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Becoming a Lawyer

General advice, Law November 4, 2008

Becoming a Lawyer

"A lawyer without books would be like a workman without tools," according to Thomas Jefferson. Even if you have a Law degree, you’ll need further training to work in the legal sector. Real World sets out the different routes into Law. By Hannah Davies


Getting Started
If your under-graduate degree is in a subject other than Law, you will need to undertake the one-year law conversion course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The GDL is sometimes referred to by its old name, the Common Professional Exam (CPE).

Those who have completed the GDL or who hold an undergraduate Law degree then embark upon the Legal Practice Course (LPC). The LPC currently lasts for one year of full-time study or two years part-time. This is the vocational phase of the training and comprises two stages: stage one is for compulsory modules, then during stage two students choose three specialist subjects. The range of elective subjects on offer varies depending on the course provider, so make sure you do your research. There are also "pervasive" elements, common to every course, which include ethics and advocacy.

The cost of the course varies significantly, with fees ranging from £5,000 to £9,000 or more; you also need to factor in living costs and additional expenses such as textbooks. Some law firms offer sponsorship as part of their training contract package, and there are bursaries available from the Law Society.

Applications for LPC courses go through the Central Applications Board. Before starting the LPC, you must become a student member of the Law Society; this is organised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The Training Contract
The training contract is the final stage of qualifying as a solicitor, and involves working at a law firm for two years. This is the time for trainee solicitors to put their knowledge and skills into practice, supervised by a qualified solicitor. The SRA requires that you cover a minimum of three areas of work. At larger law firms your training contract will be divided between several different departments; these periods are known as "seats". Your experience of the training contract will vary to an extent depending on the type of law firm. You must also complete the Professional Skills Course (PSC) during your training contract. Law firms are obliged to pay for their trainees to take the PSC.

Competition for places is fierce. Bear in mind that many larger law firms fill their training contract places two years in advance. Salaries vary depending on the type of firm.

You can also qualify as a solicitor through the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) pathway. This involves taking the standard ILEX exams as well as some extra qualifications.


Getting Started
Following either the GDL (see Solicitors above) or an undergraduate law degree, future barristers must take the one-year Bar Vocational Course (BVC). There are compulsory modules including civil litigation and professional ethics, as well as two optional subjects. Practical skills, such as drafting and advocacy, form an important part of the course.

Following successful completion of the BVC you are "called to the Bar" – that is, you become a qualified barrister. However, you must undertake a pupillage in order to practise independently.

The cost of the BVC ranges from £8,000 to £12,000 or more. You must join one of the four Inns of Court before you register for the course. What’s more, you are required to complete twelve "qualifying units" (such as attending education days or dinners) through your Inn before being called to the Bar. The Inns also offer a variety of awards and scholarships for the BVC.

The final stage is an "apprenticeship" at a set of chambers and usually takes one year. Pupillage is divided into two six-month periods, known as ‘sixes’. During the first "six" you will spend most of your time shadowing and assisting a senior barrister. If this goes well, you will receive a Provisional Qualifying Certificate. The second "six" should see you dealing with your own clients and court work, albeit with your supervisor’s permission. The sixes will not necessarily be spent within the same chambers.

OLPAS is an online, centralised application service for pupillages. There are two recruitment seasons: summer, during which the larger chambers tend to advertise, and winter. You can apply to up to twelve chambers per season. Not all chambers advertise via OLPAS. Visit for further information.

The competition is intense: it is estimated that two-thirds of those who take the BVC do not manage to secure a pupillage. Work experience, in the form of ‘mini-pupillages’, should put you at an advantage, and persistence is key.

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