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How To Become A Lawyer In England & Wales
If 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.
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:
I am a qualified lawyer in another country.Find your PERFECT LLM PROGRAM
What skills do you need to become a lawyer?
Obviously excellent academic skills and results are essential to become a lawyer, however there are other skills that you will need to possess to achieve success.
The skills you need include:
- Verbal reasoning skills
- Written skills
- Interpretation skills
- Decision-making skills
- Analytical skills
- People skills
- Communication skills
Get some work experience
It’s a really good idea to get relevant work experience before fully launching yourself into your law studies and resulting career. There are various ways you can go about this and whatever law-related work experience you manage to secure will be an excellent addition to your academic and work CV. It’s also a great way to work out if law really is that career for you, before committing yourself fully both in terms of money and time. Work experience is a great way to build both skills and a network of people that you will be able to draw upon in your career. Work experience options for law students include:
- Insight days/workshops at law firms
- Shadowing a solicitor and helping out with office duties
- Mooting competitions at law school
- Pro bono work at university law clinic
- Holiday schemes during academic holidays
- Mini-pupillages in barristers’ chambers
Benefits to gaining an LLM when you want to be a lawyer
Although it’s not essential to have a Master of Laws if you want to become a lawyer in the UK – there are many career benefits to gaining this qualification. Studying an LLM is a great way to increase your knowledge in a specific area of law as when undertaking it you can choose to specialise in a whole range of areas, for example Human Rights Law, Taxation Law or International Law. This improved knowledge will make you a much more appealing prospect to future employers as it demonstrates your interest in gaining additional knowledge and expertise. LLM programs often include a more practice-based approach which will give you invaluable work experience and networking potential, and could even help you to secure a training contract or pupillage. In short an LLM qualification will help you stand out from other applicants, and don’t forget it is also a recognised and highly regarded qualification internationally – ideal if you are considering furthering your career overseas. Find out more here.
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 had 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 courses – the recent replacement for Bar Professional Training Course – provide the required training for Barristers and the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is the new route for those wishing to qualify as a Solicitor..
Becoming a solicitor
From September 2021 onwards the route to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales is via the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The SQE is being phased in as the new centralised way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales replacing the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is the former route to practicing law. The SQE is a new system of exams divided into two stages – SQE1 and SQE2 – that will be introduced from September 2021, and all prospective candidates will have to pass both stages of exams to qualify as a solicitor. As well as passing both stages of the SQE, prospective candidates must complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and demonstrate that they have suitable character to work in this field.
Put simply, to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales through the new SQE route you need to:
1. Have a university degree in ANY subject.
2. Pass SQE1 and SQE2 exams.
3. Complete two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
4. Demonstrate suitable character.
The SQE differs from the LPC in that it is a series of exams rather than an actual course, as a result of this the SQE does not involve any direct education or training. New law conversion course options will be launched alongside the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to offer students a range of options to prepare for the SQE.
Read our article on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination for the complete lowdown.
How much do solicitors earn in the UK?
Obviously becoming a lawyer is a big investment in terms of money and time – however the remuneration can also be very rewarding. The Law Society has calculated that in 2018 the average salary (median gross) for solicitors working full-time in private practice in the UK was £62,000 each year. This table shows the average salaries of qualified solicitors by UK region, as you can see the salaries for solicitors based in London are by far the highest, however the living costs will also be considerably higher.
Becoming a barrister
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 courses, formerly known as 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 Bar courses. 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 Bar course at a wide number of law schools and universities in the UK including, the University of Law, Cardiff University, Bristol Law School, BPP University and many other UK law schools. After the vocational stage, the trainee barrister needs to do a pupillage, where they ‘shadow’ an experienced barrister assigned to them. 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.
How much do barristers earn in the UK?
The amount of money a barrister can earn in the UK depends on a variety of factors, including how long you have practiced for, the area you choose to practice in and the region of the UK you work and live in. Here's a table illustrating likely earnings that could be expecetd by junior barristers in the UK during their first couple of years of practice.
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How To Become A Lawyer Infographic