Admission as a solicitor

Introduction

Purpose and status of this guidance

This guidance is about how we make decisions about the authorisation of solicitors to practise in England and Wales.

We are responsible for setting and maintaining standards for all solicitors practising in England and Wales. We need to be satisfied that solicitors have the knowledge and competence necessary for practice and they have the level of honesty, integrity and professionalism the public expect of them.

For a person to be admitted as a solicitor, we therefore need to be satisfied:1

  • that they have complied with our education and training requirements; and
  • of their character and suitability to be a solicitor.

This guidance should be read in the context of our decision making at the SRA and other guidance, listed at the end of this document. It is a living document and will be reviewed and updated as appropriate. It reflects our approach to our regulatory role. Any departure must be capable of justification on the individual facts of the case.

What can a solicitor do?

An admitted solicitor with a practising certificate is an authorised person under the Legal Services Act 2007. This legislation provides that a person can only carry on a reserved legal activity if they are authorised by us or another approved regulator.2

A solicitor with a practising certificate can undertake the following reserved legal activities set out at section 12 of the Legal Services Act 2007, as well as immigration work:3

  • the exercise of a right of audience before certain (higher) courts
  • the conduct of litigation (which can be described as the taking of formal steps in proceedings, such as issuing a claim or filing documents or forms)
  • reserved instrument activities (which covers certain conveyancing transactions - for example preparing and lodging transfers or charges with the Land Registry - and preparing instruments relating to court proceedings, such as pleadings)
  • probate activities, namely preparing papers on which to seek or challenge grant of probate or letters of administration
  • the administration of oaths.

However, the requirements to have a practising certificate are wider. These are set out in sections 1 and 1A of the Solicitors Act 1974 and Rule 9 of the SRA Practice Framework Rules 2011. Section 1 provides that a person will not be qualified to "act as a solicitor" (broadly, holding oneself out as a solicitor or doing work which solicitors are entitled to do, namely the reserved legal activities) unless:

  • they have been admitted as a solicitor
  • their name is on the roll; and
  • they have a current practising certificate issued by us (renewable on 1 November each year).

It is an offence for an unqualified person (someone who is not both on the roll and in possession of a current practising certificate) to act as, or pretend to be, a solicitor.4  

A solicitor will also need a practising certificate if they are on the roll and employed to provide legal services by a person who:

  • is qualified to act as a solicitor; or
  • is authorised to provide reserved legal services (such as a barrister, legal executive, or a law firm regulated by us or another approved (legal) regulator).5

We can decide to issue a practising certificate free from conditions, with conditions or refuse altogether.

Pathways to admission as a solicitor

There are a number of pathways that candidates can follow to become admitted as a solicitor.

The education and training stages

At present the majority of candidates follow the prescribed6 pathway, which involves both an education and a training stage.

The education (or academic) stage involves either:

  • a qualifying law degree (QLD); or
  • any other UK degree followed by the Common Professional Examination (CPE) (also known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)).

The training (or vocational) stage involves:

  • the Legal Practice Course (LPC); and
  • a required period of recognised training (PRT), which is work-based or 'on the job' training; and
  • completion of the Professional Skills Course (PSC).

Candidates who can demonstrate that they have acquired the same knowledge and skills through 'equivalent means'7 may be exempt from the requirement to complete some or all of the education and training stages (see below).

Apprenticeship route to qualification

This new option, introduced in 2015, allows a person to qualify as a solicitor if they meet certain requirements. These are set out in the assessment plan for the Apprenticeship Standard for a Solicitor (England) or the Apprenticeship Framework for the Level 7 Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Practice (Wales).8 The apprenticeship route takes between five and six years, and includes passing an assessment, which can either be conducted by us or approved by us as suitable for the purpose. Completing the apprenticeship is demonstrated through an Apprenticeship Completion Certificate.

Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS)

Overseas lawyers (including those from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) and English and Welsh barristers can qualify through the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS). Exemptions from the QLTS assessments are available in certain circumstances (see below).

A flow chart summarising the steps to admission.

