Do you dream of studying law? If you’re keen to pursue a legal career but you’re not sure where to begin, this guide is for you. It covers all the essential information you need to know, from the different roles available to the courses you’ll need to take.
What Career Options Do I Have If I Study Law?
Because every legal role requires specific qualifications, we recommend considering your career options carefully before you commit to a course. Here’s a brief overview of the main legal roles on offer.
Average salary £36,343
If you become a solicitor you’ll offer legal advice to individuals, groups and companies, as well as representing your clients in the lower courts. After you’ve qualified, you’ll be able to specialize in a range of areas from family law to international law.
While many solicitors work for law firms, there are plenty of alternative options, including working for the Crown Prosecution Service or a government department. Once you have plenty of experience under your belt you could work towards becoming a partner, which means that you’ll be entitled to a share of your law firm’s profits.
As well as representing people and organisations at courts and tribunals, barristers provide expert legal advice and draft court documents. Joining the profession means that you’re likely to be self-employed, in which case you’ll be sharing a set of chambers with a group of barristers. However, if you’d rather find employment, you could work for an organisation like the Crown Prosecution Service or the Government Legal Services.
It’s tricky to predict what you could earn as a qualified barrister, as it will depend on your firm, your practice area and your location. But if you’re keen to know more you’ll find an excellent guide on the Chambers Student website.
Chartered Legal Executive
Average salary £28,862
Chartered Legal Executives are qualified lawyers who specialise in a particular area of law. If you become one, you could work for a variety of employers including law firms, commercial organisations, local authority legal departments and government departments.
The role of a legal executive is largely advisory and office-based, although it can involve appearing in court. Legal executives can also become coroners, judges and partners.
What Academic Qualifications Will I Need to Study Law?
1. Traditional Route
You’ll need at least five GCSEs and three A levels to qualify via the traditional route, as it starts with gaining a university place. However, some universities may waive these requirements if you have several years of relevant work exp. It’s also possible that you may be asked to sit the Law National Aptitude Test, which assesses relevant skills, such as your ability to reason and your ability to interpret information.
Although you don’t need a qualifying law degree (LLB) to become a solicitor or barrister, becoming an undergraduate law student means that you’ll gain a solid understanding of 7 core legal subjects:
Not able to commit to full-time study at a university law school? Then you could consider taking an online law degree. As well as being flexible, this option is much cheaper and you’ll also benefit from a variety of assessment methods.
If you want to become a lawyer but you’ve already studied a different subject at university, you’ll need to take a one-year law conversion course called the Graduate Diploma in Law. This prepares you for the next step by covering the foundations of legal practice and the legal system.
2. Apprenticeship Route
It’s now possible to become a solicitor via an apprenticeship, which is the perfect solution if you need to earn a salary while you learn. Lasting for 6 years, this level 7 programme involves training with a law firm while you study the content of both a law degree and the LPC. You’ll need at least five GCSEs and three good A level passes to apply – unless you’ve already completed a level 3 paralegal apprenticeship.
Solicitor apprenticeships are definitely an option worth exploring, as you’ll be rewarded with an LLB and an LLM (Masters). You won’t pay a penny in tuition fees either, as these will be paid by the law firm you’re training with.
1. CILEx Route
Studying with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) is extremely flexible, as you can study from home, at your local college or via a combination of the two. It’s also affordable, as you’ll be working in a legal role while you study. In fact, two-thirds of CILEx students are financially supported by their employer.
To qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive, you’ll need to take CILEx’s Level 3 Diploma followed by their two-year level 6 Higher Diploma in Law. Alternatively, if you already have a law degree, you could take a one-year part-time Graduate Fast Track Diploma, followed by two level 6 practice units.
In addition to the required courses, you’ll also need three years of qualifying employment, which essentially means legal work that’s supervised by a solicitor. Once you’ve completed your studies and your work experience, you’ll be a qualified lawyer.
CILEx has also made it possible to train as a legal executive before becoming a solicitor. This involves taking a few extra certificates in order to cover the subjects you’d study for a law degree. You can then move on to the next stage of your solicitors’ training, without having to worry about training contracts, as you’ll be exempt.
2. Apprenticeship Route
The level 6 Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship is a five-year programme, that involves gaining work experience while you work towards the CILEx Level 6 Diploma. To apply, you’ll generally need GCSEs in maths and English at grade four or above, though some employers will also require three A levels.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that this apprenticeship links to two others. If you complete a Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship you can progress on to the Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship. And once you’ve completed the Legal Executive Apprenticeship, you’ll be exempt from some units of the Solicitor Apprenticeship.
Vocational Training for Solicitors and Barristers
If you’re a barrister or a solicitor and you’re taking the traditional route to qualification, this step follows your academic studies.
Solicitors – Nine-month Legal Practice Course (LPC)
This covers essential areas including litigation, research, interviewing, drafting and creating contracts. We strongly recommend finding a final work-based training contract before you apply for the LPC, as training contracts are hard to get. If you manage to gain one, the firm should fund your LPC.
Barristers- One year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)
This covers core skills like advocacy, writing, drafting and negotiation. While you study, you’ll become a student barrister with one of London’s Four Inns of Court.
If you’re a trainee solicitor your final step is a two-year full-time training contract with a law firm or an approved employer. This involves gaining paid experience in at least two areas of English and Welsh law. After this, you’ll need to pass an assessment of your character and suitability for the legal profession.
In-work training for barristers involves completing a 12-month pupillage with a barrister’s chambers or employer. As well as shadowing and working with a supervisor, you’ll use this time to apply for a tenancy, so that you can continue practising from a set of chambers. The competition for pupillages is fierce, so you have up to five years to find one after you’ve completed your BPTC.
What is the Solicitors Qualifying Examination?
Developed in response to the increasing variety of legal training options, the SQE will ensure that all newly qualified solicitors meet the same standards. If you start your law degree after Autumn 2021 you’ll have to take the new exam, which will eventually replace the LPC and GDL courses.