With the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in September 2021, the route to becoming a lawyer in England and Wales is changing. It is important to be up to date with the latest developments on how to become a solicitor. We discuss what qualifications you will need to legally practice as a lawyer, as well as whether you will still need a GDL with the launching of the SQE if you did not study law at university.
The GDL – what is it?
The conventional pathway to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales is to study law at undergraduate level and then take a two year Legal Practice Course (LPC).
This postgraduate programme is a mandatory course that all law candidates have to pass in order to earn the right to practice as a solicitor.
The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is a postgraduate course designed for individuals who did not study law at university but still want to pursue a career in the legal field.
It is an accelerated programme at a higher education institution that takes 1 to 2 years to complete depending on whether you choose to study part-time or full-time. The curriculum covers content that you would have learnt if you had chosen to study law at undergraduate level.
It provides the necessary foundation for you to succeed on an LPC course alongside those who have studied law previously.
With the introduction of the SQE, candidates have two ways of qualifying as a solicitor. However, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) plans to phase out the GDL/LPC route by 2032. Nonetheless, at the moment both pathways are valid and respected routes to becoming a qualified lawyer.
The SQE – how will things change?
The new SQE system will standardise the training to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales. It will have a common syllabus, regardless of which higher education institute you choose to study at. It will consist of two parts – namely SQE1 and SQ2. Just like the LPC, this could be completed in the space of 10 months if studying full-time.
Candidates will also have to do two years’ worth of qualified work experience (QWE). Unlike with training contracts that you are required to do for the LPC, candidates can complete the QWE with multiple legal employers. This will encourage candidates to explore a variety of roles in different areas of law during their placements.
With cheaper exams and preparation course fees, the SQE hopes to open up the legal profession to those who were put off by the high costs of the LPC route.
Do I need a GDL to do the SQE?
Put simply, the SQE does not demand candidates to complete a GDL. The only requirement to enrol on an SQE course is to hold an undergraduate degree or equivalent in any subject or field.
The SQE course is designed to make sure that non-law graduates are not at a disadvantage to those candidates who studied the subject at university.
However, one cannot disregard the 3 years of worth legal education of law graduates. Some are predicting that while the GDL might eventually cease to exist, preparation courses similar to it will be launched by institutions to help those who did not study law to become fully equipped to enrol on the SQE.
Legal firms have always been fond of the traditional long-winded route to becoming a lawyer and have expressed the scepticism of the new system. Therefore while it is not necessary, you may choose to do a GDL if you have the financial resources to do so – even though it is not a requirement to start the SQE course.
The new system is certainly giving more choice to candidates to find the route they want to take to becoming a solicitor.