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Back to the School

Advice, Law September 21, 2007

Back to the School

Back to School

Hoping to become a solicitor or barrister? Well, there are a few academic hurdles you need to cross before starting a training contract or pupillage

If you have a law degree or have completed the graduate diploma in law (GDL) and want to become a barrister or solicitor, the next stage of vocational training is the bar vocational course (BVC) or legal practice course (LPC), respectively. If you are particularly keen on academic study, you might even precede whichever option you choose with a master of laws (LLM) course. This can provide a good base for the LPC or BVC.

What to expect

The LPC comprises four main components: skills, compulsory subjects, optional subjects and pervasive topics. Skills include advocacy, interviewing and accounting. The compulsory modules are typically criminal law, business law, property law and civil litigation. The optional subjects – also known as "electives" – vary from institution to institution. If you have a training contract lined up, your firm may dictate which electives you take, such as commercial property law.

The BVC teaches the subjects that a pupil barrister will need during their career. Core modules include opinion writing, practical legal research and professional ethics. Optional modules vary depending on the institution, but typical subjects include employment law, family law and EC law.

The costs

Becoming a barrister or solicitor can be very expensive – the training alone can set you back about £10,000.

On top of that, pupil barristers may need financial support for the first six months or so of their pupillage, as the take-home pay can be low. So you need to plan funding for both the BVC and the pupillage. The four Inns do provide scholarships – about a quarter of all students studying for their BVCs receive some form of scholarship award. Apply for scholarships as soon as you can.

The LPC can be equally expensive, with some providers in London charging upwards of £9,000. Yet the salary that trainee solicitors earn is relatively low – from August 2006 to July 2007 the minimum for trainees working in central London was £17,110, while outside central London it was £15,332.

How useful are the courses?

Opinions differ as to how useful the courses actually are. Some describe the LPC and BVC as "over-rated", while others are more positive.

"The LPC was very useful for putting the law into context," says one student. Vijay Singh, a trainee at Mills & Reeve, complains that, despite its name, the LPC wasn’t practical enough: "Although it’s meant to be the first part of a training contact, there was too much academia." He adds: "Some bits were useful, such as legal procedures and filling in forms. But overall, I didn’t enjoy it.

Kate Hallett of Landmark Chambers says of the BVC: "It’s not very stimulating," But she adds: "It did give me the skills needed to begin pupillage. The BVC is all about acquiring practical skills, such as writing opinions. It gave me the basics to then progress to pupillage."

How to apply

If you are a law student, you should apply for admission to the LPC in the autumn term of your final year. GDL students should apply early in the conversion course. As with GDL applications, you need to apply for the LPC via the Central Applications Board (www.lawcabs.ac.uk). You should provide academic references. In addition, before you start the LPC, you must become a student member of the Law Society. If you apply to study the LPC full-time, the Solicitors Regulation Authority will send you an application form for student enrolment – a joining fee is payable. If you have a training contract lined up, your firm may tell you which law school to attend (see below).

If you want to apply for the BVC, you will need to go through the Bar Council’s central applications system – BVCOnline at www.bvconline.co.uk. Candidates are advised to submit their application as early on in the system as possible. In 2007 the deadline for first-round applications was 10 January. Check dates for future years well in advance.
But before opting to go to law school, think carefully. Taking this route can be expensive. The current recruitment climate means stiff competition to land a training contract or pupillage. And while further study will enhance your CV in some respects, it won’t be enough to erase poor grades.

As with all major financial decisions, weigh up the pros and cons before diving in.


LPC – College of Law, Guildford

Iain Platfoot
Age
: 24
Degree: Chemistry, 2.1, Exeter University
GDL: College of Law, Guildford

Iain wants to become a solicitor, and this meant he needed to take the LPC. He decided on law as a career as he wanted a job that would stimulate him, allow him to meet interesting people and, he hoped, differ from day to day.

How does the LPC differ from undergraduate study?

It’s a lot more structured than undergraduate study. You have to undertake certain modules defined by the Law Society. Because it is aimed at those who want to become solicitors, rather than focusing on theoretical content, we are learning actual skills.

Are you enjoying it?

Very much. It’s a fantastic institution. It’s a fun place to be, you meet a lot of like-minded people, but also people who are completely different from you. There are a lot of well-rounded characters. Some are interested in legal aid work, while others want to work for big firms. There is the opportunity to undertake whatever extra-curricular activities you want. For example, I mooted during my GDL year, now I play rugby and I’m the treasurer of the squash club. I really get involved in college life.

How do you manage your workload?

Carefully. You’re expected to do about 40 hours a week in class and through self-study. Of that, 10 are contact hours, while the rest is preparation, consolidation and so on. I also have a part-time job. So it’s tough, but achievable.

