How to Become a Lawyer in the UK?

Global Employability

Often, when students talk about becoming a lawyer in the UK, they are actually referring to England and Wales.

But, here’s an interesting fact- the United Kingdom does not have one unified legal system. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legal systems. England and Wales share legal jurisdiction.

What we’re looking into today

  • How can I become a lawyer in the UK?
  • Routes to Qualification

How can I become a lawyer in the UK?

The judicial system has separate jurisdiction with distinct civil and criminal courts and procedures; accepted professional titles; and regulatory bodies. They include the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Bar Standards Board (BSB) in England and Wales, along with the Law Society of Northern Ireland, and the Law Society of Scotland. Only under the Supreme Court in London, the highest court of appeal in England and Wales and Northern Ireland (and for civil Scottish cases) share the same rules. There are three ways to establish a legal career in the UK: a barrister (advocate in Scotland), a solicitor, or a qualified legal executive. Options also include being employed as a Government Legal Profession (GLP) or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyer.

Solicitors undertake work outside of court and provide advice directly to clients. They work in private practice such as firms, or as self-employed barristers. Graduates in England and Wales From 2021 onwards will need to pass the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) that checks their law knowledge, ethics, and skills. There is also a requirement that candidates complete two years of qualifying work experience (QWE) before qualification. It takes six years to become a lawyer if you choose the LLB degree route. To qualify as a solicitor:

  • Three-year undergraduate degree (+ 1-year GDL conversion course if required)
  • One-year Legal Practice Course (LPC)
  • Two-year Professional Skills Course
  • Two-year law training contract in a law firm.

Often solicitors hire barristers who defend clients inside courtrooms. The typical route to the Bar consists of three stages:

  • The academic stage involves getting an undergraduate law degree or a one-year postgraduate conversion course, commonly the graduate diploma in law (GDL).
  • The vocational stage is known as the Bar course, also known as the Bar professional training course (BPTC).
  • The professional stage is undertaking a pupillage with a barristers chambers which is a form of on-the-job training that lasts one year.

According to the Times World University Rankings by subject 2021, the following UK universities top the list for law:

  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Oxford
  • University College London (UCL)
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
  • University of Edinburgh

Law students also take advantage of the flexibility of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) route to qualification, which allows them to work and study simultaneously. Legal Executives in England and Wales (“Fellows”) are fully qualified lawyers in a specialist area and undertake similar work to that of a solicitor. They will have at least five years’ experience of working under the supervision of a solicitor in legal practice, or in the legal department of a private company or local/national government.

CILEX launched its Professional Qualification (CPQ) in 2021. It is divided into three stages: CPQ Foundation (after which you become a CILEX Paralegal); CPQ Advanced (after which you become a CILEX Advanced Paralegal); and CPQ Professional (after which you become a CILEX Lawyer). The work of legal executives requires them to have the same high ethical standards as barristers and solicitors, and all legal executives are regulated by CILEx professional standards.

Routes to Qualification

To qualify as a solicitor without a degree one can apply for solicitor apprenticeship opportunities after the UK Government’s Trail Blazer Initiative. Apprenticeships offer meritorious school-leavers the chance to enter the workplace and secure professional-level employment without attending university, giving them an opportunity to qualify as solicitors irrespective of their educational backgrounds.

To practice law in Scotland, any qualified solicitor in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland is eligible to apply for the Intra UK Transfer Test to re-qualify as a solicitor in Scotland. Lawyers from other jurisdictions who wish to practise as barristers in England and Wales are required to submit an application to the Bar Standards Board (BSB). This application provides evidence of their legal qualifications. Foreign lawyers may apply to the BSB for exemption from the Academic, Vocational, and/or Professional Stages of training. Exemptions are usually granted conditional on passing some or all sections of the Bar Transfer Test.

The Bar Standards Board regulates barristers and specialized legal services businesses in England and Wales, in the interest of the public. The Bar Council provides representation, support, and services for barristers in England and Wales. The Law Society represents solicitors in England and Wales. They exist to help, protect and promote solicitors across England and Wales. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) regulates all solicitors in England and Wales, as well as registered European lawyers and registered foreign lawyers.

Read also what does Brexit mean for international students.

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