Being a lawyer is a prestigious career path and people are usually impressed when you tell them you are a lawyer. On the other hand, lawyers are not considered the most honest or decent people, generally speaking. Nevertheless, thousands of people choose to become lawyers in the UK every year and the vast majority of them succeed in their endeavours. If you think this might be a career you would enjoy, here is everything you need to know about becoming a lawyer in the UK.
In order to become a lawyer of any kind you will need either a law degree or a degree in any other discipline plus the law conversion course. The conversion course is commonly known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
Barrister or Solicitor?
What is the difference? Once you have your basic qualification you will then need to take a professional course that will prepare you for practice. Which course you take will depend on whether you want to become a solicitor or a barrister. Briefly, barristers are the ones who stand up in court and argue cases; solicitors are the ones in the office putting the case together and gathering information. Neither is better or worse objectively but different people will be better suited to one or the other.
If you choose to become a solicitor you will have to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC). To be a barrister, you must undertake the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Roughly 90% of practicing lawyers are solicitors.
The First Steps of Your Career: Solicitor
After your formal education you will most likely join a law firm in order to spend two years working as a trainee. This period of work is known as your training contract and you will be under constant supervision throughout. Competition for training contracts is fierce, especially at the top London firms and often there are several rounds of interviews and assessment centres before you are offered one.
The First Steps of Your Career: Barrister
If your heart is set on becoming a barrister, you will need to obtain a pupillage after finishing your BPTC. Completing a pupillage takes one year and the purpose of it is to allow you to qualify as a barrister so you can practice on your own. As with training contracts, competition for pupillages is fierce and only the very best and brightest candidates are offered them.
Law is a famously well paid field and those who climb the ladder can expect their salary to increase significantly at each step of the way. While barristers often start on lower salaries than solicitors, they usually overtake them by quite some way after a few years.
Barristers will often work towards becoming a Queen’s Counsel (QC), also known as a ‘silk’. This title means you are regarded as an expert in your area and that your fees will be suitably elevated to match your experience. You will be given the juiciest work once you reach this stage. From there, you may want to become a judge.
The usual aim for solicitors is to move from trainee to associate and then on to partner. Being a partner in a law firm comes with serious financial benefits, including a big salary and possibly equity in the firm. You will also be given more business-oriented responsibilities, such as bringing in clients and developing the firm as well as working on legal cases.