Solicitor pathways to admission

Solicitor pathways to admission

Equivalent means

Rationale and criteria

We recognise that specific knowledge and skills outcomes can be achieved by 'equivalent means', that is, through other assessed and work-based learning. The candidate will then be exempt from our requirement to complete all or part of the prescribed education and training on the basis that the relevant outcome has already been achieved.

Exemptions fall into two main categories (the details of which are set out in Annex A):

  • Block exemptions – this is where we have pre-assessed other professional education, training or experience against the outcomes of our standard education and training route and are satisfied that these will always meet some or all of our criteria. For example, certain exemptions can be claimed by members of CILEx as we have decided that their qualifications meet our education and training outcomes for admission as a solicitor. If a candidate claims a block exemption, and falls within the block exemption criteria, we can simply go on to grant or refuse admission, provided they meet our character and suitability requirements.

  • Case by case exemptions - these are where a candidate applies to us on a case by case basis for us to decide if other learning, training or experience they have is equivalent to all or part of the education and training requirements to be a solicitor.

In both cases we will grant exemptions where:

  1. the level, standard, volume and content of prior learning achieved is equivalent to all, or part, of a particular stage of education and training; and
  2. there is relevant, sufficient and adequate evidence of such achievement. The content of that evidence will vary depending on the nature of the exemption.

For more details see our Equivalent Means information pack.

Determining the outcome of a case by case application for an exemption

All candidates must provide details and sufficient evidence of their knowledge and skills to enable us to evaluate whether or not they have met the outcomes claimed, for example, certificates of academic qualifications or records of supervised training verified by their supervisor.

For certain resource intensive applications,9 we will send the information received to an external assessor for evaluation. The assessor will recommend an outcome in a report (which is not binding on us) and the candidate can make representations based on that report. We will consider the assessor's report and any representations, along with all information received, and make a decision as to whether equivalence has been suitably demonstrated.

Example 1

Candidate A had completed a qualifying law degree and the LPC. Since her LPC, she had spent another three years dealing with legal claims with an insurance company. She applied for that experience to be recognised as equivalent to undertaking a Period of Recognised Training (PRT).

The assessor raised concerns relating to the absence of any supervision of the candidate throughout the period of experience claimed. Effective supervision of the candidate is a fundamental part of the requirement for recognised training as provided by Regulation 12.1 of the SRA Training Regulations 2014. In addition the candidate had only gained experience in two, and not three, distinct areas of English and Welsh law as required by Regulation 12.1.

The decision maker refused the application to recognise the candidate's experience as equivalent to undertaking a PRT. The decision maker considered there was insufficient evidence provided to demonstrate that the necessary outcomes had been met. There was no clear alignment or equivalence between the experience evidenced within the application and the work which would have been performed by a trainee within a PRT.

Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS)

Qualified lawyers in recognised foreign jurisdictions10 can qualify as a solicitor under the QLTS without having to complete the full education and training requirements. The scheme also applies to barristers qualified in England and Wales who have completed pupillage and want to qualify as a solicitor.11

The QLTS assessment comprises both a Multiple Choice Test (MCT) and an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). Applications for the assessments are made direct to the QLTS provider. 12

Certain lawyers,13 including those who have completed the LPC, may be entitled to an exemption from some or all of the QLTS assessment. This will depend upon the extent to which the candidate has already met the learning outcomes required of a newly qualified solicitor (known as the Day One Outcomes). Applications for these exemptions will be determined on a case by case basis (see below).

In addition, we have certain 'block exemptions'. For example, we are required to admit Registered European Lawyers (RELs) who have met the period of practice requirement set out in Article 10 of the Establishment Directive.14 We also grant some exemptions to solicitors of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on the basis we have pre-assessed their qualifications against the outcomes under the QLTS. More details about the block exemptions are set out at Annex B.

Applications for case by case exemptions from all or part of the QLTS assessments are made to us. Decisions to grant exemptions are made in a similar way to exemptions for equivalent means. Where we consider the candidate demonstrates the required knowledge, skills and experience in some, but not all, areas, we will grant a partial exemption. The candidate will need to undertake the remaining parts of the assessment in the normal way.

