How to Become a Lawyer in the UK
Here we look at how to become a lawyer in the UK, with career advice, training requirements, average salary, and job description for work as a solicitor and barrister.
A career in law is a fulfilling and varied route for those looking to work with people both as colleagues and customers. Law offers you the opportunity to deliver important work that will make a real difference to people’s lives.
All About Law suggests that there are seven good qualities that place you in good stead for being a good lawyer and enjoying the career:
- good communication skills
- analytical skills
- research skills
- people skills
It isn’t essential to have all of these skills but if you have strengths in these areas, you’ll be well-suited to go far.
As a lawyer, you will be considered a valued expert by your clients and colleagues who will look to you for your professional contributions. It is a promising career if you’re looking for opportunities to grow and develop within the profession over your lifetime.
Alongside the softer perks of role, a law career can offer impressive financial rewards after a few years of working. Depending on your job role and specialist practice area, you could earn up to £200,000 a year, giving you plenty of benefits that come with earning a high salary.
Choosing law will place you in a strong and growing community of practising solicitors and barristers. In England and Wales, there are currently 152,997 practising solicitors and 17,078 practising barristers who have taken a variety of training and qualification routes to get into their roles, providing a large network of peers, colleagues and supporters who can help inform your journey throughout your law career.
This article aims to outline the roles and practice areas that you need to know when starting out on your journey to working as a lawyer in the UK, everything from work experience, training opportunities and qualifications required to be a solicitor or barrister.
The roles of solicitor and barrister are outlined in more detail below.
How to become a Solicitor
What does a solicitor do?
As a solicitor, your day to day job will involve providing legal support and services to a variety of clients, this may be individuals, public sector organisations, private companies or other groups. You might specialise in a certain area of law, such as property, finance or family.
In your role, you may give advice to individuals on buying and selling homes, you might help businesses with commercial transactions and you could work to protect individuals’ rights against public or private bodies. The Law Society offers more detail on what a solicitor’s role looks like in practice.
What qualifications does a solicitor need?
It takes six years to qualify as a solicitor. This typically looks like a three year law degree, a one year LPC (Legal Practical Course) and then a two year training contract with a firm while studying for your Professional Skills Course, which you tend to take exams for during your training contract.
If you studied a non-law subject at undergraduate level, you will need to study the GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) conversion course and then the LPC, which will add one year to the total years of study. In Scotland, the process is different as you have to take the Graduate Entry LLB/Accelerated LLB which takes two years to complete.
From September 2021, students will study the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination) which will replace the GDL or LPC. Arrangements have been put in place for those who start a law degree before 2021 to continue to qualify via the traditional route. Decisions about the SQE are still being made so may be subject to change.
There are options for studying these qualifications in-person or online and full time or part time, making a law career more accessible and allowing you flexibility to work while studying. The University of Law offers a selection of law courses that are taught both in person and online along with a selection of resources to expand your understanding of law qualifications.
What training does a solicitor need?
A training contract, also referred to as period of recognised training, is traditionally where trainee solicitors put into practice the skills learned through their studies. It lasts for two years if taken full time. You spend the time within a legal firm where you take a seat in different departments, usually for six months at a time.
In some firms you will be assigned the departments, in others you may be allowed to express your preferences. The experience would help you to figure out what area most appeals to you and allows you a good experience of practice that will help you to pursue this path in the future.
Josh Richman for The Guardian suggests that in your training contract and further applications you keep an open mind as you may need to be flexible in your approach if you don’t secure the specialism or job role that you wanted.
As part of the training contract, you need to pass the compulsory Professional Skills Course, your firm will cover the cost of your first attempt. You will also need to do elective training for a total of 24 hours.
As training contracts are notoriously hard to secure, the introduction of the SQE has also opened up opportunities to complete qualifying work experience that isn’t restricted solely to training contracts. The work experience can be completed in up to four different organisations and can be a combination of roles, including paralegal, traditional training contracts, placement as part of a sandwich degree and volunteering in a student law clinic or with Citizens Advice.
For more information about training contracts, Prospects.ac.uk has an extensive guide.
There are also opportunities to combine studying and training while you earn money through apprenticeships. UCAS offers excellent guidance on the range of apprenticeships available within law and information on the route you could take to become a solicitor.
How important is work experience for solicitors?
The short answer to this question is very important. Work experience can help you figure out which practice area suits you. Law is a competitive career so any work experience that you can get will make you stand out and develop skills necessary for the role.
Most firms offer summer opportunities for work experience so once you have built a good relationship with a firm, it could be beneficial to continue your development with their team.
