Moving into law: typical career paths
It’s been said that the law is a jealous mistress. Indeed it is, and the typical process of qualifying as a lawyer is also long, arduous and extremely competitive. The main advantages of this process (or processes, since aspiring solicitors and barristers will find themselves on different tracks) are clarity and comprehensiveness.
Two alternate academic pathways are available:
- Graduate with an LLB (law) degree, focusing on barrister- or solicitor-related coursework, a process that generally takes three years.
- Graduate with a non-law degree (which also takes three years) and take the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course. The GDL consists of courses in contract law, criminal law, equity and trusts, European Union (EU) law, land law, public law, tort law and one elective course. It generally takes one year to complete.
The training phase involves two separate tracks – one for aspiring solicitors and one for aspiring barristers.
- For solicitors: the Legal Practice Course (LPC) is a 12-month vocational training course that includes (i) core modules such as business law and civil litigation (ii) elective modules such as banking law, and (iii) practical skills such as advocacy and legal research.
- Barristers: the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) curriculum includes key knowledge areas (civil litigation, criminal litigation and professional ethics), electives (personal injury, for example) and practical skills (advocacy, opinion writing and mock trials, for example).
The final stage in the road to becoming a solicitor or barrister involves practical training:
- Solicitors: a two-year vocational training contact is required. It can be extremely competitive to land a training contract at one of the UK’s prestigious “Magic Circle” law firms, as acceptance rates are less than 5%.
- Barristers: a one-year pupilage (apprenticeship) in a barrister’s chambers is required to qualify. A barrister’s chambers works something like an informal partnership. Acceptance rates dip below 1% for some of the top chambers.
Qualifying as a solicitor or a barrister is expensive. The bright side, of course, is that as long as you qualify for student loans and as long as you eventually qualify, your future salary should be more than enough to pay for it all. Here is a general rundown of the costs involved:
- Studying at a university will cost you around £9,000 per year in tuition, plus books and any extra fees that the university charges. Living expenses may cost you more than tuition.
- Studying for a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) will cost you between £7,000 and £10,000 per year in tuition.
- Taking the Legal Practice Course (LPC) will cost you anywhere between £8,500 and £15,000 in tuition.
- Taking the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) will cost you anywhere from £14,000 to £19,000 in tuition.
- A training contract or pupilage will not cost you anything, since they are paid positions. Salaries vary widely, but they are considerably less than the salary of the average fully-qualified practitioner.
Regardless of your starting point, it’s a long road to qualifying as a solicitor or a barrister, as least if you wish to avoid shortcuts that will limit your career options in the long run. Take your time coming to a decision and think carefully about the expenses you’ll incur in terms of time, energy and money.