Example 2

Candidate B was an admitted Barrister of Gibraltar seeking admission through the QLTS. She applied for exemption from all of the MCT and all of the OSCE. Our external assessor recommended that exemptions be granted in part for both the MCT and the OSCE. The assessor was of the view that the candidate had demonstrated sufficient knowledge of eight of the MCT outcomes, including jurisdiction and property law, and one of the OSCE outcomes (litigation).

We granted an exemption in respect of those outcomes. The candidate was still required to undertake assessment in relation to three MCT outcomes and three OSCE outcomes.

Character and suitability

In order to be admitted as a solicitor, all candidates must meet our character and suitability requirements.

Our Suitability Test highlights the issues that we take into account when assessing candidates, for example: criminal convictions or cautions, and regulatory or other offences or findings; financial history including insolvency; or evidence of behaviour which indicates a lack of honesty and integrity. We will consider each application on its own facts to establish whether the candidate has the level of honesty, integrity and the professionalism expected and does not pose a risk to the public or to confidence in the delivery of legal services.

The candidate is required to disclose all matters set out in the Suitability Test, including convictions or cautions which are 'spent' under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. However, we are not entitled to ask for disclosure of a limited category of convictions such as very old or trivial ones (which are known as protected).15

We consider some issues to be more serious than others. For example, some, such as criminal convictions for dishonesty or fraud offences, will result in refusal unless there are exceptional circumstances. We will consider whether circumstances are “exceptional” on a case by case basis: they do not need to be unique but must be unusual and cannot arise regularly or be commonplace. So for example, the test is unlikely to be met for a driving conviction caused solely by the stress of a relationship breakdown but it may be if the conviction resulted from taking someone urgently to hospital with a life threatening injury.

Other issues, such as certain other criminal offences and cautions for dishonesty offences are, nonetheless, likely to result in refusal. Others, where there is no such presumption, we may nonetheless refuse, such as other cautions and police warnings or penalty notices. In those cases, we will consider whether it is proportionate to refuse, looking at for example:

  • evidence that the candidate is rehabilitated
  • the circumstances or nature of the issue (for example, if the event happened a long time ago, was relatively minor, there were mitigating circumstances)
  • whether the evidence suggests that the issue was a one off, or whether there are multiple events indicating a pattern of behaviour
  • whether notwithstanding the issues, we are satisfied of their current and future good character and suitability.

For example, a candidate may demonstrate that in the years since being made subject to an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA), they have complied with that arrangement, paid all sums required under the arrangement on time and in full and have managed their finances appropriately since. We will therefore be satisfied that they have fully rehabilitated, are of good character and that it would be disproportionate to refuse admission.

Where a suitability issue is not declared but is identified from our screening checks, we will raise this with the candidate. If no full and satisfactory explanation is provided, we will construe this as dishonest behaviour and this is likely to result in a refusal of the application. We may also consider there has been a failure to disclose where a suitability issue is declared prior to admission that should have been declared previously.

We assess character and suitability at two stages of the process.

Before the PRT

If the candidate is aware that they have an issue that may lead to us rejecting their application on the grounds of character and suitability, they must disclose this to us as early as possible, before they start a PRT.

A candidate may also chose to apply to us for an early assessment, before starting the LPC, if there is a risk that we may later refuse to admit them because of a character and suitability issue.

In both cases, the candidate cannot start a PRT until we have decided that they are suitable.

If a new character and suitability issue arises after the candidate has started their PRT, they must inform us straight away. We may decide the PRT can continue or we may suspend it pending our assessment of suitability. If we decide that the candidate is not suitable, we may refuse to recognise some or all of the training undertaken during the period or impose conditions, for example to limit aspects of their training environment to protect clients.16  

On admission

All candidates need to go through pre-admission screening to assess their suitability. They should apply at least eight weeks before their preferred admission date. That screening verifies their identity and checks for criminal history and adverse financial issues (such as bankruptcy, individual voluntary arrangements and county court judgments).

Where the candidate is authorised by another regulator, the candidate must provide a certificate of good character from that regulator dated within the previous 3 months. If the candidate has lived outside of the UK for a period of 12 months or more in the last 5 years, they will also need to provide an overseas criminal record check.

