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How to become a lawyer in the UK

Do you have aspirations to become a lawyer? We take a look at the steps you need to take to make your dream a reality and answer the all-important questions.

A lawyer reviews legal documents

Working as a lawyer can be hugely fulfilling. Whether your ambitions of becoming a lawyer have been driven by your passion for social justice, your favourite TV show, or your earning potential, a job in law is a good way of future-proofing your career.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about becoming a lawyer. From responsibilities to how much lawyers earn, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about whether the legal profession is right for you.

What is a lawyer and what do they do?

A lawyer is best described as someone that’s qualified to give legal advice as a licensed, legal practitioner. When it comes to their job role, it’s important to recognise the distinction between a lawyer who advises clients before a court case and one that represents a client in court. These two roles are known as solicitors and barristers.

  • Solicitors – providing legal support, advice, and services to clients, solicitors can either work as individuals or for organisations, in both the private and public sectors. They’re key in making sure a business runs smoothly and can specialise in areas of law such as finance, property, and family.
  • Barristers – representing individuals and organisations in court, barristers research key areas of law and advise clients on a case. This can often involve representing the client in court. Barristers can be self-employed, work for the government, or for agencies. A solicitor will often contact barristers seeking legal advice on behalf of a client, which results in them giving written advice to the client and speaking on their behalf before a judge.

There’s also another legal job that’s classed as being a lawyer, and that’s a Chartered Legal Executive. This is a qualified lawyer who specialises in particular fields of law, such as civil and criminal litigation or corporate law. You have to complete the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) training programme to become one.

What degree do you need to become a lawyer in the UK?

In most instances, you’ll need a degree to become a lawyer in the UK, but the good news is, that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a law-specific course. Suppose you studied an unrelated subject at the undergraduate level and want to become a lawyer. In that case, you’ll need to complete a law conversion course.

If you want to become a Chartered Legal Executive, then you can via the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ) route.

How to become a solicitor

Most prospective solicitors still choose to complete a qualifying law degree before taking the SQE, and it’s seen as the most traditional route. When going down this route, the next step is to complete two years of qualifying legal work experience before completing the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) character and suitability requirements. Once you’ve finished this, you’ll be able to apply for admission to the roll of solicitors.

However, you can still complete an unrelated degree before taking a law conversion course or a Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) preparation course.

Another possible route is to complete a Solicitor Apprenticeship. This six-year programme caters to A-level students and chartered legal executives. 

How to become a barrister

To become a barrister, you’ll need a degree in law, to have completed the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), and do a pupillage with a barristers chambers for a year. Once you have completed these areas of training, you can then apply for tenancy as a self-employed barrister in chambers or go into practice as an employed barrister. However, most barristers are self-employed.

What are the different types of lawyers in the UK?

On your journey to becoming a lawyer, it’s important to recognise the different types of law there is to practice. As with any profession, deciding what type of lawyer you want to become isn’t always an easy decision, so it’s good to understand the roles and responsibilities of each type. This will help you work out which is the most appealing to you.

Ultimately, you want to be passionate about the field of law you go into. Here are the different types of law you can specialise in:

  • Civil litigation lawyer – involved in trials that aren’t concerned with criminal charges. For example, cases where two or more parties are in a dispute.
  • Corporate lawyer – deals with legal matters concerning business, and handles matters such as mergers and acquisitions between companies.
  • Criminal lawyer – works on cases that involve criminal charges, either on behalf of a defendant or the crown as part of the prosecution. They deal with everything crime related, from robberies to murders.
  • Employment lawyer – focuses on cases involving employees and employers, such as problems with pay, unfair dismissal, and safety negligence.
  • Family lawyer – handles disputes and issues with families. This includes divorce, child custody, and finances. 
  • Human rights lawyer – make sure human rights law is upheld. This can involve freedom of speech issues, hate crimes, and lobbying against governments that are guilty of human rights violations.
  • Intellectual property lawyer – focuses on the protection of new inventions and ideas, which is becoming more relevant in our ever-changing world. Includes patents or trademarks and copyright issues.
  • Personal injury lawyer – works on cases related to injuries sustained during accidents, whether they occurred at home, in public, or at work. They can also get involved in cases where surgeries have gone wrong or misdiagnosis has occurred.
  • Property lawyer – deals with all legal matters to do with land and the properties that are built on it. Covers everything from buying and selling to the development of huge estates.

How long does it take to become a lawyer in the UK?

If you want to be a solicitor and intend to study full-time, then it can take five to six years to qualify. This includes your law degree, the SQE assessments, and the legal work experience you need to partake in. If you don’t study for a degree in law, then you’ll need to factor in the time it takes to complete a conversion course or SQE preparation course.

For those wanting to become a barrister, you can expect it to take approximately five years. This includes your law degree, a Bar course, and the one-year pupillage. Again, time will need to be added on if you need to take a conversion course. 

Finally, if you’re studying to become a lawyer via the CILXx CPQ, you can expect it to take between 18 months to two years

Average lawyer salary

The average salary of a lawyer depends on several factors. This includes the country they work in, their specialised field, how much experience they have, and whether they’re self-employed or work for a firm.

In the UK, as a trainee lawyer, The Law Society recommends a minimum of £23,703 for people in London and £21,024 for elsewhere in the country.

Newly qualified lawyers across the country can expect to earn £28,000 to £61,000. However, this figure will rise significantly the more experience you gain. If you’re a newly qualified Magic Circle solicitor, then you can earn up to £125,000 in London. Glassdoor estimates that the average earnings for a lawyer in London is £73,213.

No matter what field of law you work in, you can expect your salary to rise generously year-on-year. 

Other notable average salary expectations from around the world include:

How to become a lawyer: additional learning

Now that you know how to become a lawyer in the UK, we can help you take the next step in achieving your dreams. To accompany your studies, why not take a look at some of the law courses we offer at FutureLearn? With our help, you can develop all the knowledge and expertise you need to excel in your chosen field of law.

Whilst the road to becoming a lawyer can at times feel long and challenging, the process can be made simpler by getting the right support. Find a course that suits your needs today.

Find an online law course on FutureLearn

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