There are two main routes into the legal profession for non-law students in order to become a solicitor or barrister and these are illustrated in the image below.
It is important to note that solicitors form the majority of lawyers in England and Wales, and they take instructions directly from clients. They handle more of the preparatory work for a case and deal with a range of situations like disputes and settlements. This is compared to barristers take their instructions from solicitors and represent their clients in court.
Upon completion of a non-law degree, students who wish to pursue these traditional routes into law are required to undergo two years of further study prior to commencing practical legal training. The funding for these two years may be available through employers if students secure a training contract (the practical legal training that allows you to qualify as a solicitor). However, many students are self-funded. The costs vary based on the location of the courses and the nature, but typically range from £7,000 – £16,500.
GDL – The conversion course
The first year involves studying the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) which is also referred to as the Common Professional Exam (CPE). This is a demanding law conversion course which is
designed to provide an understanding of the core subjects of a law degree. It is typically taught over 3 years in the LLB Law degree, and includes the following core legal subjects:
• Contract Law
• Criminal Law
• Equity & Trusts
• European Union
• Land Law
• Public Law
• Tort Law
There is also an additional research component to the GDL which has to be undertaken in another area of law. The GDL can be carried out as a full-time programme over the course of 1 year, or as a part-time course over a period of 2 years. Due to the expensive and time consuming nature of the GDL it is strongly recommended not to seek out part-time work during its completion.
LPC or BPTC (solicitor vs barrister training courses)
The second year is the vocational stage. Aspiring solicitors are required to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) prior to commencing a training contract. The LPC is designed to provide a bridge between academic study and training in a law firm. Aspiring barristers are required to complete the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) before qualifying as a barrister; this allows law graduates to be named and practise as barristers in England and Wales. Similarly to the GDL, both the LPC and the BPTC can be pursued full-time (1 year), or part-time (2 years)
It is important to note the completion of vocational legal training does not guarantee a training contract or pupillage and this should be taken into account if you are considering self-funding your training.
Following these two years, solicitors will complete a two year training contract; which is usually split into a number of placements (usually known as ‘seats’). Barristers are ‘called to the Bar’ on completion of the BPTC but cannot practise until they have completed a 12 month pupillage. During the latter six months, barristers are practising and as such earn fees in their own right. Barristers are also required to be members of one of the four Inns of courts. These are non-academic societies which provide collegiate and educational activities and support. You must join an Inn prior to starting the BPTC.
Some Alternative Routes
Historically, paralegals have worked alongside solicitors in law firms as support staff; today they often have to undertake similar work to trainee or newly qualified solicitors. There are no courses you must undertake or organisations you are obliged to join prior to becoming a paralegal. It is interesting to note paralegals already account for (a mean of) 44% of all fee earners in law firms and they are rapidly becoming increasingly recognised in their own right. The extensive growth in paralegals in recent years has meant that more complex work is delegated to paralegals. Considering a career as a paralegal is an obvious alternative if you cannot go onto the LPC/BPTC as it offers you a great way to acquire experience which employers value and opens many doors, whilst earning a salary. Many firms require paralegals to undertake a similar application process as external candidates for training contracts.
Another route into the legal sector is through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) qualification, which is arguably a more accessible way to become a lawyer. The primary advantage of the CILEx route is that it is significantly cheaper than the LPC. Chartered Legal Executives can become partners in law firms, independent practitioners running their own businesses or even judges. Opportunities exist for roles in legal departments of the government, local authorities, charities and corporations. The main difference between the role of a Chartered Legal Executive and solicitor is that although they study to the same level they study fewer subjects overall. However the specialist nature of the CILEx route is not thought to create difficulties since all lawyers specialise and qualify in one area.
For more information, please contact our Director of Law for Non-Law, Maryah Saeed (firstname.lastname@example.org)