How to qualify as a Lawyer

An ever-expanding label

A Lawyer is an ever-expanding label used to describe fee earners in the legal profession. Such roles include: Solicitors, Barristers and Legal Executives, with Paralegals becoming increasingly important in the day-to-day running of a law firm. Details of each can be seen below:


There are a wide range of legal professionals including:

  • Solicitors
  • Barristers
  • Chartered Legal Executives
  • Trademark attorneys
  • Patent Attorneys
  • Licensed Conveyancers
  • Costs lawyers
  • Notaries
  • Probate Practitioners

All of the lawyers in this list are regulated by the Legal Services Board and all have professional status.

In addition many organisations involved in legal activity employ paralegals who normally have some legal qualifications and who may be involved in interesting legal work subject to the supervision of qualified professionals.


Solicitors offer professional and expert day-to-day advice to a range of clients from private individuals to FTSE 500 companies, on every aspect of the law.

There are many practice options available to Solicitors upon qualification. These include small, medium, large, national/international and niche law firms as well as legal teams in local or central government bodies, law centres and in companies as ‘in-house’ counsel.

Whilst some small firms or sole-practitioners may have a general practice across a variety of subject areas, it is increasingly common to specialise in one particular aspect of the law, examples include: real estate, criminal, civil litigation, personal injury, company law, family law, wills and probate, taxation, charity law, employment law and insolvency – and many others!

The type of work undertaken will largely be dependent upon the legal practice.  Smaller firms tend to focus on issues for individuals, such as moving house, making a will, divorce, employment matters or professional negligence.

Larger firms, on the other hand, will tend to specialise in corporate matters, such as dealing with mergers and acquisitions, complex taxation problems and planning, real estate on large retail or industrial sites and providing employment law advice and assistance to companies.

Different types of practices suit different individuals and if you are considering a career in law it is worth taking time to understand what is entailed in working in different capacities and what would be right for you as an individual. It can be useful to get some work experience and to look at some of the excellent remote experience offerings on the Forage platform Your university will also offer careers advice, take advantage of it!

Years ago solicitors did not have rights of audience – meaning that they could not appear and/or conduct proceedings in the higher courts. This rule has changed. Solicitors have full rights of audience in Tribunals, Coroners Courts, Magistrates Courts, County Courts and European Courts and may take a further qualification to give them higher rights of audience allowing them to appear in the Crown Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court alongside barristers.

Solicitors must be precise, good with time management, flexible and adaptable, professional, practical, be commercially minded and have the ability to build strong relationships with clients.  Solicitors are considered to be trusted advisors and commercial lawyers get to know their clients’ business as well as the clients’ legal work and are able to pre-empt future problems saving clients time and money.


Barristers provide specialist advice and advocacy and many spend a great deal of their time appearing before Judges (in Court) or tribunal panels to represent the parties to the proceedings. Others may work almost exclusively on preparing notes of advice. Barristers are generally instructed to act by a solicitor, and they advocate the case on the basis of the instructions and papers which have been prepared for them by the instructing Solicitor. It is now possible for them also to accept direct instructions from clients.

Where both a solicitor and a barrister have been instructed on the same matter the barrister may also be asked by the instructing solicitor to give a legal opinion in the lead-up to a case (for example, on whether or not the case is likely to be successful). Barristers may be involved in negotiations at Court or Tribunal.

Like solicitors the role of a barrister will vary greatly depending on the choices made. Barristers will typically work out of a Chambers which specialises in several areas of law and their practices will be largely restricted to those areas. It is also possible for barristers to join the employed Bar and work, for example, for a firm of solicitors or the local or central Government Legal Service

The skills set for barristers if very similar to that for solicitors, they must be articulate, have excellent writing skills and have the ability to think and communicate clearly under pressure.


A Chartered Legal Executive specialises in a particular area of law and has trained in that area. They will have passed the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (“CILEX”) Professional Qualifications in Law.

Fully qualified and experienced Chartered Legal Executives will have their own clients (often with full conduct of cases). A Fellow of the Institute can become additionally qualified as a Chartered Legal Executive Advocate and will then have the same rights of audience as a solicitor. It is not possible for a legal executive to gain the higher rights of audience held by barristers and appropriately qualified solicitors.

The day-to-day work of a legal executive is often similar to that of a solicitor; and like solicitors they will have a choice of the kind of work in which they specialise depending on the work covered by the firm or company in which they are employed. It is rare for a legal executive to handle the most complex commercial matters handled by the largest firms.


A Paralegal normally has some legal training but has not yet completed all the steps necessary to become a qualified solicitor or barrister. The work they undertake varies widely from employer to employer and may involve complex matters.  A paralegal in a more commercial firm will typically do very similar tasks from day to day become an expert in a discrete area of practice. The work may be very different for a paralegal in a full practice law firm where they may be seeing clients and handling their own matters under supervision.

In the past students often elected to become paralegals while waiting to get a training contract or pupillage. This is still common, but it is now possible for an individual to qualify as a solicitor without ever having had a training contract. Those who did the Legal Practice Course (“LPC”) may apply to the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (“SRA”) producing evidence of their experience and will secure admission if the SRA is confident that the experience has been sufficiently wide and has taken place over the required two years. Students embarking on the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (“SQE”) will be able to use paralegal experience to count towards the two years of Qualifying Work Experience (“QWE”) needed. The SQE process is considerably easier as there is no requirement for anyone to sign off to confirm that an individual is competent in a particular area, simply that they have gained relevant experience.


Here are some useful links for further information: