Final year: committing to law
As a non-law undergraduate, it can be difficult to know exactly what steps to take to qualify as a solicitor or a barrister—if you’re in your final year, there are so many applications and dates to remember! Here, we try to simplify the process as much as possible for you.
Law conversion course applications
If you studied a course other than law in your undergraduate degree, you’ll have to complete a mandatory conversion course to be able to qualify. The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)—sometimes called the Common Professional Examination (CPE)—will be your gateway to a legal career. It’s a one-year course that covers all of the basics of law and the practical skills you’ll need to succeed later on.
You should make your application for the law conversion course via the Central Applications Board (CAB) website. While there’s technically no deadline for sending in your application, you should try to apply as early as possible in your final year since applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.
Before you start sending out applications, you’ll need to find out which institutions offer the GDL and consider factors such as location, cost and methods of teaching. You can find a nifty list of many of the courses on offer here and an advice guide on the course here.
Training contracts and pupillage applications
Depending on whether you want to become a solicitor or a barrister, you’ll also be applying for training contracts or pupillages in your final year. If you’re looking to apply for a pupillage, you don’t need to worry just yet; chambers usually recruit a year to 18 months in advance, so you should apply during your conversion course.
If you intend to become a solicitor, however, you should start applying for training contracts towards the end of your final year, as law firms recruit two years before the start date of a contract. You should keep in mind that the deadline for many applications is July 31, with some dates falling earlier or later.
It can be daunting to start applying for training contracts before you’ve actually embarked on your legal studies (and you could certainly decide to delay your application and give yourself a gap year later on), but there are plenty of transferable skills that can make you a strong candidate. You might want to take a look at some of our best tips for applying for a training contract as a non-law student before you begin.
Legal work experience
It’s a good idea to start looking for legal work experience now—it will show future employers that you’re committed to a career in law. While the majority law students begin to apply for vacation schemes in their second year, most law firms prefer to consider non-law undergraduates in their final year. Make sure you start researching firms early, since applications for summer vacation schemes tend to close in January.
If you want to be a barrister, you should think of applying for mini-pupillages or informal work experience. You’ll have to check specific chambers’ websites to see when mini-pupillages are offered (sometimes it’s year round), when applications close and where to send in your application.
An excellent way to make yourself a stronger candidate is through your extracurriculars and societies. You could join your university’s law society if you haven’t already and get involved in the activities on offer, such as mooting and pro bono work. The law society is also a great place to start networking and generally learn more about the profession.
Other extracurriculars can also be useful when it comes to applying. If you end up on the committee of a society, for instance, you’ll be developing many of the skills that employers in the legal sector are on the lookout for.
A final note: the SQE
Sometime in the next couple years, the pathway to becoming a solicitor will change.
The new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will standardise the process of becoming a solicitor and include several examinations. The start date is currently set at September 2021, but there will likely be a long transition period.
It’s likely that the SQE will eventually replace the GDL and the LPC, meaning students who wish to convert to law in years to come may not need to complete these courses.
It’s still unclear when the SQE will be implemented, what exactly it will look like and how long the transition period will be. However, you can check out everything you need to know about it here, and stay up to date with new developments on the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) website.
Next article: Preparing for law school
For Non-Law Students