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Taught law - getting into the legal profession

Stephen Hunt - Law on the Web

  1. 27 April 2015
  2. Miscellaneous
  3. 0 comments
A job interview

When someone mentions a career in law, the first thing that may come into your head is a law degree. But studying law in further education after leaving school isn’t the only route into a legal career.

The law degree path

If you have already decided that a law career is for you before you have left school, then the logical step to take would be to do a law degree at university. Doing a law degree does not require any previous knowledge of law.

A degree in law, or LL.B., covers the seven foundations of legal practice:

  • public law  (including constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law),
  • criminal law
  • contract law
  • law of torts
  • property law
  • equity and trusts
  • law of the European Union

Completing a law degree will allow you to move on further, to the vocational stage of training for barristers and solicitors.

All is not lost if you embarked on a different degree and only later decided that you wanted to work in law. For these people there is the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The GDL is an intensive one-year course which teaches the same seven areas as the LL.B.. When combined with a non-law degree, the GDL is equivalent to an undergraduate law degree.

Budding solicitors and barristers

Solicitors are the first port of call for people or organisations seeking legal advice and representation. Their job entails meeting clients and using their expertise in law to suggest a solution to their problem. This can involve drafting letters or contracts, or representing the client in negotiations. After completing a law degree, those looking to become solicitors need to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC). This is the vocational part of a solicitor’s training and lasts for one year. After that, aspirants must secure a training contract, which means working at a law firm for two years before finally becoming qualified as a solicitor.

Barristers represent clients in court and advise them on the strength of their case and the law. They usually receive instructions on cases from a solicitor. For those looking to carve out a career as a barrister, after finishing their degree they will have to undertake the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which is a one-year vocational course like the LPC. Then the final stage is to complete a pupillage – a one-year apprenticeship under the supervision of an experienced barrister.

Other legal roles and cross qualification

For those looking to work in law there are other roles available than those of solicitor or barrister.

It is possible to practice law as a chartered legal executive through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). A chartered legal executive is a qualified lawyer who specialises in a particular area of law. They will be trained to a similar level as a solicitor and carry out a similar role.

In order to qualify you need to complete the CILEx Level 3 and Level 6 diplomas and then complete three years of qualifying employment. There is a fast track available for those with law degrees.

Due to increased competition it can be difficult to obtain a training contract with a law firm. But all is not lost as it is possible to qualify as a solicitor using the chartered legal executive qualification. This route is somewhat complex, and for further information and tailored guidance it is recommended that you contact the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives

Paralegals are professionals who do legal work in support of lawyers but are not qualified barristers or solicitors. There is no special qualification that needs to be gained in order to become a paralegal. There is no strict requirement for paralegals to be legally qualified, but law firms prefer them to have at least a law degree or to have completed the LPC. Budding solicitors often work as paralegals to gain experience while looking for a training contract.

Legal apprenticeships offer a different route into the law profession without the need to go to university, by offering paid, on-the-job training at a law firm. Those who complete an apprenticeship can go on to work as qualified paralegals or train as chartered legal executives, but cannot become solicitors.

If you would like to know more, we have further information on entering the legal profession on our Become a Lawyer page.