Becoming a lawyer in the UK

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Lawyers in England and Wales are split into two categories: barristers and solicitors.

Barristers and solicitors require different qualifications and advise clients on different cases and at different stages of the legal process.

Solicitors

When someone says they’re going to see their lawyer, they’re usually referring to a solicitor. Solicitors are generally the first point of call for clients as they offer legal advice, prepare the necessary paperwork and communicate with others involved in the client’s case.

Solicitors deal with a wide range of issues such as providing expert guidance on things like buying and selling houses, drawing up wills, and dealing with relationship breakdowns. They also help businesses with the legal side of commercial transactions, advising people on their rights, undertaking legal aid work, and representing clients in the lower courts like County Court or tribunals.

Some solicitors with specialised training can also represent their clients in the higher courts such as Crown Court.

Becoming a solicitor

If you start your LLB law degree before 2020, you can follow the current route to becoming a solicitor, which will require you to:

  • Have a qualifying law degree or equivalent
  • Complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC)
  • Complete two years of recognised training

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is reviewing the qualifying process for aspiring solicitors from 2020. We anticipate this will mean: 

  • You’ll have to hold a qualifying law degree or equivalent
  • You’ll have to pass both stages of Solicitors’ Qualifying Exam (SQE 1 and SQE 2)
  • You’ll have to complete 24 months of legal work experience
  • You’ll have to meet the character and suitability requirements of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. 

SQE 1 focuses on legal knowledge, while SQE 2 focuses on the practical legal skills you’ll need as a practicing solicitor.

The LLB Law degrees at Goldsmiths have been explicitly developed with these new exams in mind. We have an option module entirely dedicated to SQE 2 (Practical Legal Skills in Practice), so you’ll know you’re off to the best start possible in your future career.

Barristers

When a case needs to go to court, a solicitor will instruct a barrister to advise about the law or go to court to represent the client.

Barristers develop legal argumentation before a jury about the facts of the case, and to judges about the interpretation of legal rules and their application to evidence and other issues affecting trial processes and the outcome of a case. 

Barristers are highly trained in the art of advocacy and often deal with serious and high-profile court cases. 

Advocacy is when a lawyer puts forward an argument to a court with the aim of persuading the court to come to a decision favourable to their client.

Becoming a barrister

There are three stages to becoming a practising barrister in England and Wales once you’ve completed an LLB law degree.

  • You’ll need to become a member of one of the four Inns of Court. The Inns of Court are professional associations for barristers who have the sole right to call qualified students to the bar.
  • You’ll have to complete the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).
  • You’ll have to complete a year of vocational training, which is often called pupillage.

If you’re aiming for a career at the bar, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to hone the essential skills you’ll need to represent clients during your studies at Goldsmiths. Option modules like Criminal Evidence will complement the insights from legal professionals, and visits to courts to see advocacy in practice, that are built into your degree from the beginning.

Other career paths

As well as preparing you for a career as a lawyer, studying at Goldsmiths will also provide you with a wide range of transferable skills so you can pursue opportunities in other areas such as human rights and the third sector, the civil service, journalism, media and creative industries, art and cultural heritage litigation or government positions.