During this time, most will try to complete the next stage as well, which is passing the Professional Skills Course (PSC).

For those that took the CILEx route, this may have already been done as part of their course. The PSC is comprised of a number of three modules and a number of elective courses that tailor to specific facets of law.

After completing academic training, the LPC, the training contract and the PSC, a candidate is finally qualified to seek admission to the Roll of Solicitors and receive a practicing certificate.

So although the stages involved may differ, an individual can become a solicitor no matter what their educational background. In short, a career in law is achievable, whether equipped with a law degree, a standard degree or no degree at all.

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