Example 3

Candidate C disclosed in her application that she had two drink-driving convictions from 1995 and 1996.

She provided a statement of events explaining her circumstances at the time. She explained that her mother passed away unexpectedly in 1995 and she divorced later that year. She began drinking heavily and this led to the convictions.

The candidate also provided what she believed demonstrated rehabilitation. This included a certificate for completion of a drink-driving course; a copy of her electronic driving licence, which showed no further driving offences; and a positive attitude towards the offences, including the insight she had gained in the 20 years since the last conviction and how she changed her lifestyle since. Two supportive references were also received from solicitors that had supervised the candidate for a number of years and they confirmed they were aware of the convictions.

We considered that the candidate had demonstrated successful rehabilitation. Twenty years had passed since the last conviction with no further incident. This was supported by her driving licence and the referees. The candidate had provided evidence that she had completed a course aimed at helping with rehabilitation. She had also taken responsibility for her actions and demonstrated she had learnt from the experience.

We decided that the candidate did not pose a risk to the public or their confidence in the delivery of legal services and granted h application on the grounds that she could be considered of good character and suitable for admission as a solicitor.

Example 4

As part of his application for admission, Candidate D disclosed two criminal convictions. The first occurred 10 years ago relating to fraudulent use of a vehicle licence for which he received a £10,000 fine. The second occurred six years ago and related to undertaking a licensed activity without having appropriate insurance. He received a £385 fine and six penalty points on his driving licence.

The candidate did not disclose any of the convictions to us prior to commencing a PRT. He first disclosed the convictions on application for admission.

The candidate provided a statement of events explaining the circumstances of both the convictions. He explained that both offences were caused by his lack of diligence in checking he had the required documents for his activities. The candidate provided two character references in support of his application. We noted that the time which had lapsed since the convictions partially mitigated the risks posed by the candidate. The candidate also recognised the seriousness of the offences.

However, we considered his failure to disclose the criminal convictions prior to commencing his training impacted on his suitability to become a solicitor, as did the fact that the convictions themselves were dishonesty offences. There were no apparent mitigating circumstances for the failure to disclose. The non-disclosure was a serious breach and exacerbated the concerns about the candidate's honesty and probity.

We concluded that there was a risk to the public and to confidence in the delivery of legal services if the candidate's application for admission was granted. The candidate had failed to rebut the presumption that he had acted dishonestly in not disclosing the criminal convictions to us prior to his training contract. This was of particular significance in view of the fact that he had been convicted of fraud.

The application for admission was refused.

Decision on admission

We can decide to either grant the candidate's application for admission as a solicitor or refuse it. We will refuse if we are not satisfied that they have complied with our education and training requirements and/or of their character and suitability. We can impose a condition on their practising certificate, although not on their admission to the roll itself. Generally, when someone has met the requirements to be admitted, this means that there will be no grounds to impose a condition on their initial practising certificate.

Annex A – Equivalent means

Block exemptions

Block exemptions exist for individuals who have completed the specified education and training requirements of other legal regulators or professional bodies. These are set out below.

  1. CILEx

    Eligibility for full/partial exemption from the Common Professional Examination (CPE)

    If a person is a Chartered Legal Executive or Graduate of CILEx, they can claim full or partial exemption from the CPE if they have passed corresponding papers in the level six membership examinations.

    To claim a full exemption from the CPE, they should apply to us. For partial exemptions, applications should be made to a CPE provider.

    Exemption from the PRT

    If a person is a Chartered Legal Executive who has

    1. satisfied the requirements of the education stage through study or exemptions granted; and
    2. completed the LPC; and
    3. been engaged as a Chartered Legal Executive in the practice of law

      we will exempt them from the requirement to undertake a PRT. They will also be exempt from the elective elements of the Professional Skills Course. This exemption is automatic and they do not need to apply to us. However, when they apply to be admitted as a solicitor, they will need to provide us with evidence of their qualification as a Chartered Legal Executive.

