A big shakeup is pending in the way in which individuals qualify as solicitors with the introduction of what is snappily called “the solicitor’s qualifying exam”. We thought we would take a look back at how people have qualified as solicitors over the last two or three hundred years.
It currently takes most people six years to qualify as a solicitor including three years of a degree course, one year doing the SQE and two years of training with a firm of solicitors. If you are not a Law Graduate then you can add an extra year to that.
Records show that by the 17th Century, solicitors were a distinct profession in their own right although they probably existed for some while by then. Around this time, men (and they were only men) began to operate as solicitors in partnership with each other. It became customary for new entrants to the profession to work for solicitors and gain the experience as “Articled Clerks”. At this stage there was no regulation or requirement to complete articles, but this became the norm.
The Attorneys and Solicitors Act 1728 first introduced the requirement that no one could practise as a solicitor unless his name was on the Roll of solicitors. No one could practise as a solicitor unless he had undertaken an Articled Clerkship for at least five years.
Over the next century, the time that had to be served in Articles was reduced but only for Graduates from Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin, Durham and London Universities.
The Law Society came into existence in 1825 and by 1877 had responsibility for administering exams before individuals were admitted as solicitors.
Women only became able to practise as solicitors in 1919 and the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor, Carrie Morrison, was admitted in 1922. The Solicitors Act 1922 made it a requirement for all Articled Clerks who had not, by then, completed a law degree or had under ten years’ experience to undertake a full year of study at the Law Society’s School of Law or a small number of other recognised institutions outside London. This was the first time in which some sort of academic qualification became compulsory. By the 1970s most solicitors would have a degree before entering articles but it was still possible to qualify through serving a longer period of articles, usually five years. There are many solicitors still around who qualified by this route.
By the late 20th Century, the concept of Articled Clerks was done away with and training contracts became the current description. This bring us up to date where the norm is a law degree followed by a year of “law school” followed by two years of training “on the job”. There are other routes to qualification especially for those who are already qualified as Legal Executives.
The SQE is expected to replace the current route to qualification in 2021. As ever, things continue to get more complicated!
Oh and 100 years on from it becoming lawful for women to become solicitors, today, 50.2% of practising solicitors are women.