Work experience in a firm will look good on your CV and show your interests but there are other things you can do such as pro bono work through your university or volunteering with Citizens Advice.
How much does a solicitor earn?
There is no minimum wage for a trainee solicitor but firms are recommended to pay £22,541 to trainees in London and £19,992 to trainees outside of London. However, many firms offer higher salaries and this varies from firm to firm.
Once you qualify your salary will depend on your experience and the region where you practice. Average solicitor salary ranges from around £40,000 to almost £90,000 with potential to earn more through bonuses and seniority, according to the Law Society.
How to become a Barrister
What does a barrister do?
As a barrister your day to day job would involve offering specialist advice to clients while representing, advocating and defending them in court or at a tribunal. You are seen as a qualified legal professional.
Your job role may include legal research, negotiating contracts, meeting and advising clients, preparing for court, representing clients in court, presenting legal arguments and negotiating settlements between disputing parties.
Most barristers specialise in one area of law but it is possible to have a more general practice that covers a variety of areas.
As a barrister you will work in a variety of court settings, including The Crown Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. The setting for your work and the amount of time you spend in court will most likely be linked to your specialist area.
An example of some areas that barristers specialise in are criminal law, commercial law, family law or employment law. Criminal law barristers will spend most of their time in court defending a client or acting for the prosecution whereas commercial law barristers may spend more time outside of the courtroom working in more of an advisory role on contracts and business matters.
What qualifications does a barrister need?
A barrister needs to study for five years to qualify. This involves a three year undergraduate degree, one year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) which have recently been replaced by Bar courses and one year pupillage in Chambers.
If your undergraduate degree was in a non-law subject you will need a law conversion course, such as the Graduate Diploma in Law or the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination before you then complete one of the options for Bar courses and your one year pupillage in Chambers.
For both options, before you complete a Bar course, you will need to pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT). Talent Lens offers more information and a practice test to give you an idea of what to expect on the test. The test assesses your critical thinking skills not your legal knowledge and consists of 60 multiple choice questions that must be completed in 55 minutes. You have to pass the BCAT by the end of July in the year in which you want to start your Bar course.
You also need to join an Inn of Court, these are professional associations for England and Wales for barristers. There are four inns, you only need to join one. Once you have passed your Bar training course and completed ten “qualifying sessions” at your Inn, you will be “called” to the bar by the Inn you joined.
What training is required to become a barrister?
As a barrister, once you have completed a law-related degree or once you have completed a law conversion course, like the SQE, you will need to complete either the BPTC or a suitable Bar Course. This course will cover completion of the vocational component of Bar training and may form an academic qualification, such as an LLM.
There are now a range of Bar Courses that can be studied instead of the BPTC. These include:
- Bar Course
- Bar Practice Course (BPS)
- Bar Vocational Course (BVC)
- Bar Vocational Studies (BVS)
- Bar/Barrister Training course (BTC)
When looking for a suitable Bar Course, you need to be aware of the Authorised Education and Training Organisations (AETOs), these are institutions that have been authorised by the BSB to provide courses. The Bar Standards Board provides an up-to-date list on their website.
If studied full time, a Bar Course will take you one year to complete. There are two year part-time options available. Through your course, expect to combine academic learning with practical skills development, assessed through written exams and practical exercises with actors.
Once you have completed your Bar Course, the next step to your barrister training is to apply to and complete a pupillage. Pupillage is completed in chambers under the supervision of qualified barristers over the course of a year. You must secure pupillage within five years of completing the vocational component (Bar Course) in order to qualify as a barrister.
Pupillage is split into two halves, the first six and the second six. In the first six you will shadow your supervisor, assisting with court documentation and conducting legal research. At the end of this period, you’ll be assessed and have to complete the compulsory ethics training and Pupils’ Advocacy Course. Your supervisor will give you the go-ahead to continue into the second six.
The second six is a practicing period where you will have more independence and autonomy. Within this period there will be other compulsory training courses that you will need to complete in order to pass the pupillage.
How much does a barrister earn?
A barrister salary varies greatly depending on practice specialism, chambers, location and your experience. It’s worth noting that commercial barristers tend to earn more than family barristers or criminal barristers. Barristers working from chambers are self-employed so the salaries mentioned below are estimates of your earning potential, self-employment makes you responsible for your own earnings meaning you have some control over your rates and working hours.
Once you complete your Bar Course and move into your pupillage, you will begin to earn a salary. At pupillage level, you could earn from £12,000 to £60,000.
Once you have more experience as a barrister, you could earn from £30,000 to £300,000 and as your career progresses this has potential to grow: top barristers earn from £800,000 to £2 million per year.