     
  2. Assistant Justices' Clerks

    If a person is employed as an Assistant Justices' Clerk and they have:

    1. completed the education stage; and
    2. completed the LPC; and
    3. completed the core modules of the PSC; and
    4. before attending the LPC, have served for at least five years out of the last 10 years in the Magistrates' Courts Service as an Assistant Justices' Clerk

      we will exempt them from the requirement to complete a PRT and they are automatically exempt from the elective elements of the PSC. They do not need to apply to us for this exemption.

     

Case by case exemptions

We also provide for a number of exemptions based on the candidate's qualifications or experience.

  1. Partial qualification in an EU/EEA Member State outside of the UK (Morgenbesser17 applicants)

    If a person is an EU, EEA or Swiss national who is partially qualified in another EU/EEA Member State and they wish to qualify as a solicitor, they may apply to us to assess the equivalence of their professional qualifications against the outcomes required of a newly qualified solicitor. These outcomes are known as the Day One Outcomes.18  

    Candidates will need to provide us with evidence of their qualifications and experience, translated into English, where necessary.

    We may determine that the candidate must undertake further assessment or training to meet those Day One Outcomes that we are not satisfied they have met.

  2. Mature candidates

    Mature candidates may be eligible to commence the CPE without having a degree.

    We do not set age requirements around who we consider to be 'mature' students. We instead define mature students as people who wish to be eligible to commence the CPE based on work experience and general education.

    If a person has:

    • considerable experience or has shown exceptional ability in an academic, professional, business or administrative (for instance, several years of experience as a teacher, police officer, doctor, etc, at middle-management level or more senior); and
    • achieved a sufficient standard of general education (normally A-level passes sufficient to be granted admission to a full-time degree programme) then we may accept they are eligible to commence a CPE. It should be noted that a good command of both spoken and written English is required by providers for admission onto the CPE. These applications need to be made to us.
     
  3. Common Professional Examination (CPE)

    Full or partial exemption from the seven foundations of legal knowledge subjects in English and Welsh law, and from one further area of legal study in the CPE, may be granted if a candidate has already passed corresponding subjects within a degree they have been awarded. Applications for full exemption are made to us while applications for partial exemption must be made to the CPE provider.

  4. Legal Practice Course (LPC)

    Applications for exemption from all or both of either Stage 1 or Stage 2 of the LPC should be made to us. Applications for exemption for some part of either Stage 1 or Stage 2 should be made directly to the LPC provider. They consider them in accordance with their policy on Accreditation of Prior Learning.

    Graduates of either the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) are permitted exemptions from assessment in some areas of the LPC.

    BVC graduates are exempt from the following areas:

    • Stage 1 – Litigation, advocacy, drafting, practical legal research
    • Stage 2 – Two vocational electives.

    BPTC graduates are exempt from the following areas:

    • Stage 1 – Litigation, advocacy, drafting
    • Stage 2 – Two vocational electives

    Candidates will need to have successfully completed their BVC/BPTC not more than five years prior to their enrolment on the LPC.

    We do not consider applications for BPTC/BVC exemption or grant these exemptions ourselves. LPC providers may grant these exemptions to BPTC/BVC graduates but we do not require them to. Some providers may not offer these exemptions because of the nature of the academic award they make on successful completion of the LPC. It is also for each LPC provider to determine whether, in granting exemptions, the individual will study the course over less time or at a reduced fee.

  5. Professional Skills Course (PSC)

    We may grant to trainees, or others required to complete the PSC, exemptions from one or more of the core elements. The exemptions can be based on experience and/or training which covers the same ground as the PSC's Written Standards. These applications need to be made to us.

    The PSC is designed to build on the LPC, so completion of the LPC cannot be used as a basis to apply for exemptions from the core elements of the PSC.

    We can also grant exemptions from the elective subjects on the PSC. Courses in the following topics/subjects will count as PSC electives:

    • The shortened Accounts Course for trainees that have taken the Law Society Finals or the pre 1997 LPC
    • The courses leading to the Higher Rights of Audience Qualification

    If there are assessments as part of these courses, they do not have to be passed in order for the exemption to be available, as the PSC electives themselves have no assessments.

