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How long does it take to become a lawyer in the UK?

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 5 minutes


If you want to become a lawyer in the UK and you are considering how long it will take for you to accomplish that target; there are a host of factors you’ll need to consider. First, the UK is a sovereign state comprising England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Only England and Wales share a single legal system while the other two have their legal systems. Second, in the UK, there are two major types of lawyers: solicitors and barristers. Third, if it’s the solicitor kind of lawyer you are thinking about there are more available routes to take to arrive at your destination. Fourth, whether you are already qualified abroad might determine how long it will take for you to become one. But first things first, let us determine what a lawyer does.   

What does a lawyer in the UK do?

Solicitor: A solicitor is a lawyer who confers with clients, gives advice, drafts documents, conducts negotiations, prepares cases for trial, and retains barristers for advice on special matters or advocacy (trial work) before the higher courts. A solicitor will provide specialist legal advice on contentious and non-contentious work to their clients in a variety of areas of law. They have a right to act in all courts as the agents for litigation or representatives of their clients and are deemed as officers of the court.

Barrister: A barrister is a lawyer who engages in advocacy – representing, advocating and defending his/her clients in a court of a tribunal in the UK. Barristers are usually called upon to give opinions or to draft documents, and many specialize in one practice area, although some may have a more general practice covering a variety of areas.

How to qualify and become a lawyer?

We will first discuss the barrister route as it has fewer routes and factors in play.


The short answer is that it takes five or six years to become a barrister. To be able to represent clients in court (that is, be a barrister) you need to embark on a law degree which usually takes three years to complete. After this then you must embark on and pass the Bar course known as the BPTC. Lastly, you’ll be required to participate in a pupillage which usually lasts for a year. If your degree is a non-law degree then before you embark on your BPTC you will have had to complete a year law conversion course.

Please also note that if you are a lawyer from another jurisdiction who wishes to practise as a barrister in the UK you will be required to apply to the Bar Standards Board, satisfying the laid down requirements.

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Qualifying as a Solicitor under the SQE Route

The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) into the English and Welsh legal system has affected how one can become a solicitor. The SQE serves as the centralized assessment for which all aspiring solicitors must take and pass. It comprises two parts: SQE1 and SQE2. The SQE1 – the first part – is an assessment of a candidate’s functioning legal knowledge (FLK) which is further divided into two parts: FLK1 and FLK2. The SQE2 is an assessment which will take a participant five days to complete and assesses six practical skills (including ethics and professional conduct).

The SQE as a whole is a four-stage route to becoming a solicitor. The first stage is the possession of a degree (or equivalent) in any subject. This should take three years. The second stage is the successful completion of the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. To do well you are advised (because it’s optional) to take an SQE preparation course which should last a total of a year. Thirdly, you will need to have a minimum of two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). Lastly, you ought to show that you are of satisfactory character and suitability. Consequently, this way will take at least 5 years.

Qualifying as a Solicitor through the Traditional Route

Until 2032 which is when the SQE will completely be the only route of becoming a solicitor there remains the traditional route of becoming a solicitor in England and Wales. This route is also multiple.

  • The Law Degree Holder: This path requires six years. First, you take part in a law degree which usually lasts for three years. You then take part in the Legal Practice Course (LPC) lasting for a year. Lastly, you complete the mandatory two-year training contract (TC).
  • The Non-Law Degree Holder: It takes seven years here. When you have obtained your non-law degree (3 years), you are then required to do a law conversion course which lasts for a year. Upon completion, you’ll then embark on the LPC. Upon successful completion, you then take part in a TC.   
  • Solicitor Apprenticeships: A solicitor apprenticeship may take between 18 months [it will take less only when the person had some other qualification other than A-Levels) to six years to complete. After successfully passing your apprenticeship you are required to also pass the SQE.
  • CILEX: The time it will take here depends on whether you have a degree or not. If you have a degree, expect it to take nine years. If you have no degree it’ll take you 8 years.
  • Equivalent Means: This is the paralegal route which allows paralegals upon completing the LPC to qualify as solicitors. While becoming a paralegal does not entail any set entry requirements but a good understanding of the law we have found that some paralegals will have some sort of degree. This route may take about six years
  • QLTS: This offered foreign lawyers a fast route to being able to practise as solicitors in the UK. However, the SQE has made an impact on it too. If you have not taken the MCT before September 2021 this route is permanently closed to you. But if you have, you have till 31 August 2022 to pass the OSCE and apply for admission to practise.

Becoming a Solicitor in Scotland and Northern Ireland

The Scottish and Northern Ireland systems have completely different routes to lawyer qualification than the ones we have discussed above. Thus if you are considering qualifying in one of the mentioned places you must consider where you carry out your education and training.

Salary of a lawyer in the UK

The salaries of a lawyer in the UK among other factors will be dependent on the location that they are practising in and the practice area. For example, the capital of the UK is London, England, and London is renowned for being a global financial centre, home to a multitude of top law firms in the world. This means that a lawyer practising in London will earn more than his other UK counterparts.

Based on this premise, a newly qualified lawyer (solicitor) working in a commercial law firm, in his first year may earn in the region of £70,000-£160,000. A solicitor working as a criminal lawyer in London may earn around £52,500 in a year. On the other hand, the salaries of newly qualified lawyers in regional firms or high street firms may range between £22,000 and £45,000+. 

For barristers in commercial law (in London), in their first year of tenancy, they could get £70,000-£150,000; while their second year could see them pulling in £80,000-£200,000. For barristers with practices outside London, their take-home pay will be less than their London counterparts.

is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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