How to become a lawyer in England and Wales

How to become a lawyerIf you have studied law or are a qualified lawyer outside the UK, there are steps you need to take in order to qualify as a lawyer in England and Wales.

Click here to find out why a career in law is a great idea!

 Every day in the legal press, you will read about UK firms opening offices in new countries and merging with overseas firms to further increase their international dominance. In addition, many international firms are also opening offices in the UK as it offers a bridge from the US to mainland Europe and beyond.

The UK legal market has been and will continue to expand both rapidly and globally and UK firms need the experience and language skills non-UK nationals can offer. 52% of the 7,247 solicitors admitted to the Roll in 2003/04 had law degrees, while 18.5% had taken non-law degrees and 23% had transferred from a different jurisdiction or career, according to Law Society statistics. Ten years ago, 64.3% of those entering the profession had come through the traditional route and studied law. The market for overseas qualified lawyers is strong as always in the UK and law firms need international lawyers and students.

To find out what you need to do to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales, click on the statement that best reflects your current situation:

Steps to becoming a Lawyer in the UK

In the United Kingdom the legal profession is growing at an increasingly fast pace, in line with this many graduates are pursuing the legal line of profession at an increasing rate annually. According to the Law Society, as at 31st July 2011, there were 159,524 solicitors on the Roll; which means that since 1981 the total number of solicitors holding practicing certificates has grown by 206.4% at an average annual rate of 3.8%. 
There are two major legal professions in the UK – barristers and solicitors. The paths of these two professions are different and both require separate training; the Bar Vocational Course for Barristers and the Legal Practice Course for solicitors. Both the LPC and BVC can be studied at law schools throughout the UK including the College of Law, now referred to as, The University of Law, which has campuses in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Chester, Guildford, Manchester and York. After the vocational training stage prospective lawyers have to secure a kind of apprenticeship with an established firm or chambers – this is a training contract for solicitors and pupillage for barristers.

Solicitors

1. Law degree (LLB) – undergraduate

In order to become a solicitor in the UK; the first option is to study law at the undergraduate level, Bachelor of Law (LLB), on successful completion of the LLB; you need to study the Legal Practice Course (LPC). The LPC can be studied in most institutions in the UK such as: Birmingham City University and University of Hertfordshire or at the College of Law.

The syllabus for the LPC is divided into five important areas: core, compulsory, pervasive, skills and elective. The core area comprises of:  ethics, basic skills, taxation, the European ‘context' and probate/administration of estates. Compulsory area includes:  litigation and advocacy, business law and practice, and property law and practice.

Pervasive areas are those that should be considered in the context of the other areas of the course. They comprise professional conduct and client care, European Union law, revenue law, accounts and the Human Rights Act. Skills area covers:  practical legal research, writing and drafting, interviewing and advising, and advocacy. Elective requires that three subjects are studied from a range of corporate and private client topics.
On successful completion of the LPC, the trainee solicitor needs to secure a training contract (TC) with a law firm or chamber, the TC is the last step to become to a solicitor, and it takes two years to complete which is inclusive of the Professional Skills Course (PSC). The PSC is compulsory if you want to become a solicitor. All trainee solicitors are required to complete three core modules and 24 hours of electives. However, according to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, firms/chambers must pay for their trainees to attend the PSC. The three core modules of the PSC are: financial and business skills; advocacy and communication skills; and client care and professional standards.

2. Graduate Diploma of Law – Non-Law  undergraduate degree

If you studied a course other than a law degree such as: Chemical Engineering, Biomedical Science or Business Administration. You can do a conversion course known as the Graduate Diploma of Law also referred to as the Common Professional Exam. The Graduate Diploma of Law (GDL) is a one-year full time course; two-four years as a part-time or distance-learning program.

The GDL confers upon students on successful completion a diploma equal to a law degree. The GDL can be studied from at various universities throughout the UK including BPP University College; University of Glamorgan and City University London.

When studying for a GDL, students will learn the seven core foundational areas of law which are: Contract law, Tort, Constitutional law, Criminal law, European Union law, Equity and Trusts, Public Law and Land Law. Upon successful completion of the GDL course, the graduate can apply for the LPC and then the Training Contract.
Barristers

In the accordance with the above, in order to qualify as a barrister in the UK, a prospective lawyer can study an undergraduate degree in law (LLB), or an undergraduate degree in any other subject followed by the conversion course or GDL.

On completion of the LLB or GDL, a prospective lawyer can take the vocational training Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which involves one year of full-time study or two years part-time study. However, all trainee barristers are required to be admitted to an Inn of Court before registration on the Bar Professional Training Course. The Inns of Court are: The honorable societies of Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple.

Prospective lawyers can study their BPTC at the College of Law, BPP University College and many other UK law schools. After the vocational stage (BPTC), the trainee barrister needs to do a pupillage, where he or she ‘shadows’ an experienced barrister assigned to him/her. The trainee barrister spends one year as a pupil in barristers' chambers or in another organisation approved by the Bar Standards Board as a Pupillage Training Organization (PTO).

After the pupillage training, the final step is to obtain tenancy in a set of barristers' chambers as a self-employed barrister, or to go into practice as an employed barrister. 

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