Before considering a career as a Solicitor or Barrister, it is essential to look at the total cost of qualification and any potential funding options available.
From student to qualified Solicitor, the duration of studying law is a long process. Students will undertake a degree course, followed by a further 1-2 years post university. Reports in the media have estimated that because of this, the average amount of debt for those students who started university in 2012, could reach up to £60,000.
There are alternative routes into law which do not involve going to university and adopt a more flexible approach, allowing students to ‘earn while they learn’. These course fees can be repaid over a longer repayment term, allowing students to spread the cost of studying.
Following completion of a relevant degree (and GDL where required), students are required to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC). The LPC lasts 1 year full-time however can be done part-time over an extended duration[A1].
Barristers have to undertake the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and, again, if they have a non-law degree, they also have to study the GDL prior to the BPTC. Both courses last 1 year full-time but can be studied part-time.
There are a variety of course providers for the vocational courses which form part of the qualification as either a Solicitor or Barrister. A list of institutions authorised to provide the LPC can be found at https://www.sra.org.uk/students/courses/lpc-course-providers.page and those which provide the BPTC can be found at https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/qualifying-as-a-Barrister/bar-professional-training-course/bptc-providers/.
[A1]Accelerated LPC courses which last 6 or 7 months are also available, although these are very demanding and are unlikely to be the best option for many students.
The cost of each of the courses vary depending on the course provider. Below is a table which sets out the approximate range of fees currently charged for each course:
|Course Title||Approximate full-time fees. (N.B. amount varies depending on the course provider/location)|
|GDL||£8,000 – £10,000|
|LPC||£10,000 – £15,000|
|BPTC||£12,000 – £19,000|
University law schools, in particular, offer some very competitive rates. Fees are highest at institutions based in London.
It also must be remembered that, in addition to the course fees (inclusive of materials and exam fees), there may also be living expenses which could be incurred during the period of study. To minimise any potential additional expenses, many students live at home during this time.
There are a variety of ways in which students can fund their course fees with some opportunities to gain maintenance grants for living expenses. The various opportunities are summarised in the table below:
|Type of funding||Details of funding|
|Loan Schemes||High street banks are a major source of finance for those considering a career in law.
Funding is available from various banks for those seeking to undertake the GDL, LPC or BPTC, with specific lending institutions offering discounted interest rates and deferred repayment options.
Further information can be obtained from the relevant course providers who may have special arrangements in place with lenders, for their students.
|Sponsorship||Large law firms may pay for the course fees for the LPC. A grant or loan may also be provided for the GDL.
In addition, some large law firms may provide maintenance grants or interest free loans. Such sponsorship is only given to those students who have accepted a training contract with the sponsoring firm. Occasionally commitment to employment with the firm over a specific period is required.
Smaller law firms may provide a loan towards the cost of the LPC fees to their future trainees, which is paid back to the firm when the student starts their training contract.
Sponsorship information can be found in various publications including the training contract handbook, career services and in firms’ own marketing material.
Most Barristers’ chambers will not provide funding or sponsorship but some will advance money to students of the BPTC who they have accepted for pupillage.
|Career Development Loans||These are usually offered at a reduced interest rate and with deferred repayment options. Further information can be found at https://www.gov.uk/career-development-loans/overview.|
|Bursary Schemes||There are bursary schemes run by the Law Society (for Solicitors), the Bar Council and the Inns of Court (for Barristers) and on a reduced scale by some trusts and charities.
For further information, please see:
[A1]Some course providers also offer scholarships, details of which can be found on their websites.
ACDEMICS AND ROUTES INTO LAW
HOW TO QUALIFY AS A SOLICITOR
If you wish to qualify as a Solicitor you will need to gain GCSE’s and UK A levels (or international equivalent) and a qualifying Degree. There are no A level subjects (or equivalent) which are preferable to any others, except for the fact that General Studies is not usually counted as part of the UCAS points system required for university entrance.
You can study any subject at degree level (not necessarily law). Many Solicitors have not read law at university. Qualifying as a Solicitor is very competitive and most law firms will require at least a 2:1 grade, unless there are mitigating circumstances. You should check with individual law firms to find out what their requirements are.
For those who have achieved a non-law degree, you will additionally need to study the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), prior to commencement of the LPC. This can be studied over 1 year full-time or over a longer period if studied part-time.
All law graduates looking to become Solicitors will need to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Non-law graduates join this course on completion of the GDL. The LPC takes 1 year full time or can be studied part-time.