How are you funding your study?

I took a loan from the College of Law, and I also work at The Sports Shop in Guildford.

What are your plans after LPC?

If I had a job lined up, it would be a training contract. As it is, I am applying for training contracts and other legal positions, such as paralegal jobs. Ultimately, I want a training contract to become a solicitor.

What advice do you have for students considering the LPC?

Make sure you definitely want to become a solicitor. Don’t undertake the course if you have no interest in pursuing law as a career. Be prepared to work hard – it’s not undergraduate study. I think it looks good on your CV. It shows employers you have a dedication to law – that you’re not just waiting for that magic job to fall into your lap.


BVC – BPP Law School

Victoria Booth
Age
: 25
Degree: Social and Political Sciences, First, Cambridge University
GDL: BPP Law School

Victoria decided to undertake the BVC because she has always wanted to be a barrister. In particular, she has a real interest in family law.

How does the BVC differ from undergraduate study?

The BVC is very different from my degree, in that it is much more structured. Also, the subject matter of study, especially the civil and criminal procedure elements of the programme, are completely different, and much more scientific than the politics and sociology courses I studied at university. Along with the GDL, the BVC has been useful in training my brain to work differently. I will be able to take both these ways of learning and producing work into practice as a barrister.

Are you enjoying it?

And what do you like most about it? It has been difficult at times, and the workload is heavy. However, it is also extremely satisfying. The advocacy classes are enjoyable, although at first they were were quite intimidating. But because the class sizes at BPP are so small – about six people – I got to know everyone quickly, which made the classes easier and also fun.

How do you manage your workload?

I try to think "I’m working nine to five, Monday to Friday", and that way everything seems to get done.

How are you funding your study?

I was given the Lord Justice Holker Award from Gray’s Inn, which pretty much covered the BPP fee. I also do two hours a week of tutoring, which helps with living expenses.

What are your plans after the BVC?

I have a pupillage at 4 Paper Buildings, which I’m really excited about.

What advice do you have for students considering the BVC?

Apply to an Inn for a scholarship, as they generally give out a lot of money to people doing the BVC – I think the Gray’s Inn scholarship fund is about £900,000 a year. Secondly, be prepared for quite a lot of work and be organised. Thirdly, go to an institution that has good facilities and small class sizes, such as BPP, as it is helpful to know that the book you need will always be available, and so on.


LLM – Nottingham Law School

Lene Henno Marklan
Age
: 27
Degree: Law, 2.2, Nottingham Trent University

Lene took her first undergraduate degree in business administration, in Norway. She is now studying for an LLM in European Law at Nottingham Law School. She plans to go back to practise law in Norway, where you need to have completed a minimum of three years’ legal study.

How does an LLM differ from undergraduate study?

There’s a lot more in-depth analysis. At undergraduate level the study is broad – they try to fit as much into the syllabus as possible. With a masters it’s in-depth, and you’re always questioning "why?", whereas at undergraduate level you have to just accept things.

Are you enjoying it? And what do you like most about it?

I like in-depth analysis, and understanding why things work as they do. I love academia, and later on I might do a PhD. The facilities at Nottingham Law School are great. The library is well-equipped, and the databases they subscribe to are really helpful.

How do you manage your workload?

We have lots of reading, and I try to get through as much as possible. Sometimes you have to pick and choose, and leave out non-essential reading. During contact hours your tutor will tell you what to focus on, and give you a more direct view.

How are you funding your study?

I am funded by the Norwegian government.

What are your plans after the LLM?

I have started applying for jobs in Norway. I am playing with the idea of a PhD, but I am leaving that open a bit and seeing where my job applications take me.

What advice do you have for students considering the LLM?

A masters can be beneficial for lots of things. It provides a good base before doing the LPC or BVC. It is excellent if you have an interest in a particular subject. The cost of an LLM is manageable, but having funding before you start is the best thing. I wouldn’t take on a job [during the course], as it involves an increase in workload from undergraduate level.


Firms exclusively sending their trainees to one provider for the LPC

BPP

  • Addleshaw Goddard
  • CMS Cameron McKenna
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (consortium)
  • Herbert Smith (consortium)
  • Lovells (consortium)
  • Macfarlanes
  • Norton Rose (consortium)
  • Simmons & Simmons
  • Slaughter and May (consortium)

College of Law

  • Allen & Overy
  • Baker & McKenzie
  • Barlow Lyde & Gilbert
  • Berwin Leighton Paisner
  • Clifford Chance
  • Cobbetts
  • Halliwells
  • Linklaters

Nottingham Law School

  • Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw

(All other firms operate a flexible policy)

Source: BPP Law School

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