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How to Become a Lawyer

By Yann, published on 21/09/2018 We Love Prof > Academia > Law > Essential Information for Becoming a Lawyer in the UK

“The good lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and angle of contingency, and qualifies all his qualifications, but who throws himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thurgood Marshall, Johnnie Cochrane, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Atticus Finch and Ally Beal. What do all of these people have in common? They were or are all lawyers.

Whether fictitious or not, the aforementioned characters had a major impact on popular culture and newspaper headlines in the past two decades. They have shaped the way people view lawyers and the legal system. Some are modern day heroes, breaking social boundaries and inciting change whereas some are despicable, conniving and hated.

Through their inspirational courtroom speeches and zeal for pursuing justice, they inspired many to attend law school and attain a degree practising law.

Lawyers have the power to change the way people view things and ultimately change the world for better or for worse. The choice is up to them. 

While making the difference is a primary reason why some choose to study law, others are encouraged by the possibilities of a seven-figure income and the things that money can buy or the immense pressure of family members to follow tradition.

No matter what reasons you may have to become an attorney, Superprof is here to provide valuable information and guide you through the steps of becoming a successful lawyer.

The Stages of Becoming a Lawyer

studying for law tests Graduating from law school sometimes means being chained to your books during long nights of studying at the library. (Source: Visual Hunt)

The preparation to become a lawyer starts near the end of secondary school. Good grades are essential in order to be accepted into a reputable law school. It is required to have studied at least two A-Levels, however, three A-Level subjects with A grades (8 or 7 now in England as of 2017) are extremely attractive to admission teams at law schools.

What A-Levels subjects should one choose? 

To prepare ahead and have further success in your legal studies, it is suggested to choose the A-Level subjects of Law, English, History, Politics, Critical Thinking, Maths and Foreign Languages during secondary school. Carefully choosing the correct subjects will help you greatly in your imminent legal career.

After successfully passing through the secondary school stage and being accepted to study law at an accredited university, there are a few key stages of legal education that one needs to complete in order to become a lawyer. Solicitors and Barristers must pass through three essential steps to be able to practice law. Here are the three key stages:

  1. Academic: this stage can be completed by obtaining an undergraduate Bachelor’s in Law (LLB) degree from any qualified university based in the UK or a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) for those who have switched career paths and now wish to study law. It takes three years of full-time study to receive this academic diploma. Most of the course load every year is independent learning with approximately only 17% of time spent in class. This is a very general course and covers all the basics of law. During the final two years, students can specialize in different areas of law and choose electives that better suit them.
  2. Vocational: now comes the time to choose if you wish to become a barrister or solicitor. This decision needs to be made because barristers are required to study the vocational programme of Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and be accepted into one of the four Inns of Court and solicitors need to learn the basics of the Legal Practice Course (LPC). They are both very different courses that each last a year if studied full-time and prepare aspiring solicitors and barristers with the skills they need to excel in their future careers.
  3. Professional: for those who are aspiring to become barristers, pupillage is the third and final stage. During this year-long training programme, trainees are taught by qualified barristers with a lot of previous experience. For those who have finished the Legal Practice Course and who still wish to become solicitors, a two-year training programme called the Professional Skills Course (PSC) is mandatory to become a qualified solicitor. Both these training programmes equip barristers and solicitors with future professional skills such as client care, casework and courtroom practice.

Now you are aware of the three stages to become a qualified solicitor or barrister.

How long does the whole process take?

For barristers, it is a total of 5 years of postsecondary education and for solicitors, 6 years of higher education is needed.

Where Can You Work With a Law Degree?

becoming a politician Many of those with a law degree go onto help or become politicians in the future. (Source: Visual Hunt)

After graduating from law school and receiving your diploma of Bachelor of Laws (LLB), there are many jobs available in the legal field and other fields of work.

One report conducted by The City University of London shows that 88.9% of graduates find employment quickly after graduating. There are many law jobs open to those with a legal degree. For example, here are a few available jobs:

  • Paralegal: if you possess a law degree, thrive under pressure and want to help solicitors or barristers win cases, applying for paralegal jobs is for you! Paralegals conduct a lot of legal research and write detailed reports about cases.
  • Barrister’s Clerk: you become responsible for running the administration and conducting business activities in the barristers’ chambers.

It is important to note that working as a solicitor or a barrister is not mentioned in the aforementioned list because those jobs require more training than just a Bachelor’s in Law (LLB). 