After completion of the LPC, you will have to undertake a 2 year training[A1] contract in a law firm, local authority or within the Crown Prosecution Service. You will experience at least 3 areas of legal practice to include both contentious and non-contentious areas[A2].
Training contracts are generally completed full-time and are 2 years in length.
During the training contract, all trainees have to complete a compulsory Professional Skills Course which introduces them to further aspects of legal practice such as client care, advocacy and accounts. There is one examination in accounts but the other subjects are assessed by attendance at the relevant sessions. This is often paid for by the law firm but, again, this varies from firm to firm[A3] .
Training contracts are extremely competitive. The Law Society’s Annual Statistics report detailed that just 4,869 training contracts were registered in 2012, whereas 5,441 were registered in 2011. This compares with 9,337 students enrolling on the LPC for the last year in which data is available, 2009[A4].
Many law firms recruit 2 years in advance. Interviews and assessment centres are usually held in September, 2 years prior to joining a firm. Applications generally have to be made by July of the year in which the interview/assessment centre takes place. You will have to check with each firm as to their application criteria as well as deadlines and obtaining application forms.
[A1]Amend to “…period of recognised training (commonly referred to as a Training Contract)”? This would then reflect the updated terminology under the 2014 training regulations.
[A2]The requirement for covering both contentious and non-contentious work was removed in 2014. 3 areas must still be covered however.
[A3]Should we include reference to Training for Tomorrow and the fact that the training and qualification process for Solicitors is currently being reviewed by the SRA, with a view to having a new process in place by 2018?
[A4]The latest figures indicate that 5,514 training contracts were registered in 2014. However, 6,171 students completed their LPC course in the 2012/2013 academic year
HOW TO QUALIFY AS A BARRISTER
If you wish to become a Barrister you will need to gain UK GCSE’s, A levels (or international equivalent) and a Degree, although not necessarily in law. There is no specific requirement as to the subjects you should study at A level. If you choose to study a non-law degree, you will then need to undertake the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
Following completion of a law degree (or non-law degree with GDL), students will then need to undertake the Bar Professional Training Court (BPTC). The BPTC is 1 year in duration full-time, however this can also be studied part-time. To apply to complete the BPTC, there is an online application system at:
On completion of the BPTC and, having attended 12 qualifying sessions at an Inns of Court, you will be ‘called to the bar’. There are 4 Inns of Court, all in London and it is tradition that you join one of these. Previously, you had to dine at your chosen Inn in order to qualify but you now have to attend certain educational events or dinners.
After being called to the bar, the next step is to complete a pupillage which is a 12 month training period. Pupillages are very competitive to obtain. Applications are made online at https://www.pupillagegateway.com/. The initial 6 months is spent shadowing an experienced Barrister and the final 6 months you may take on work on your own. Some will spend the full 12 months with one chambers whereas other pupils may spend the year split between two chambers.
The majority of pupillages are completed on a full-time basis as the Bar Council regulations states that you should work a minimum of 35 hours per week. However, exceptional circumstances may be considered.
For further information, please see: https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/qualifying-as-a-Barrister/pupillage/
HOW TO QUALIFY AS A CHARTERED LEGAL EXECUTIVE
If you wish to become a Chartered Legal Executive you must have obtained at least four GCSE grades C (or above) including English Language or Literature, or qualifications at an equivalent level.
To qualify, you must study both the Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law, followed by the Level 6 Diploma in Law. (There are fast-track options and exemptions available. For further information, please see:
The Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law provides a broad introduction to law and legal practice with subjects set at a standard comparable to UK A levels.
The Level 6 Diploma in Law allows for specialist study of three substantive law papers and one practice subject, selected to match the individual student’s work in the office.
The Level 6 Diploma in Law papers are set at degree level and practice papers are set at a standard designed to identify those who have the ability to become expert practitioners in their specialist field.
Once these 2 courses have been completed (each lasting approximately 18 months), you will become a fully qualified Legal Executive. You can then proceed to undertake the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) if you wish to become a Solicitor and also undertake a training contract.
Alternatively and/or additionally, you can qualify as a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives by satisfying the following conditions:
- be 25 years of age;
- be a Member of the Institute of Legal Executives; and
- have completed five years qualifying legal experience, of which two years must have been completed after attaining Membership status.
If you are a Fellow and have passed the GDL and LPC you do not have to undertake a training contract and can become a Solicitor as soon as you complete the core elements of the professional skills course. For further information, please see: https://www.cilex.org.uk/careers/careers_home.aspx