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3rd class degree holders - advice from Legal Recruitment Consultants

07/05/08 Third class degree – should I be looking to become a lawyer?

A question we are asked quite regularly by law students is whether they should be looking to start a legal career if they only have a third class degree (sometimes this can be a 2:2 as well).

If you have a third class degree it is important to bear in mind the main issue, which is that quite a few firms, if not the vast majority, use the class of a degree as a benchmark to determine whether or not to shortlist that person for interview. Third class degree applicants are very easy to filter, as it is the perfect excuse to get rid of a reasonably sized number of applicants without needing to read the CV. If you see it from the firm’s perspective, if you have 100 CVs for one training contract position then filtering them out via this method is an easy way of reducing the number without needing to do very much work at all or think about it.

So I suppose in one sense, it is so difficult to find a training contract with a third class degree, it is possibly next to impossible. There is almost a feeling within the legal profession that if you have not achieved academically you are unlikely to achieve as a lawyer and therefore there is some justification in not considering third class applicants. After all, if you could choose between a candidate with a 2:1 degree, good A level results, and a steady and fairly successful academic career with a bit of work experience or someone with a third class degree, no work experience and who has struggled through their A levels, I’m sure I know who I would choose.

That said, it is not impossible. If you have a look for example on you will see that a third class degree graduate has written to us to say to other people not to give up hope, that she has managed to qualify as a solicitor. However, I would say that this is the exception to the norm. if you have a third class degree your struggle is going to be that twice that of someone with a 2:1 or a 2:2 and you may never actually qualify as a solicitor. It is only those that have their determination to succeed who would actually manage to find a training contract, and the rest of the applicants disappear.

However, when I was lecturing last year on careers I was astonished to find a good number of students doing a legal practice course who had a third class degree, and I was very surprised to see this as these students were going to struggle to find training contracts, yet were spending many thousands of pounds on the cost of training. Not only that, but very few of them had work experience or shown that many signs on their CVs that they had any enthusiasm or determination to succeed as lawyers.

The main advice I can give is not to give up hope, but to be aware that to succeed now having achieved a third class degree you will have to work two, three or four times as hard as anyone else, and it may take a very long time indeed.

Instead, doing a master’s degree to counterbalance the third class degree is probably counterproductive in the vast majority of cases. Firms are unlikely to ignore the third class degree and consider the master’s degree as an alternative.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment ( He regularly commentates and writes on the state of the legal profession, legal careers and law students, and can be contacted for press comments or free careers advice at


Anonymous said…
Dear Mr Fagan

I read with interest your article of 7 May regarding 3rd class degrees, I have to admit that I was surprised to see that the Institute’s route into law was not mentioned in that article. In fact, not seeing it mentioned set me off on a quest to see if I could find mention of the route to becoming a Legal Executive at all. Whilst I was eventually successful I was a little disappointed with the mention that ILEX got and thought I’d drop you a line to try and boost our presence.

We have a 24,000+ membership, many of whom are Fellows, working alongside solicitors.

We are currently in the process of redeveloping our qualifications to make them more customer focused and to allow individuals to specialise at an earlier stage.

Part of my role, involves travelling to Universities/schools/careers fairs to give advice to the students on alternatives. I am still amazed at how many undergraduates have never heard of Legal Executives, but I am never surprised to have them returning to my stand, with class mates who cannot believe that there is actually an alternative to the LPC/ training contract route.

Anyone with an LLB that is less than 7 years old (regardless of grade) may apply to ILEX for full exemption from the entire law syllabus of the professional qualification. In order to gain fast track Membership (M.Inst.L.Ex) they need only complete some practice examinations (which can be done over one year part time). In order to reach Fellowship, they currently have to complete 5 years qualifying employment, work under the supervision of a Barrister, Solicitor, Legal Executive or Licensed Conveyancer. (NB This 5 year rule is under review).

You are right in saying that Fellows of ILEX do have more limited rights of audience than solicitors however, we have recently launched an advanced course entitles an individual (upon successful completion) to become a Legal Executive Advocate, this status offers higher rights in the family, civil and crown courts.

The Legal Services Act will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the profile of the Legal Executive. Work is already underway to secure litigation rights and as you will already be aware, the Act makes provision for individuals, including Legal Executives to become partners in firms. Legal Executives may also be appointed as district judges.

I’m sure that you will agree that there is much merit in promoting this route into law, students with law degrees all too often fall by the wayside having paid thousands in fees up front for no guarantee of employment in the legal sector. ILEX has always offered students a vocational route into law; it also offers hope to LLB and LLB/LPC graduates who could use their qualifications (regardless of grade) as part or full exemption from the ILEX professional courses and can become fully qualified lawyers.

We have a number of websites which give full information on all of the above: (under redevelopment but the current site is still available)

I have been with ILEX for 4 years, I am coming across an increasing number of people who know what a Legal Executive is and is able to do. Many of the law graduates that I meet (who are now in practice), tell me that they wished they’d known about this route before. My colleagues and I do our best to raise the Institute’s profile and would appreciate any help you could offer in this regard.

Kind regards

Lynne Squires
Anonymous said…
I am from Malaysia and I graduated with a third class degree from the University of Sheffield two years ago. I went on to do a Masters in Corporate Law in hope that it will make up for my LLb but I realised that it does not work. I am currently working at an international law firm as a support staff but I really want to qualify as a solicitor. I would very much like to apply for the LPC but securing a training contract would be close to impossible for me. What should I do?

Amy Tan
Anonymous said…
I am also from Malaysia and am currently in my Penultimate year. I am working laboriously to get a 1st class or 2:2 in my degree. However, I have a massive confined factor in the pursuing of my alleged to be career. The law in UK said they do not discriminate against disabled people (note that I have TBI/brain injury suffering from split brain damage attained by a car accident in Liverpool before starting first year in University of Liverpool and still managed to get into law 2nd year); despite, their claims of non-discrimination. I think they do. I did not get the vacation schemes for a lot of the firms. I think it impossible and is beginning to lose hope in spite of my initial determination to aspire into becoming a solicitor.
Anonymous said…
I qualified as a solicitor with a third. By dint of bloody mindedness and a of atruthell lot of luck. I have been in practice for 12 years. The truth is if I had known at the start what awaited me I would have become a plumber!

I am trying desperately to find an alternative.
But its hard to find someone who will let you transfer your transferable skills!

Anonymous said…
Ms Squires THANK YOU!!!

Amen for CILEX!! I used this route to qualification a while after I took my law degree and LPC. All of my IN-HOUSE experience was recognised as equivalent to that of a TC, so I'm not even a Private Practice solicitor. I managed to get a TC early on but the company was acquired a short time afterwards so that door shut! Due to sheer tenacity I decided to continue my career path in-house and was very choosy about what type of paralegal/contracts manager experience I went for, as I knew what you needed to be a good quality lawyer. I then found out about CILEX, joined for the mandatory 2 years (it might be 5 years now for some people), applied to become a Legal Exec Lawyer and finally crossed over to become admitted to the roll. I just wish I had known about this alternate route sooner as I would have more PQE.

I have worked in the CITY for years alongside all those lawyers that had the traditional training, schooling, and university education. I have more experience and am a much more commercial lawyer for it, which is exactly the skill set that is needed for a high calibre in-house counsel. I am a senior counsel in the Technology industry.

I know it is a lot harder now for graduates but do not give up, look at CILEX with LPC or without and get into a job, that does not only comprise of Private Practice, as many firm lawyers are heading in-house now!

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