How to become a lawyer
To become a lawyer in the UK, you need to complete a university degree and several years of training. It is an academically challenging profession and highly competitive. You should also consider if this career will suit your character.
Should I become a lawyer?
Law is a respected profession. It is highly academic and can be financially rewarding. If you are considering a career in law, think about whether you would enjoy working with clients, researching documents, planning legal strategies and public speaking.
So, what can you expect?
- High earning potential with good career progression
- Busy lifestyle with demanding hours
- Business environment – so you would be wearing a suit every day
- Client work and litigation – good writing and communication skills are essential.
Steps to becoming a lawyer
There are four steps to becoming a lawyer. It is also a good idea to get work experience throughout your studies to help you decide if it is the career for you.
1. A Levels or equivalent
To get in to law school you will need at least three A Levels with high grades. Courses are competitive so three A or A* grades will help you gain a place to one of the top universities. A Law Foundation is an alternative route to studying law.
There are no specific A Levels needed for law, however A Level subjects such as history, geography and mathematics will help develop key skills such as analysis, research and writing. Bear in mind that some universities may not accept subjects such as PE, art and photography. A Level law is not required but can be useful to give you an idea of the subject.
2. Undergraduate degree
You need to study an undergraduate degree, which takes three years (or four years in Scotland). You can choose a LLB or BA/BSc:
Bachelor of Laws (LLB)
This is a Qualifying Law Degree and is the first stage of training if you want to become a lawyer in the UK. It teaches the seven ‘Foundations of Legal Knowledge’ and develops the knowledge, analytical and practical skills you need for your career.
Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc)
You can study BA Law or an undergraduate degree in another subject but you will need to complete a one-year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course before you can apply for the Legal Practice Course.
What is the difference between an LLB and a BA/BSc in Law?
The LLB focuses exclusively on law, whereas a BA in Law includes modules in law and other subjects like history or business. Both offer the same opportunities, but studying a BA means you will also need to take a one-year conversion course so it takes more time to qualify.
3. Legal Practice Course
The Legal Practice Course (LPC) is a one-year postgraduate course to prepare you for a professional career in law as a solicitor. You will need to study at an accredited centre. Studying the LPC is equivalent to going to law school.
The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is a one-year postgraduate course to prepare you for a professional law career as a barrister. You will need to complete it at an accredited provider, broadly known as a bar school.
Law school entrance requirements vary depending on the institution you are applying for. As competition for places is high, achieving a classification of at least 2:1 honours in your undergraduate degree or GDL will support your application. You will also need a good level of English language and academic references.
Note: Changes from 2021
Please be aware that in September 2021 the way that solicitors qualify in England and Wales is set to change for new entrants with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). In effect, this new exam will replace the GDL and LPC, although there’ll be a long period of transition for those already studying via these routes.
4. Specialist training
The final step is to gain practical experience with a law training contract. This means you will spend two years at a law firm before you are a qualified solicitor. When you apply for training contracts, think about the type of firm you want to work at and the area of law you want to specialise in. During this time, you will also need to complete the Professional Skills Course, a series of specialist training modules paid for by your law firm.
How long does it take to become a lawyer?
It takes six years to become a lawyer if you choose the LLB degree route. It takes seven years if you choose the BA/BSc undergraduate degree route as you will need to complete the GDL conversion course.
You need to complete the following training to qualify as a solicitor:
- Three-year undergraduate degree (+ 1 year GDL conversion course if required)
- One-year Legal Practice Course (LPC)
- Two-year Professional Skills Course
- Two-year law training contract in a law firm.
You need to study for five years to qualify as a barrister:
- Three-year undergraduate degree
- One-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)
- One-year pupillage in Chambers.
To study law you will need three A Levels, achieving three A grades for the most competitive courses. A Levels usually take two years to complete.
If you did not study A Levels, you will need to complete a Law Foundation before your degree. You will need to achieve high grades – at least 75% – for Russell Group universities.
Law National Aptitude Test
You may need to take the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT) to be accepted on to some university courses. This tests your reasoning skills and your ability to analyse information.
Career progression opportunities for lawyers
After you have successfully completed training, you can register as a practising solicitor with the Solicitors Reregulation Authority. This means you appear on the roll of solicitors and become a member of the Law Society.
As a solicitor you could work in:
- A private firm
- Local government
- Government Legal Service (GLS)
- Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
To become a barrister, you need to complete the one year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). You then need to gain practical experience. This is called pupillage and is very competitive with 3,000 people applying for only 400 vacancies each year.
Become a partner
Experienced solicitors have the opportunity to develop their career and become a partner in a law firm. This is a management role to ensure success of the firm, the clients, and those who work in the practice.
Experienced barristers can apply to become a Queen’s Counsel (QC) or judge. This is a very competitive and privileged role. You have to wear a silk gown in court so you may hear QCs referred to as ‘silks’.