CILEx or solicitor route—which one is for me?

In England and Wales, the legal profession consists of three types of lawyers—barristers, solicitors and legal executives. Although the latter two types of lawyers perform similar duties, the route to qualifying is different. Since it is possible to qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive first and then qualify as a solicitor later, many aspiring lawyers wonder which route is best for them. The answer to this question varies from individual to individual.

  • Last updated Oct 7, 2019 12:07:57 PM
  • David Carnes

Qualifying as a Solicitor Through the Traditional Route

The traditional route to becoming a solicitor requires:

- Completing a law degree (LLB), which requires three years of full-time study;

- Completing a Legal Practice Course, which requires about a year of full-time study and costs about £15,000;

- Obtaining and completing a training contract, which requires two years of full-time employment; and

- Completing the Professional Skills Course, which requires 12 days. 

If you graduated from university in a field other than law, you can put yourself in the same position as a law graduate by completing a Graduate Degree in Law (GDL), which requires one year of full-time study and costs around £7,000-£10,000. In other words, if you are just entering university, you are looking at six or seven years of study and employment before you can qualify as a solicitor via the traditional route.

The two main bottlenecks in qualifying as a solicitor through the traditional route are:

- The educational process is quite expensive, and you could end up burdened with high debts your first few years after qualification; and

- Training contracts are extremely competitive, and they have been getting more competitive in recent years.

If you manage to surmount these obstacles, however, it is likely that your starting salary will significantly exceed the starting salary of the average entry-level legal executive, and the range of activities you will be permitted to engage in will be broader. 

Qualifying as a Solicitor Through the CILEx Route

To qualify as a solicitor through the CILEx route, you must first become a Chartered Legal Executive and then meet certain other transitional requirements. Following is a step-by-step description:

- Complete a university degree.

- Complete a Graduate Degree in Law (GDL), if your undergraduate degree is not an LLB (law degree). Completing a GDL takes a year and can cost upwards of £10,000. 

- If you hold an LLB or GDL, obtain a Graduate Fast-Track Diploma in about nine months for around £2,000.

- Complete your employment requirements. You must accumulate at least three years of legal employment for at least 20 hours per week, and your duties must be supervised by a qualified legal executive or a solicitor. At least one of these three years of legal employment must occur after you become a Graduate Member of CILEx (after you complete your academic requirements). 

During your three years of legal employment, you must satisfy eight core competencies and 27 learning outcomes (communication skills, workload management, etc.) At this point, you can become a Chartered Legal Executive.

You must then complete the LPC (requiring one year of study and costing about £15,000) and pass certain law-related courses to become a fully qualified solicitor. You do not have to complete a training contract.

Making the Decision

One of the main reasons why you might elect to qualify as a solicitor via the CILEx route is the ruthless competition for training contracts. As recently as 2017, fewer than one-third of all law graduates were offered training contracts. Another reason is that qualifying through the CILEx route is typically more affordable because during much of the process you can work while you meet qualification requirements.

The advantages of pursuing the traditional route to becoming a solicitor are that it is quicker, and you will probably be earning a high salary sooner that you would if you pursued the CILEx route (which could help offset some or all of your educational expenses). If you do not anticipate any short-term cash flow problems, and if you are confident in your ability to secure a training contract, the traditional route might be the best route for you to take.

Regardless of which route you end up taking, employment prospects look strong in the foreseeable future, and in the long run, your salary should be more than enough to compensate for the time and expense of the training process. 


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