Can you become a lawyer without going to law school?

Updated 20 March 2023

The traditional route for entry into the legal profession involves completing an undergraduate law degree (LLB) before undertaking professional training and work placement programmes to attain accreditation. Law is an attractive profession and some may look to enter it without having completed a law degree. It's important to know what options are open to you depending on your previous education if you wish to pursue law as a career. In this article, we answer the question 'Can you become a lawyer without law school?' and explore different routes to this career path.

Can you become a lawyer without law school?

The short answer to 'Can you become a lawyer without law school?', is yes. There are several routes available to people to become a lawyer without going to law school and obtaining an undergraduate law degree. Which route is best for you to take may vary depending on whether you have an undergraduate degree in some other, non-law subject and the timeframe you wish to qualify as a lawyer. Certain law firms with specific specialisations may even value lawyers with a non-law academic background.

Related: How long is law school? (With degree types and careers)

How to become a lawyer without law school

Many people may consider entering the legal profession after completing their undergraduate studies in another discipline. This involves a period of postgraduate study designed to catch them up to the same level of knowledge as people who studied for a law degree. The traditional route for graduate entry into law is as follows:

1. Complete a law conversion course

If you want to become a lawyer without law school, the two most widely recognised law conversion courses are the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Common Professional Examination (CPE). The CPE is 'common' in that the course is common to both those wishing to qualify as solicitors and those wishing to become barristers. Conversion courses look to condense the same content and knowledge obtained through a three-year law degree into one year of full-time or two years of part-time study. A typical week of full-time study consists of approximately 45 hours of lectures, tutorials and self-study. The course culminates in a three-hour exam on each subject.

The GDL provides graduates with a basic foundation in legal theory and covers seven core modules:

  • contract law

  • criminal law

  • equity and trusts

  • EU law

  • land law

  • public law

  • tort law

You can also study an eighth module. This may vary depending on the institution you train at and what options are available, but it can include topics such as:

  • immigration law

  • legal ethics

  • patent and intellectual property law

Related: Types of degrees and how they can influence your career

2. Complete the Bar course of Legal Practice Course

Successful completion of a conversion course such as the GDL qualifies graduates for entry onto the Bar course for barristers or Legal Practice Course (LPC) for solicitors. These courses aim to bridge the gap between legal theory and professional practice if you are considering becoming a lawyer without law school.

The LPC is where graduate trainee solicitors learn and understand the basics of professional practice. This can include things like how to conduct client meetings and draft contracts. The length of the course can vary depending on where you study, but full-time courses typically take one year to complete and part-time two years.

Related: FAQ: Should I be a lawyer? (With skills and requirements)

3. Complete qualifying work experience and register

After completing the LPC or Bar course, your next step is to seek practical training. Admission as a solicitor requires two years of qualifying work experience. This can include a training contract.

Once you've completed your qualifying work experience, you're able to apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). After passing the SRA's character and suitability requirements, the authority can admit you to the position of solicitor.

Related: How to become a solicitor without a law degree (with FAQs)

How much does the graduate route cost?

The cost of a conversion course and LPC can vary depending on where you choose to study and how you structure your training. In general, the GDL can cost anywhere between £6,000 to around £12,000 for one year of full-time study. Similarly, the LPC may cost approximately £10,000 to £18,000 depending on which institution you train at.

Funding options are available for each course. Indeed, some law firms may sponsor their trainee future solicitors to complete the conversion course and LPC. Students intending to pursue a career at the Bar may also consider applying for a scholarship from the Inns of Court.

Related: How to write a scholarship application letter (with example)

What is the SQE?

The system for graduate entry into the legal profession is set to change as the SRA introduces the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in autumn 2021. Unlike the traditional LPC, the SQE doesn't require graduates to complete a conversion course before undertaking the examinations. Pursuing some sort of training may still be advisable, as it can equip graduates with the required legal knowledge to complete the two stages of the SQE. Some institutions may be planning to introduce SQE-specific preparation courses.

The SQE essentially plans to replace the GLD/LPC route of entry into law. Non-law graduates undertake their SQE tests (potentially after some form of preparatory SQE training), then continue down the route of qualifying legal work experience and SRA recognition. For individuals who have already started a conversion course, LPC or training contract before 31st August 2021, there are transition arrangements to continue down this previous training and qualification route until 31st December 2032.

Related: The best degrees for lawyers and how to choose your degree

Becoming a lawyer without any first degree

It is not necessary to complete university training to become a lawyer. There are alternative routes to becoming qualified to work as a solicitor that requires no university training, but they may take longer than more traditional routes. The two main alternative routes are the CILEX route and legal apprenticeships:


The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) is the largest professional body for legal executives, paralegals and other legal practitioners. If you already work in a legal office you can join CILEX and seek to become a legal executive. You can also join if you have at least four GCSEs, including English, or the equivalent qualifications, pass exams to qualify as a member and then fellow of CILEX and work in a CILEX-approved legal job. CILEX then provides you with the opportunity to complete qualifications up to the equivalent level of an honours degree.

You can complete a level 3 qualification, set and assessed at A-Level and work to complete a level 6 qualification, assessed at the honours level. It is also a requirement to complete three years of qualifying employment to qualify as a legal executive. You can complete this qualifying employment after your training, or alongside it. Any work completed in a legal environment while studying counts towards this qualifying employment, meaning you can earn while you learn. The CILEX route allows you to obtain the required qualifications for entry into the LPC and complete a training contract to become a solicitor.

Related: FAQ: how much does a solicitor make? (With job information)

Legal apprenticeships

Legal apprenticeships combine paid work and training at a legal firm with part-time study, working towards a professional qualification. Apprenticeship schemes are government-backed, and employer-designed and provide the opportunity to train to become qualified solicitors. Solicitor apprenticeships allow you to earn a salary while completing classroom learning and becoming qualified to the same standard as solicitors who undergo other routes of training. The solicitor apprenticeship is a level 7 programme aimed at post-A-Level students, chartered legal executives and paralegals and covers the same content as a law degree and LPC, enabling apprentices to obtain an undergraduate or master's degree in law.

You can reduce this period of study if you progress to apprenticeships from other legal qualifications. Advanced levels of apprenticeship may provide training over five or six years, which is roughly the same time frame as qualifying via a non-law degree and postgraduate conversion and training. Entry requirements for apprenticeships can vary, with individual law firms setting their own minimum requirements for their schemes. The typical structure of an apprenticeship sees you work 30 hours per week under the supervision of a mentor carrying out practical legal work, such as case research, client interviews and drafting legal documents.

Related: How to write an apprenticeship cover letter (with examples)

Advantages of entering the legal profession without a law degree

There may be advantages to becoming a lawyer without law school or going the traditional route of studying for a law degree. If you complete an undergraduate degree in a different discipline before undertaking a law conversion course, you're able to show employers a strong work ethic coupled with an established record of academic excellence. Furthermore, as the law conversion courses can be intense, challenging periods of study, successfully completing them demonstrates a dedication to a career in law. Specialist law firms may also value solicitors with training in a different technical discipline like science or engineering.

Related: What is work ethic and why is it important?

Certain firms may also value legal apprentices. Again, people looking to undertake a potentially long period of study and training show a commitment to the legal profession from early in their professional journey. Firms providing apprenticeship training also have the opportunity to mould young solicitors in a way that best fits the needs of their law firm, ensuring they create qualified, competent lawyers that can serve the needs of their clients most effectively.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.

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