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How to become a Solicitor in Scotland

One of the most popular ways to get into law is through studying at University. Gaining a Bachelor of Laws (or LLB for short) is usually the first step towards a successful career as a practicing solicitor in Scotland. Ten Scottish universities currently offer the LLB as an undergraduate course, including The University of Glasgow, The University of Edinburgh, Robert Gordon University and the University of Abertay. Gaining a place on one of these degree courses though can be hard and you’ll have to work hard to meet the tough entry requirements. If you’re lucky enough to get in, most people opt to study law full-time but some universities offer the course on a part-time or even distance-learning basis. If you have a lot of commitments or are changing careers this can make all the difference.

For the majority of people the single honours law degree is the most sensible option. Over four years you’ll learn all the basics of practicing law in Scotland. However it is possible to complete the LLB quicker. For example, if you decide on an ordinary degree you’ll be able to complete the course in three years. Similarly, if you already have a degree you can fast track your studies and complete the LLB in as little as two years. For anyone thinking about a career change, knowing you can gain your law degree in half the usual time is a great motivator.

But even if you can’t do the LLB or don’t want to study in the traditional way, you can still qualify to practice by working directly with a Scottish solicitor. Instead of going to uni, would-be solicitors enter into a three-year pre-diploma training contract with a Scottish solicitor. Concentrating on specific areas, you can gain a wealth of knowledge in a relatively short space of time. At the end of the contract, trainees then sit The Law Society of Scotland’s professional exams. If you can juggle full-time work with serious study this might be the route for you. But just like LLB graduates, you’ll then have to complete a Diploma before you can start working professionally.

Once initial training is over every would-be solicitor in Scotland has to study for a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice. Competition for places is rife, as only six Scottish universities offer the course. These are the University of Aberdeen, The University of Glasgow, Robert Gordon University, the University of Edinburgh, The University of Strathclyde and the University of Dundee. It’s also worth remembering that entry is based on your LLB grades. So if you haven’t performed well in your degree, the chances of being offered a good place are slim. 

Unlike the LLB, the Diploma course focuses on the more practical side of becoming a solicitor. Using tutorials, workshops and seminars, would-be solicitors learn all about the skills needed in the Scottish legal profession. The workload for the Diploma can be intense and as well as a full timetable, you’ll spend hours pouring over books. On the up side, the course usually only lasts a year after which students move on to the last step in becoming a solicitor – the traineeship.

By the time you get to this stage, you’ll have a very good understanding of what it takes to practice law in Scotland. The traineeship is designed to sharpen your skills and give you real experience of working within a law firm. Lasting two years, trainees are usually placed in private practice solicitors’ firms which can be anywhere in Scotland. Under the watchful eye of a supervising solicitor, trainees get a real taste of everyday life in a law firm. Some traineeships focus on very specific areas of the law, others cover more general areas – it really depends on the firm you’re placed with. But whatever your focus, you’ll have to keep a detailed weekly log of your work and discuss this on a regular basis with your supervisor. Finally, trainees also have to complete 60 hours of continual professional education over the two years. Once your traineeship is up, you are a fully qualified solicitor able to practice in Scotland.

If you are already a qualified solicitor who studied outside of Scotland, you’ll need to sit a Transfer Test to be able to practice. Tests are open to solicitors from other part of the UK as well as the European Union. Unlike the majority of law exams, the Transfer Test is an open book – meaning you can take your own books and notes into the test with you. If you qualified outside the EU, it’s best to contact The Law Society of Scotland to check what requirements you will need to meet before you can start working. As a fully qualified, practicing Solicitor in Scotland you will also need to hold a Practising Certificate (PC). Lasting one year, a full PC costs around £550 though new solicitors only pay half for the first three years of practice. 

Just like any other profession, getting your first job as a solicitor is a big step onto the career ladder. There are plenty of law firms throughout Scotland who take on newly qualified solicitors every year. No matter what your speciality is, you’ll find companies which deal explicitly in your area of interest. Nevertheless, the last couple of years has been tough for the law industry and you’ll have to be prepared to stand out from the crowd to ensure you get your foot in the door.  

Once you’ve started practicing as a solicitor you can expect to enjoy a long and varied career. Unlike many other professions, continual professional development is just part of the job – which not only enhances your expertise but also helps to keep you up-to-date with the latest industry developments.

Qualifying as a solicitor in Scotland does take time but the rewards are worth it. Within a few short years of practice you could be well on your way to becoming a successful and well-known professional.

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