This is the second of two posts in which I explore the different routes to qualify as a lawyer in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the first post, I focused on the pathway to becoming a lawyer in the United States. In this second article, I will focus on the route followed by aspiring lawyers in the United Kingdom. The legal profession in both the US and the UK is a regulated profession, meaning that you will have to meet specific professional standards in order to practice. Once you have met these standards, then the legal profession offers a vast array of career options to suit nearly all interests. Over the years, these are the countries that most Ivy Central students have chosen to apply to train as a lawyer, but of course, there are many other options to consider.
In the UK, legal careers are traditionally separated into two distinct areas, Solicitor and Barrister. A Solicitor is a qualified legal practitioner who advises and guides clients, whether individuals, companies, or organizations, through the legal process. They will normally work as part of a legal practice, and many will specialize in specific areas of the law such as crime, family, or property, but all can expect to spend their time meeting clients, drawing up contracts or agreements, and representing clients in tribunals and court. Barristers represent clients and advise on specialist legal issues, but they receive this work from a solicitor, usually when a case is more complex or will be settled in a more senior court such as a Crown Court. Normally self-employed, a Barrister will work from a ‘Chambers,’ a set of offices occupied by a group of Barristers. Once again, they will generally specialize in a particular area of the law.
· Initial legal qualification
No matter whether you aspire to be a Solicitor or Barrister, you will start the same way, which is to get a qualification in law. There are two ways to achieve this.
The first is to obtain an LLB law degree, a three-year program available at many UK universities. In most cases, acceptance into the degree is based on the predicted grades in your final exams; however, a few will ask you to take the LNAT, an entrance test that assesses your verbal reasoning skills, ability to understand and interpret information and capabilities, and to draw conclusions. The first two years of the degree are mostly compulsory modules covering all of the main areas of law you are likely to come across in your future professional role, while the third year allows students to select up to four modules that align with their areas of interest.
Alternatively, you can choose to study a non-law degree at the undergraduate level and then do a one-year Graduate Law Diploma (GLD), usually called a law conversion course. This is an intensive course that condenses the LLB degree into just one year.
Both routes are equally regarded when applying for training as Lawyer or Barrister. Clearly, the LLB route is the quicker and cheaper option, but if you are unsure that the legal profession is for you, the GLD conversion course provides additional flexibility.
· To become a Solicitor…
After completing your initial legal qualification, your next step to becoming a Solicitor is completing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). This is a new way to qualify as a Solicitor and replaced the old LPC route from 2021 onwards.
The SQE comprises of three different elements. SQE Part 1 is a test to assess the candidate’s legal knowledge through a series of computer-based tests. This is followed by two years of Qualified Work Experience, which takes place in a recognized legal setting. Finally, candidates will sit the SQE Part 2, which will assess core legal skills such as advocacy, legal research, and drafting written advice. Before being approved to practice law, all potential solicitors undergo a check to confirm that they have a satisfactory background and character.
· To become a Barrister
If you aspire to become a Barrister, then you need to start your training while still studying for your law degree or conversion course. It is expected that you will spend your holidays and other free time building up your experience of the law; this should include short periods of work experience, called mini-pupillages, where you will shadow barristers and become familiar with their work. Other activities you should explore are Mooting, which are mock trials, and debating.
After completing your initial legal qualification, the next step is completing the Vocational Component of Bar Training; this is a formal training course that can be done full-time or part-time, often while working in a junior position in chambers. In order to be accepted onto the Vocational Component, you will first need to join one of the four Inns of Court; these are professional organizations for the legal profession and support members throughout their professional lives. You will also need to pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT), a 60-question test designed to test critical thinking and understanding of arguments, for example, distinguishing fact from opinion. The Vocational Component is about building the advocacy skills needed to represent clients and includes topics such as representing in court, preparing court documents, and advising clients. There are a number of core modules, and then students can select from a number of optional modules to match the field of law that they want to specialize in, such as family law, commercial law, or criminal law.
The final stage to becoming a Barrister is called Pupillage, and you would start it once you have completed the Vocational Component. Pupillage is typically a one-year period of supervised work experience; during the first half, you would shadow your supervisor, attending court and assisting them by preparing papers and conducting legal research. You would also need to pass Pupils Advocacy Course and undergo ethics training. During this period, you are assessed by your supervising Barrister, and if they consider your work satisfactory, you progress into the practicing part of Pupillage. Here, you get to run your own cases and complete various compulsory training courses.
At the end of the practicing period, provided that you have completed all of the required training courses, you will be awarded a Full Practicing Certificate by the Bar Standards Council. With this in your hand, you will be able to secure tenancy as a qualified Barrister either in the chambers where you did your pupillage or by applying for positions in other chambers.
This hopefully gives you a good overview of the route to be able to practice law in the UK. I have focused in both this blog and the previous one for the US on the main route to becoming a lawyer, but there are other law-related careers, such as Paralegals in the UK or Legal Assistant in the USA, that might suit somebody with interest in the law but perhaps does not want to go through the whole training process.