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On Her Majesty’s Service

Advice, General, Law September 21, 2007

On Her Majesty's Service

On Her Majesty’s Service

Think that training contracts and pupillages are available only in the private sector? Think again. Several opportunities are available to future lawyers in the public sector, the two main organisations being the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Government Legal Service (GLS).

Crown Prosecution Service

The CPS’s legal trainee scheme comprises both training contracts and pupillages. Vacancies are usually advertised a year before the autumn start date,so interested applicants will need to have completed (or be due to complete) the LPC or BVC – depending on their choice of career path. Because of Law Society requirements, trainees will serve six to eight months in private practice to gain experience in other areas of law. Similarly, pupils will spend one month in chambers to experience the workings of the independent Bar.

So what sort of work can trainees and pupils expect to be doing? "The CPS is very different from other law firms," says a spokesperson. "We deal with criminal law, and don’t have clients in the sense that solicitors in private practice do. Our lawyers work in teams, with caseworkers handling a wide variety of criminal cases from pre-charge to sentence." The CPS suggests that students take the time to do some work shadowing of a CPS lawyer to get an idea of what the work involves. For more information, take a look at our case study overleaf.

Once you start work, you will be given a trained supervisor, who is responsible for your daily work and your personal development. Under supervision, you will handle a range of cases – they could be anything from a straightforward plea to trials and appeals. You will be expected to carry out the full range of prosecutor duties, which include pre-charge advice, case review and preparation, plus advocacy.

The application process is pretty straightforward – an online application form, followed by online verbal and numerical reasoning tests. Applicants will also have to take critical reasoning tests, do a written and oral presentation of a case study, and finally undergo an interview. Training contracts and pupillages are located throughout England and Wales, with assessment centres and training contracts held at various sites. While applicants can specify a preferred location, this cannot be guaranteed by the CPS.

Government Legal Service

The GLS employs around 1,900 lawyers and trainees, and acts for a sole client – the government. GLS lawyers provide legal services to the entire range of the government’s activities – "from the armed forces to zoology", says its website. One of the main attractions of the GLS as a training contract provider is that it offers a mix of politics and law – ideal if you’ve already had some work experience with an MP.

The areas of practice encompassed by the GLS are far-reaching and can touch on the freedom of information, data protection and the implications of European law. The GLS is broken down into different departments focusing on specialised areas of law. The department with the largest number of lawyers is TSol (Treasury Solicitors), which itself includes four main groups: litigation, employment and commercial contracts, advisory, and bona vacantia (ownerless goods). TSol comprises more than 350 lawyers and also has lawyers located with clients at the Department for Education and Skills, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and HM Treasury.

The next largest department, in terms of legal staff, is HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) with more than 170 lawyers. The department’s role is to ensure people understand and pay what tax they owe, and also receive what they are entitled to. It handles more than £380 billion in revenues a year. Lawyers for HMRC handle a broad range of work. As well as tax issues, they deal with public law matters such as human rights, freedom of information and judicial review.

One of the unique aspects of working for the GLS is that its lawyers are required not only to interpret the law, but also to work with policy-makers and other professionals in making the law. The diversity of the GLS’s work make it an interesting place to work: "There is often considerable overlap between categories of work," says a GLS spokesperson. "A case before the UK courts, for example, might require lawyers to advise on public law issues, on EU law and human rights law, and on changes needed to primary or secondary legislation."

If that sounds like the sort of thing you are interested in, and to get an insight into the workings of the GLS, take a look at our case studies below.


Joanna Bateman

Age: 25
Degree: Law, 2.1, Nottingham University
LPC: Nottingham Law School
Institution: Government Legal Service
Current seat: Advisory seat in the Cabinet Office and Central Advisory Division (COCAD) of the Treasury Solicitor’s Department

Why did you decide upon a career in law?

I liked the idea of a career with academic challenges. I also wanted to be involved with people and have an impact on real life. My career means I can have a mixture of the two.

What did the application process involve?

It has now changed to include a verbal reasoning test, but when I applied there was a straight application form. That was followed by an interview day which involved group and written exercises, plus a panel interview.

What type of work are you doing in your current seat?

I am in an advisory seat doing work for the Cabinet Office and other government departments. I do research and discrete pieces of work for colleagues. I also have my own workload, and have been drafting a statutory instrument. Before this advisory seat, I did two litigation seats, which I enjoyed. Throughout my training I been given responsibility and my own caseload. Advisory work can be drier than litigation, as it is more research-based. But it does allow more in-depth knowledge of the law.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety of work and the fact that the work we do is interesting and often high-profile. A lot of the work we do will make the front pages of the newspapers. It also touches on everyday life – you can see the impact it has on people’s lives.

What do you like least?

The air conditioning is too cold. Seriously, there’s not much I don’t like – maybe it’s the moving every six months. If there is a piece of work that goes on longer than six months, as a trainee you don’t get to see its conclusion.

What advice do you have for readers?

Choose an area of law you have a genuine interest in, and think what type of firm you want to work for. I would highly recommend the Government Legal Service: trainees are treated well and respected as valuable members of the team, the people are nice, and you are given good work.


Eran Cutliffe

Age: 22
Degree: Law with English Literature, 2.1, Keele University
LPC: College of Law, Chester
Institution: Crown Prosecution Service
Current seat: The CPS only offers crime, but to meet Law Society requirements Eran will do a secondment in a local private practice for six months.

Why did you decide upon a career in law?

I wanted to specialise in criminal litigation as it has always interested me. At university I found criminal law challenging, but I wanted a career I could get stuck into. A challenge is what makes work exciting. I chose the CPS over any other workplace because I knew that every file would be different – even where the facts of the case are similar. If you’re interested in advocacy, but want to be a solicitor rather than a barrister, the CPS is the place to be.

What did the application process involve?

I found out about working at the CPS from talks that the institution was doing all over the country. I attended a talk at the College of Law in Chester. There was an online application form with a series of questions, about work experience and qualifications. I then had an interview and was also given a case study. I had to decide whether the case in question should be prosecuted, and if so, why. I had to present my decisions to a panel.

What type of work are you doing in your current seat?

I am working in a combined unit dealing with magistrates’ and crown courts. I work closely with a supervisor, who is a crown prosecutor with substantial experience. I do initial reviews of files when they are first received, and then later a full review. I am learning to gain the continuity expected of qualified prosecutors. I also do a lot of observation of trials and sentencing.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy working as part of a team. It means that if you are unsure of something you can discuss it with a colleague. There is a very supportive atmosphere.

What do you like least?

It is difficult to say, as the ethos of the CPS is brilliant. The disadvantage of working for a national organisation is that there are a lot of hoops to jump through.

What advice do you have for readers?

Be sure that the career and choices you make are right for you. Also, don’t be afraid of arguing – for example, in an interview. If someone more persuasive disagrees with a point you make, but you still think you’re right, stand by your argument.


Comments are closed.

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