Solicitor - England and Wales

The English and Welsh legal system is separate from Scotland’s with its own legal rules, courts and professions, giving rise to different entry and training arrangements.


A solicitor takes instructions from clients, including individuals, groups, public sector organisations or private companies, and advises them on necessary courses of legal action. The issues that solicitors advise on range from personal issues (such as wills and divorces) to commercial work (such as mergers and acquisitions). Once qualified, you could work in private practice, in-house for commercial or industrial organisations, in local or central government, or in the court service.

In 2021, the number of solicitors in England and Wales with practising certificates (PC holders) reached 153,282:

The Law Society – Annual report 2021

How do I become a solicitor?

To qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales, you must meet the requirements which are set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the regulatory body.

Changes were made in September 2021 with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), to ensure that all new solicitors (no matter which route they take to qualification), are assessed to the same standard.

What is the SQE?

It is a centralised assessment (not a course). This assessment is set by an organisation called Kaplan who run the assessments on behalf of the SRA for all entrants to the solicitors’ profession, regardless of route.

What is the criteria to becoming a solicitor?

The following four criteria now form the route:

  • Degree (in any subject) or equivalent
  • Complete SQE assessments
  • Complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
  • Meet the SRA’s suitability requirements

Exploring the criteria in more depth

1. Degree (in any subject) or equivalent

  • A ‘qualifying’ law degree is no longer a requirement. You should have a degree level qualification in any subject. However, to successfully pass SQE assessments, it is anticipated that all students will take an SQE preparation course; students holding a non-law degree should take a conversion course in law to get up to speed in English law before embarking on a SQE preparation course.
  • Working in a solicitor’s office can sometimes equate to a degree if it’s over a considerable period of time - this is evaluated on a case by case basis.

2. Complete SQE assessments

The assessment is split into two parts – SQE 1 and SQE 2. You have to pass Part 1 before you can take Part 2.

  • SQE 1 is computer based and consists of two rounds of 180 multiple choice questions. These questions test the candidate’s knowledge, not only of the black letter law, (i.e. contracts, torts, and land law) but also its application in practice. For example, you may know about land law but do you know about land registry? You may know about criminal law but do you know what goes on in court; what the court process is?
  • SQE 2 is a skills assessment consisting of 16 written and oral tasks which will test your skills and the black letter law and its application. This will be in regard to distinct subject areas such as writing, drafting, research, advocacy and interviewing and case management.

Find out more about the assessment specifics on the SRA website:

Solicitors Regulation Authority - SQE assessment information

Students only have three attempts to pass SQE 1 and three attempts to pass SQE 2. There is an assessment fee for each attempt. If you don’t pass after three attempts, you will then have to wait a specified period of time, before you can attempt the assessments again.

When can you take the SQE?

For details of SQE 1 and SQE 2 assessment dates, including when bookings open, see the SRA timings webpage:

Solicitors Regulation Authority - When you can take the SQE

The SRA website provides information on SQE assessment costs:

Solicitors Regulation Authority - SQE costs and fees

Considerations for those who haven’t studied law in England and Wales, including those with a Scots Law Degree

It is recommended to do:

  • A postgraduate diploma in law (PGDL) to give you a solid grounding in law. If you have a Scots Law degree, depending on the subjects you’ve studied, there may be exemptions from some subjects on the PGDL – each application will be considered on its own merits. However, you may welcome the revision and prefer to do the whole course.


  • An SQE preparation course

There is no requirement for the above from the SRA; it is purely a recommendation, but will help you maximise your chances of success with the SQE. Plus, there is an assessment fee for each SQE attempt.

For further advice on SQE training options and funding, refer to the SRA website:

Solicitors Regulation Authority - SQE training options

How do you choose your SQE preparation course?

Start to explore the kind of solicitor you want to be and the pathways suggested by your firms and organisations of choice.

There is a whole range of prices for PGDL and SQE preparation courses. Don’t just go for the cheapest course, however tempting this is, look at:

  • the quality of the provider
  • the level of support on offer
  • how it is being taught – is it all online? Are you having to do most of the work and raise questions? Is there any pastoral support?