If after a few months or years of working in the legal system you decide that it is not for you, don’t be discouraged! There are plenty of other jobs available for those who have a law degree. Those who have abandoned the practice of law now find themselves working in these different areas:

  • Activism: if you have always wanted to make drastic changes and see this world change, activism is your true calling! A spirit for revolution coupled with legal knowledge is essential to know how to push the buttons of parliament and incite change. If you were interested in Environment law while studying for your law degree, you could be a great asset to Greenpeace or Amnesty International.
  • Journalism: reporters like lawyers have great research, reading and writing skills. It is important to write ethical material. Having a base of knowledge in legal matters can prevent you from getting into trouble as a reporter. It’s really a win-win situation!
  • Politics: a great number of law graduates go into politics when they discover that their charisma and speaking abilities would be better appreciated in political rallies and debates. Many politicians hire individuals who possess a law degree to make sure that no laws are broken during their campaigns.

No matter what career you decide to pursue employers will always highly value a law degree. The sky is the limit!

The Annual Salary of a Lawyer

Lawyers are believed to be society’s most affluent members. This may be true after many years of experience, however, lawyers fresh out of law school do not make as much money as people may think due to their lack of experience and accumulation of student loans.

Salaries of Barristers

Barristers make more money in the long run than solicitors do. Entry level barristers can make an annual salary of approximately £25,000 to £50,000. This all depends on location, experience and skills.

Trainee barristers that are undergoing pupillage training can expect a minimum salary of £12,000 and be paid up to £45,000 for their year-long training depending on various factors.

Barristers with many years of experience can expect to earn up to £300,000 per year and even more if they are working in a private practice. Some with over ten years’ experience report yearly salaries of over £1,000,000.

There are some barristers who decide to seek employment in the public sector working for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Their average yearly salaries range from £30,000 to £90,000 depending on years of experience.

owning a villa in Italy When you start as a lawyer don’t expect your salary to buy you an Italian villa. Making the big bucks takes time and a lot of hard work. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Salaries of Solicitors

Solicitors offer expert legal advice and instil confidence in their clients. Starting out, they can expect to make between £25,000 and £40,000 in regional law firms and smaller private practices. Pay increases are the result of attracting new clients, winning cases and working long hours during evenings and weekends.

Those who decide to stay in London after Uni can make a lot more money at commercial law firms with starting salaries ranging from £58,000 to £65,000 per year. While salaries are more inflated in the United Kingdom’s biggest cities, the competition for the best jobs is extremely fierce. In order to land the job that everyone wants, you need to boast an impressive resume with notable work experience and outstanding extracurricular activities.

After years of hard work, solicitors can be named partner and make an annual salary of over £100,000 and receive extra compensation if they are equity partners sharing in the firm’s profits.

The Bar Exam’s Equivalent Courses in the UK

In other countries, such as the United States, the bar examination is taken after law school to assess legal knowledge and ensure that the law student is deserving of his license to practice law. Nevertheless, the legal system is different in the United Kingdom and no bar exam is taken after receiving your Bachelor’s in Law (LLB).

There are two vocational courses that are equivalent to the bar exam in England and Wales. Aspiring lawyers need to complete these programmes in order to move onto the next stage of becoming a lawyer. Barristers study for a year the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and solicitors study for the same amount of time the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)

This vocational programme equips aspiring barristers with all the necessary skills they will need to defend courses in court.

Admission to the course depends on good grades, a Bachelor’s in Law (LLB), admittance to one of the four Inns of Court and successfully passing the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT).

Throughout the one year programme students are assessed through written examinations to ensure they are meeting the high standards of The Bar Association.

There are eight primary schools offering the BPTC across the United Kingdom. Some of the schools include the BPP Law School, Cardiff Law School, Northumbria University in Newcastle and The University of Law (with schools in Birmingham, Leeds and London).

Tuition and course fees are quite expensive ranging from £19,400 to £14,000 for the year-long programme. Prices depend mostly on the school.

Legal Practice Course (LPC)

The LPC trains solicitors to have better client meetings, make contracts and conduct legal research successfully. To take part in this year-long vocational programme, applicants are required to have a law degree (LLB) and submit an application through the Central Applications Board (CAB) ranking their top three preferences of law schools to attend.

The year is divided into two stages where students cover the essential areas of Business law, litigation and private acquisitions just to name a few.

Since the LPC is a very popular vocational programme, there are over 30 accredited schools across the UK offering this course. Some of the qualified schools include Anglia Ruskin University, Nottingham Law School, Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Westminster.

At these schools, students are assessed throughout the year by means of knowledge tests, written assignments, essay questions and oral presentations. 

Course fees are extremely high considering the fact that this vocational course only lasts one year. Prices for tuition range from £15,740 to £7,700 depending on the location and reputation of the school.

However, do not fear student loans are here! For both of these bar exam equivalent courses, students can borrow up to £10,000 through the Professional Career and Development Loan (PCDL).

Becoming a lawyer takes time, dedication, self-discipline and requires a lot of long nights studying at the library. Nevertheless, the benefits outweigh the sacrifices. The thrill of winning cases, fighting for those who in need and enjoying the finest things money can buy thanks to a sizeable salary, make the legal profession satisfying and delightful!

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