A long period of study is needed for both solicitors and barristers. Those considering a legal career need to be aware of the options so as to be able to plan the approach most suitable for their wishes and from a financial point of view.
THE COSTS OF LEGAL PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATION
Students must fund their legal studies.
Barristers have to undertake the Bar Professional Training Course (BPC) and, if they do not have a qualifying law degree, they also have to study the GDL/PGDL prior to the BPTC. Both courses last 1 year full-time but can be studied part-time. The route to qualification as a solicitor is set out above and depends on which regime applies to the particular student.
There are a variety of course providers for the vocational courses which form part of the qualification as either a Solicitor or Barrister. The options for would be solicitors have proliferated since the introduction of the SQE and the list is changing dynamically, for that reason we have not included details here.
The amount charged by institutions for SQE training varies widely depending on the kind of course which has been offered. Those willing to undertake the course entirely by self-study (suitable potentially for those who already have a law degree but very challenging for those with a different degree) start from written courses available for a few hundred pounds up to around £15,000 for a taught course including a masters qualification.
The BPC course with masters may cost around £18,000, costs are always higher in London. In addition if you want to be a barrister and have not studied law you will have to undertake the GDL with an additional cost or around £13,000.
There are a variety of ways in which students who chose not to follow the apprenticeship route to qualifying 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
|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/PGDL, LPC, SQE 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.
|Large law firms may pay the course fees for the LPC, GDL/PGDL or SQE and may also provide money towards living expenses It is competitive to get such sponsorship and it is largely available from the larger firms which specialise in commercial law. They recruit two years in advance, starting the recruitment process anywhere up to 2 years and 9 months before trainees would start with them. Accordingly law undergraduates looking for sponsorship would need to start looking for opportunities and making applications from the beginning of the first term of their second year. Those not studying law should start the same process at the beginning of the final year of their degrees. Many firms will offer vacation schemes at the end of the year or during the Easter holidays and will treat the scheme as an extended interview, offering training contracts at the end to those who are successful .
Some 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 Lawcareers.net, 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.
|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:
SOLICITORS’ ROUTES TO QUALIFICATION
THE “OLD ROUTE” VIA THE LAW PRACTICE COURSE (LPC)
This route to qualification is now being phased out under transitional arrangements but is still available for anyone who either:
- entered a contract and paid a non- refundable deposit to study the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or the Post Graduate Diploma in Law (PGDL) before 1st September 2021 or
- who accepted a place to study a Qualifying Law Degree Course at University (usually leading to an LLB qualification) before 22 September 2021.
The GDL and PGDL generally cover the same core academic law subjects as a Qualifying Degree although in less detail. These are:
- Land Law,
- Contract Law,
- Constitutional Law,
- Law of Equity and Trusts and
- European Union Law.
Many providers now offer courses with Commercial Law in place of EU law. For those wishing to qualify as solicitors this is the better option. Those wishing to become barristers must find a course which includes EU law as this is still required.
Those who complete the GDL or PGDL or who have a qualifying law degree having started before the deadlines set out above are eligible to sit the Law Practice Course (LPC). The LPC covers professional subjects which are:
- Civil Litigation,
- Criminal Litigation,
- Property Law and Practice,
- Business Law and Practice,
- Professional Conduct,
- Wills and the Administration of Estates and
In addition students learn professional skills including drafting and advocacy.
After successful completion of the QLD or the GDL / PGDL and the LPC the student must normally find a training contract or, as it is correctly named (“Period of recognised training”) with a law firm or other legal services provider. The training contract runs for two years and trainees must gain experience in at least 3 different areas of English law which must include experience of both transactional and contentious work. Trainees also complete a compulsory Professional Skills Course covering:
- Finance and Business skills,
- Advocacy and Communication and
- Client care and Professional Standards.
At the end of the period the law firm (or other provider) will confirm that the trainee has gained the relevant experience and is competent to be admitted as a solicitor.
It is possible (but less common) for a student to take control of their own Period of Recognised training and to present evidence to the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) of the experience they have gained and to demonstrate that this is in line with the requirements and that they should be admitted as a solicitor. This process requires discipline, accurate and thorough record keeping and proactivity in ensuring that the required elements are completed. Most students will need longer than two years to complete this process.
THE “NEW ROUTE” TO QUALIFICATION THE SOLICITORS’ QUALIFYING EXAM (“SQE”)
This is the only route to qualification open to those who started their study of a QLD or the GDL/PGDL after the dates set out above. It is also open to those who have not yet qualified and who started their studies earlier than the deadline dates. In order to qualify a candidate must have a degree level qualification and must pass SQE1 and SQE2 exams and have two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
SQE1 are multiple choice exams on the single best answer basis conducted over two days. These cover all the subjects set out above for the QLD and LPC except EU law which is no longer part of the syllabus. The level expected for a pass mark is the knowledge that would be expected of a newly and minimally qualified solicitor. There are no exemptions for law graduates who must still undertake the full assessment.
SQE2 are practical assessments conducted over 5 days. It is intended that this assessment should take place in the last quarter of the student’s period of qualifying work experience (see below). In SQE 2 students are assessed on the following skills:
- Client interview and attendance notes
- Case and Matter Analysis
- Legal Research
- Legal Writing
- Legal Drafting
Having completed both parts of the assessment the student must have evidence signed by a practising solicitor to show that they have worked for two years in a legal environment. There is no requirement for the signing solicitor to confirm competency on the part of the trainee.
LAW APPRENTICESHIPS FOR SCHOOL LEAVERS
The Solicitors Apprenticeship is a 6 year programme for those entering after A Level study. The scheme covers the content in a law degree and an LLM (Masters in Law) and those who pass the SQE will be qualified as solicitors. They will have worked alongside their studies throughout and will have been paid during that time. Firms across the spectrum are now offering this opportunity.
There are other legal apprenticeships available, and students may progress from one level to the next and eventually achieve qualification as a solicitor. The other apprenticeships are:
- Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) Level 2 Diploma for legal Secretaries – this is open to those with GCSEs.
- Paralegal Level 3 Apprenticeship open to those with GCSEs, this is a 2 year programme and allows those completing it to progress to:
Chartered Legal Executive (CILEx) Level 6 programme for those who have completed the Level 3 pathway or who have separately completed the CILEx Level 3 qualification. This provides some exemptions for those wishing to progress to the Solicitor Apprenticeship.
BARRISTERS’ ROUTES TO QUALIFYING
Would be barristers must undertake a QLD (see above) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL/ PGDL ) conversion course (with an EU Law option) and then the Bar Practice Course (BPC) which is an intensive one year course (with an option for part time study over two years) involving a lot of advocacy practice.
After this academic study students will be eligible to be called to the Bar. At this stage they are an unregistered barrister. To become registered they must complete one year of pupillage where they work effectively as an apprentice under a pupil master. The first six months (known as the first six) is primarily paperwork and observation and in the second six months (the second six) the barrister may begin to do advocacy. At the end of pupillage a barrister will look to find a tenancy (a place in chambers) or employment. Most barristers are self employed and operate out of chambers.