Sometimes firms may be wary of recruiting a candidate who’s gone for the cheapest course, in case they have opted for just trying to learn the law to get through the multiple choice questions in SQE 1 and don’t have the required depth of understanding.

You need to pass both SQE 1 and SQE 2. There is no fixed pass rate – the SRA advise there is a moving pass rate e.g. some years you might need to get 60% of multiple choice questions right, other years it could be 50%. This is to ensure that the passing standard of the assessment stays at the correct level.

LawCareers.Net - A guide to SQE preparation courses

AllAboutLaw - Should I self-study the SQE?

3. Complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)

  • This is effectively a substitution for the training contract but many firms will continue to offer training contacts, which will make up a candidate’s two years’ QWE.
  • You need two year’s work in a law firm or other organisation(s) which provide legal services, signed off by a solicitor.

  • This can include a training contract, working in a solicitor’s firm doing paralegal work, and working in a pro bono clinic.
  • You are not being assessed as to your level of competence in that work experience – this is assessed by the SQE. The solicitor who signs off your QWE is confirming that you have had the necessary legal services work over a significant period.
  • There is no time limit as to when QWE is obtained: if you’ve done some work experience during your degree e.g. three months over the summer, this can count towards your QWE.
  • Work can be undertaken in no more than four different organisations.

QWE: how are firms responding?

“As more and more firms announce their approach to SQE and QWE, it is apparent there is not one standard approach. With the removal of the requirements for trainees to work in different areas of law and experience both contentious and non-contentious work, the traditional training contract is being abandoned by some firms.

Firms such as Weightmans and Hempsons are moving to the Graduate Solicitor Apprenticeship.

Weightmans - Graduate Solicitor Apprenticeship

Hempsons - Graduate Solicitor Apprenticeship

Some firms are offering specialist training that will focus on only one area of law (Express Solicitors).

Express Solicitors - careers

[However,] Many firms will stick to the more traditional two year training contract, with some already stating that they will not recognise work done outside of this (Leigh Day).

Leigh Day - careers

[Students should consider firms offering training contracts often with closing dates two years in advance and therefore sponsoring successful students through the SQE assessments.]

Some firms want students to study the full LLM Legal Practice (incorporating SQE 1 & 2 Prep) prior to commencement of their QWE (Clifford Chance; Taylor Wessing), other firms are willing to consider those who already have an [Legal Practice Course] LPC – but expect them to take SQE2 in addition to their LPC qualification.

Clifford Chance

Taylor Wessing

The task of identifying the right training contract has become even more complex. Students need to do their research not only in identifying the firm they wish to apply for, but in understanding the myriad training routes being adopted.”

Source: The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), Legal Profession Task Group – Spring 22 Newsletter

So, it’s important to check with your shortlisted or target firms to see how they’re planning to adopt the SQE and QWE.

4. Meet the SRA’s suitability requirements

You will need to demonstrate that:

  • You do not have a criminal record
  • You do not have a record of dishonesty (including academic irregularities)
  • You do not have any serious credit or money issues

This is because of the high level of trust and integrity that you will need to display when representing others and dealing with their financial and other confidential affairs.

How can I develop and plan for my future?

Whether you’re looking to gain experience in your early years at University or if you’re heading in to your final year and seeking a training contract, early planning will give you the best chance of success. Look at our information on building legal work experience:

Legal work experience

Where can I find a training contract?

Access MyCareerHub and search for opportunities using keywords such as “law training contract”:

MyCareerHub - opportunities

View the University of Edinburgh Law School alumni webpages which provide details of training contracts under the career opportunities section:

Edinburgh Law School - Alumni - career opportunities

LawCareers.Net - training contract deadlines

Legal Cheek - key deadlines calendar

Chambers Student - training contract deadlines

As a solicitor qualified in another jurisdiction, how can I requalify into England and Wales?

This guide from the Law Society discusses requirements for international lawyers to requalify in England and Wales:

The Law Society – How to become a solicitor: a guide for international lawyers

The Law Society are also running free law clinics which take place twice a month and are open to qualified solicitors (including those admitted overseas). For further information on the Law Society careers clinic 2023 dates and how to book a place, visit the Law Society website:

The Law Society – Career development