Law for Non-Law
The legal sector is open to graduates from both law and non-law degree programmes, with many firms recruiting roughly 50% of their trainees from non-law degrees each year. There are many roles available within the legal sector, however most graduates who pursue a career in this area work as a Solicitor.
This page provides a summary of how to qualify as a Solicitor as a non-law student or graduate. If you are interested in becoming a Barrister or exploring other legal roles please visit our Law and Legal Services page.
To qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales you will need to sit and pass the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The SQE is not a course, but a series of examinations taken in two stages. Watch the video below to find out more about the SQE and its different components.
To summarise, there are four main components to the SQE route. You must:
- have a degree in any subject.
- pass both stages of the SQE assessment.
- complete two years' full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience.
- pass the character and suitability requirements set out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
How to apply for law conversion and SQE courses
Under the SQE non-law graduates do not have to study a law conversion course or SQE preparation course. However, doing so will give you the best chance of passing the SQE. If you would like to apply for a conversion course you should apply in the final year of your degree. You can also apply as a graduate, in the academic year before you plan to study.
All applications for full-time places are made through the Central Applications Board (CAB), while part-time applications go directly to course providers.
For information on when and how to apply, as well as funding visit the CAB's frequently asked questions page.
Find out more about the SQE
To find out more about the SQE and qualifying as a Solicitor as a non-law student visit the websites below:
Law is a highly competitive field, so it is important to understand what a career in this area will involve and carefully reflect on whether this is something you would be good at, and enjoy. Listed below are some sites which we would recommend you use for this research. Gaining legal experience will also be very important and we have provided suggestions for how to secure this in the section below.
Working as a Solicitor
- What Lawyers do - provides an excellent overview of the legal sector, including the difference between a solicitor and a barrister.
- Solicitor job profile
- Key skills for lawyers
Working in the legal sector
- Reality check - this page outlines the costs involved in qualifying, and the level of competition when applying to work in the legal sector.
- Facts and figures
- Types of law firm
- Different types of law firm
- Find out about different law firms
- Legal 500 - leading guide to law firms (includes in-house departments)
Before reading this section, make sure you have watched the video under the 'How to qualify as a solicitor' heading above. The video explains the importance of work experience for graduates qualifying via the SQE route.
Work experience is essential in order to know if a legal career will suit your interests, skills and motivations. It is also a mandatory requirement to qualify as a Solicitor via the SQE, as you must obtain at least two years' qualifying work experience.
There are many ways you can gain legal experience, from informal work experience to longer internships, called vacation schemes. Below we have listed the main types of legal experience available. Some of these opportunities are particularly competitive, so use the resources in the ‘Making legal applications’ section below before you submit your application.
Law firm open days and insight schemes
Many law firms run open days/insight days for undergraduates and graduates, both from law and non-law degrees. These involve you spending a day at a law firm, where you will usually attend talks from experienced lawyers, trainees and/or the firm’s graduate recruitment team. Open days and insight schemes are a great way to get to know a firm and build contacts. Some of these opportunities are aimed at specific year groups or non-law students/graduates. You will need to apply in order to be considered and can find details of these days on firms’ websites or by using the links below:
Informal legal experience
Many students find legal experience for the first time by speculatively approaching a firm and asking for work experience. If you use this approach, only contact law firms that do not offer a vacation scheme. This generally means approaching smaller and high-street firms.
First you will need to identify a law firm to contact. A good starting point is to use The Law Society’s Find a Solicitor tool which will help you to locate firms in your area. You can then send a tailored CV and cover letter/email to enquire about work experience.
These are formal, paid internships offered by law firms. Vacation schemes are typically run three times a year: in winter (over Christmas), spring (over Easter) and summer. They are highly competitive, so it is essential that you put the time and effort when applying.
The following sites list many of the key deadlines but it is advisable to check with individual firms directly:
- Work placement scheme deadlines – you can filter deadlines by Winter, Spring or Summer schemes
- Vacation scheme deadlines
A training contract is a two-year, paid position where you work at a law firm or an organisation that employs solicitors. A training contract will satisfy the requirement for two years' qualifying work experience. Many firms will continue to offer training contracts under the SQE.
Virtual work experience
Since the pandemic many law firms now offer virtual work experience. This is certainly no substitute for in-person experience in a firm, but it will provide you with something to add to your CV.
- The Forage
- Bright Network - Internship Experience UK - this is a three-day virtual internship programme which takes place every summer.
Every autumn, the Career Zone runs an annual Law Fair. The fair is open to all students, regardless of their year group or discipline – everyone is welcome.
If you are a current student consider joining the University's Law Society which is open to both law and non-law students. They provide employability opportunities for students wanting to pursue both the solicitor and barrister routes.
Work experience outside of a law firm
Gaining experience in a company's legal department can be a great addition to your CV. Read more about working as an in-house lawyer.
When applying for vacation schemes and training contracts, it is highly likely that you will be asked questions to determine your level of commercial awareness. When applied to the legal sector, this means having a solid understanding of how a law firm operates, the work that they do, and who their clients are. Even if you are not applying for a commercial law firm, commercial awareness is still important to build and demonstrate in your applications.
Use the links below to develop your commercial awareness:
- What is commercial awareness?
- The Ultimate Guide to Commercial Awareness
- Commercial Awareness Hub
- Commercial question - a weekly article written by a leading firm designed to get you thinking about commercial issues
- Commercial awareness information
- Career Mentor Scheme and Ask An Alum
- Attend the Law Fair where you can meet firms and legal recruiters.
- Legal industry report - My Career Zone Digital resource.
There are also a number of useful episodes relating to law careers over on the Career Zone podcast:
- In conversation with Luke Parry Legal Director (Global Licensing) at Adidas
- In conversation with Daniel Femi Alemede; Associate, Norton Rose Fullbright
- In conversation with Maples Group: City Experience, Island Lifestyle
- In conversation with Pan Papakyprianou, Associate at Linklaters
There’s no doubt about it, applying for a career in the legal sector is competitive. Each firm or organisation will have its own requirements, so just like with any role, you need to be clear on what these are before you start working on an application. Use the resources below to ensure your create a strong application
- Application Hub - excellent site with various articles to help you make your applications stand out.
- Making successful applications - some useful points to bear in mind before you apply.
- targejobs Law - find articles on topics including how to build a strong law CV and application towards the bottom of this page.
- Watson Glaser test - this is a psychometric test used by some law firms. For practice tests visit JobTestPrep, The Lawyer Portal and Assessment Day.
- What are employers in the Law sector looking for? - although this episode of the Career Zone podcast was recorded in December 2021, it covers a lot of relevant tips for students applying to the legal sector.
- You can get feedback on a CV, application and/or cover letter by booking an appointment with the Career Zone.
- For more general advice on CVs, cover letters, applications and interviews, visit our Help with pages.
- Aspiring Solicitors - their primary aim is to increase diversity in the legal profession.
- Black Lawyers Directory - includes Black Letter Law publication, which showcases the achievements of Black, Asian and other ethnic minorities within the legal profession. Also provides networking, training and much more.
- Discuss Programme - aimed at students from lower socioeconomic groups who are interested in commercial law. The programme is open to students from any discipline in their first year or second year of a four year course at any university.
- The Law Society Diversity Access Scheme - scholarship programme designed to address key barriers to the solicitors’ profession faced by those from less advantaged backgrounds.
- Diversty Access Schemes - lists many diversity and access schemes.
- Supporting Equality and Diversity - we have pulled together information and advice on common equality and diversity issues you may face, sources of support and positive employers and programmes they offer.