  6. Period of Recognised Training (PRT)

    A PRT is a period of work-based learning which is intended to achieve the following outcomes:

    • be supervised by solicitors and/or other individuals who have the necessary skills and experience to provide effective supervision, to ensure that the relevant learning and development opportunities and personal support are provided to enable the trainee to meet the Practice Skills Standards;
    • provide practical experience in at least three distinct areas of English and Welsh law and practice;
    • provide appropriate training to ensure that the trainee knows the requirements of the SRA Principles and is able to comply with them; and
    • include regular review and appraisal of the trainee's performance and development in respect of the Practice Skills Standards and the SRA Principles, and the trainee's record of training.

    We recognise that these outcomes may be achieved by individuals outside the framework of a formal training contract.

    Individuals may apply to us to recognise the equivalence of their professional qualifications and experience against the requirements for recognised training under Regulation 12 of the SRA Training Regulations 2014.

 

Annex B – QLTS

Block exemptions

  1. Solicitors of Northern Ireland / Republic of Ireland

    We have determined that, of the outcomes tested prior to admission, there are currently no areas of substantial difference between the law and practice of both Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland and that of England and Wales, save for that relating to the law and practice of land/property law. We have therefore agreed that:

    • For NI solicitors, provided the candidate has a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD) (which must by definition have included as one of its foundations the study of English and Welsh land law) and been admitted as a solicitor by the Law Society of Northern Ireland, we do not require them to pass any QLTS assessments. These candidates can apply directly for admission without needing to apply for any exemption.
    • For Republic of Ireland solicitors, the candidate has the choice of either:
      • completing the land/property elements of each of the QLTS assessments (for the OSCE this involves being assessed on property and probate, as the probate element is inextricably linked); or
      • completing the English Property Law module provided by the Law Society of Ireland before applying for admission.
       
     
  2. Registered European Lawyers (RELs)

    A candidate can apply for admission as a solicitor if:

    • they are a member of one of the legal professions listed in the European Establishment Directive; and
    • they are an EU national; and
    • as an established EU lawyer, they have been practising as a lawyer in the law of the United Kingdom "on a permanent basis" in the UK for three years or more; and
    • they have been registered with us as an REL for 3 years.

    These candidates can apply directly for admission without needing to apply for any exemption. If their registration as an REL is with a professional body other than the SRA (for example, the Bar Standards Board), they must register with us before their application for admission as a solicitor can be considered.

 

Notes

1. Section 3(1) Solicitors Act 1974.

2. There are some limited statutory exemptions - see section 19 and Schedule 3 Legal Services Act 2007. The SRA is the approved regulator for solicitors. The other approved regulators and professions can be viewed on the Legal Services Board website.

3. the full rights of practice of a solicitor are detailed at Rule 8.1 of the SRA Practice Framework Rules 2011.

4. Sections 20 and 21 Solicitors Act 1974.

5. Section 1A Solicitors Act states that in these circumstances the person will be deemed to be "acting as a solicitor" even if they otherwise would not be.

6. Regulation 2.1 SRA Training Regulations 2014 - Qualification and Provider Regulations (the Training Regulations).

7. Regulation 2.2 SRA Training Regulations 2014.

8. Regulation 2.5 SRA Training Regulations 2014.

9. At present applications for exemptions for equivalent means for a PRT, the LPC and Morganbesser candidates.

10. Read a list of the professions and jurisdictions we recognise as eligible for QLTS.

11. Both applications are made under the SRA Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme Regulations 2011.

12. to Kaplan QLTS at http://qlts.kaplan.co.uk.

13. Lawyers qualified in the EEA/EU/Switzerland and seeking to qualify via Directive 2005/36/EC (Recognition of Professional Qualifications); lawyers qualified in Northern Ireland or Scotland; and barristers who have qualified in England and Wales and have completed a pupillage.

14. Establishment of Lawyers Directive 98/5/EC.

15. Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975.

16. Regulation 6.8 SRA Training Regulations 2014.

17. Case C-313/01 Morgenbesser v Consiglio dell'Ordine degli avvocati di Genova (13 November 2003).

18. The 'Day One Outcomes' cover what is expected of a solicitor on admission. They form part of our training framework and can be found on our website.