Qualifying as a Solicitor Without a Degree

Is it possible to become a solicitor without a university degree?

Yes, it is. Would-be solicitors are often put off a legal career because of the lengthy academic and vocational training required to become a solicitor or barrister – and the debt they would incur. However, it is possible to qualify without needing a degree first, by going down the CILEX route.

What is the CILEX route?

Instead of going to university, you can qualify as a legal executive with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX), then go onto qualify as a solicitor by undertaking the Legal Practice Course(the vocational course that all potential solicitors must usually complete). Many choose this route rather than the traditional way to qualify as a solicitor, because study is combined with work – and you do not have to have formal qualifications before embarking on a CILEX course.

The course also allows you to train ‘on the job’ and receive first hand practical experience of the law you are studying. However, note that the CILEX route can take a number of years before qualification as a solicitor. The advantage, however, is that you will avoid high levels of graduate debt.

In addition, CILEX studies can be carried out by distance learning which may be invaluable for many students. If you become a Chartered Legal Executive before you decide to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC), you may be exempt from completing the Training Contract, the two-year period of training normally required to become a solicitor following completion of the LPC.

What can legal executives do?

Qualified legal executives are able to carry out much the same work as a solicitor. Over recent years, legal executives are increasingly regulated to carry out work across a wider range of legal practice, including conveyancing, family matters, probate and litigation.

Generally, legal executives work in law firms alongside other lawyers, but they may also work in-house for companies, organisations and government departments in their legal departments.

Like solicitors, legal executives must continue their training through continued professional development (CPD), so that they keep up to date with legal and procedural developments.

What qualifications do you need?

To start training, CILEX suggest that you should hold at least four good GCSEs including English Language or Literature (or equivalent). They will also look at each individual’s situation.

Stages of Training

CILEX training is taken in two stages:

  • Stage 1: Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice (equivalent to an ‘A’-level)
  • Stage 2: Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice (set at honours degree level)

CILEX also offers a Graduate Fast Track Diploma for those with a qualifying law degree. Exemptions for certain aspects of study can also be available if the student already holds a law A-level. Exemptions may also be available if you have other relevant qualifications.

It is also possible to be fully exempt if you have already successfully completed the Legal Practice Course or Bar Vocational Course.

Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice

CILEX students first need to study Level 3 – a broad introduction to law and practice, and the development of legal skills. Certain units must be taken which deal with different aspects of law and legal practice.

The time this level takes generally depends on the student but the average time spent is either one year full time, or two years part time.

Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice

This is the second stage to qualifying as a legal executive. There are a wide range of subject matters to study and the student can choose an area of law to specialise in, if they so wish. There are also professional skills units that must be completed.

This stage of training will usually take two years to complete.

Work experience

At least three years of qualifying employment must be completed to qualify as a legal executive. If you decide to work in a legal environment whilst completing your studies, this will count towards this requirement. To become a Fellow of CILEX, with the right to call yourself a legal executive, at least two years of employment must be undertaken after achieving your CILEX qualification.

How does a legal executive become a solicitor?

Qualified legal executives can then take the LPC followed by a 2-year training contract to qualify as a solicitor. As mentioned, the training contract may not be required if you are Chartered Legal Executive (at the discretion of the SRA) – and you may also have to undertake compulsory professional skills course elements before qualifying.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.