If you’ve decided that you would like a career change, and that you are interested in becoming a solicitor, then there are plenty of options available to you. Although there is no upper age limit on people who are training to become a solicitor, it is worth considering the time that training takes, and the expected costs, which you may not be able to recuperate if you are very close to retirement. However, there are plenty of opportunities available for mature students (people over 35) and career changers.
If you do not Have an Undergraduate Degree…
If you do not already have an undergraduate degree, you may want to consider taking a degree in law at university. Degrees last 3 – 4 years when they are studied on a full time basis, and you can expect fees of up to £9000 per year, in addition to your standard living costs. This degree will give you a strong backing which allows you to understand how to do research, as well as how to understand many aspects of law in England and Wales.
During this course, you will be given an overview of a wide range of different areas of law, but you will not be asked to choose a specialism. Alternatively, you may be able to progress straight on to the Common Professional Examination, if you have equivalent qualifications or experience.
If you already have an Undergraduate Degree…
If you have already completed an undergraduate degree in another subject, you can take the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or a Graduate Diploma in Law to help to give you an academic basis to progress with. These courses fit the majority of material in which is studied in an undergraduate law degree, however the course is only 1 year long, meaning that it is very intensive. These courses can cost up to £10000 to complete, depending on which institution you choose to take the course at.
Some courses will accept people who do not already have an undergraduate degree, so long as they are able to demonstrate that they have equivalent qualifications or sufficient workplace experience.
Both of these routes lead mature students on to the Legal Practice Course, the training contract and the Professional Skills Course. All candidates who take the academic route to qualification, (be they mature students or regular student), take these final three steps if they want to become a fully qualified, practicing solicitor.
If you are already working in a Legal Environment…
If you are already working in a legal environment, then there are slightly different options available to help you to become fully qualified. The Chartered Institute of Legal Executive (CILEx) acknowledges the fact that many people working in the legal environment are able to pick up some of the skills necessary to become solicitors, and therefore they offer an alternative route to allow career progression. However, this route can be very difficult and time consuming.
If you progress via the CILEx route, you are expected to take exams and do your learning whilst continuing to work in a legal environment. Most people who are aiming to qualify via this route will qualify as a chartered legal executive, before deciding whether to continue on with the aim of qualifying as a solicitor. The majority of candidates will still be expected to do a CPE, although they do this part-time whilst working.
If you are deemed to have shown enough experience in your employment history, the SRA (awarding regulatory body) may allow CILEx candidates to skip the practice-based training elements of qualification. This “earn-whilst-you-learn” route is very popular amongst mature students who do not want to study full time.
Drive And Determination
If you have the drive and determination which is required to become a solicitor, then you are not too old to begin your training. However, if you do decide to pursue this as a career choice, you will need to think very carefully about how to support yourself and any family if applicable.
Being a solicitor can be an interesting and rewarding career once you are qualified, but getting to that position can be a hard slog. Nonetheless, many legal firms welcome mature candidates with open arms, because they have more life experience.