How to Become a Lawyer in the UK

December 6, 2023
5 min read
Cress Warnell

Becoming a lawyer in the UK involves many decisions. You have the choice between several qualifying law degrees, a variety of law schools at different UK universities, and whether to become a solicitor or a barrister.This blog will cover all of the above, as well as give you information on why you should study law at degree level.

When you choose to study law, you're opening the door to a huge variety of career options. Having qualified in the legal profession your future careers could include teaching, business, social justice or politics.

Your skills and knowledge as a lawyer will always be in demand, and you'll often be well paid. Whether it's disputes between private individuals or major corporations, trials in criminal or civil courts, or providing advice on what's legal and what's not, the law touches on every part of life.

There's never a shortage of people and organisations seeking legal expertise. Choosing to become a lawyer gives you a solid foundation for whatever direction your career takes.

Learn how to become a lawyer in the UK using our guide.

Why study law

There are many different opportunities that you open up for yourself by studying law. The course is intellectually challenging, but after completing a law degree graduates move into respected job roles with high salaries, as potential employers would find it hard to not be impressed by a degree in law - even if you do decide law is not the perfect industry for you, a qualification in this field improves your employability hugely.

Through your education to being a successful lawyer you will gain a range of transferrable skills that would be applicable to non legal industries in almost any profession, and even everyday life. Studying a law degree can prove intellectually stimulating, despite being challenging. It will teach you qualities and skills such as communication, the ability to work under pressure and come up with solutions efficiently, negotiation skills, the ability to think on your feet, problem solving, conflict resolution, team work, and research skills, along with analysis and evaluation skills.

You will have the ability to make a difference to peoples lives, and society as a whole. If you have a particular interest or passion in the issues in our society (or even environmental issues) a law degree can help you to make a difference. By studying law at university you will become knowledgeable of your human rights and responsibilities - which otherwise you most likely would not have - this means you will be able to recognise if your rights, or anyone else's, are not being respected and upheld, and ensure you are in a position to then do something about it.

You will develop a great attention to detail that will be useful throughout everyday lives. You will be able read human behaviour and body language, and pick up on indicators of truthfulness or deceit when communicating with others, as well as in the court room.

Types of law and lawyers in the UK

The UK legal system has many forms of law, and many different forms of lawyer. Even before you sign up for a law degree at university it pays to have some idea of how you'd like to practise law in the future.

In the UK, the word 'lawyer' can be used to describe various roles:

  • Barristers, who represent an individual or organisation in court.
  • Solicitors, who provide advice and legal services in many aspects of life.
  • Chartered legal executives, who specialise in particular areas of law.
  • Paralegals, who aren't fully qualified and provide legal support.

Some lawyers work for a law firm, while others are self-employed. Others are employed by businesses or other organisations, including the government. The legal sector is hugely diverse.

There are over twenty different areas of legal practice in the UK, and lawyers often specialise in these. They include:

  • Criminal law
  • Civil law
  • Family law
  • Commercial law

On top of this, the law varies between the different countries in the UK. For example, what's legal in England and Wales may not be legal in Scotland.

The steps to a legal career

Investigating how to become a lawyer in the UK can be confusing. There are a number of ways and reasons to study law become a lawyer, and various forms of legal professional.

It takes around six years to acquire the necessary legal knowledge, practical and research skills, and qualifying legal work experience.

All the routes into legal practice involve three components:

  • Academic component, such as a law degree.
  • Vocational component, an additional vocational qualification.
  • Work-based component, with on-the-job learning.

In addition, you'll need to meet certain character and suitability requirements. These are to ensure you meet the high standards for commitment, personal integrity and capacity for hard work.

Step 1 - Ensure you have good English language skills

Lawyers in the UK must have a strong understanding of the English language. This is vital for conducting legal research, advising clients, and appearing in court. Law students should have a strong grasp of English grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Step 2 - Decide whether to become a solicitor or a barrister

Solicitors and barristers are the two main forms of lawyer in the UK. You can begin to study law before you decide which route to choose, but it helps to make that decision early.

In the UK, legal matters are handled by over 136,000 solicitors and 17,000 barristers.

The Law Society overseas training and qualifications for solicitors. Barrister training and qualification is overseen by the Bar Council.

Step 3 - Take a qualifying law degree

To become a lawyer usually means taking an undergraduate law degree. There are many law schools in the UK, a number of which are counted among the best law schools in the world for international students. These schools offer a variety of law degrees. It's important to consider the differences in the light of your career aspirations in the law.

Non-law graduates can still embark on a legal career, but need to pass the graduate diploma in law or an equivalent law conversion course.

Graduates with an overseas law degree, that is, from outside the UK or Republic of Ireland, also need to pass a law conversion course.

Where possible, as a law student you should look to get work experience at one or more law firms.

Step 4 - Get the work experience and on-the-job training

With a good law degree you can start working in the legal profession. However, to become a lawyer - a solicitor or barrister - requires two years of relevant work experience in a law firm.

This is the work-based component of your journey from law school to becoming a lawyer in the UK. Many law firms offer law students a training contract, to help them gain the qualifying employment required and complete the professional stage of becoming a solicitor.

For barristers, the practical stage of training is referred to as a pupillage. This bar professional training is taken in a set of chambers or an approved organisation.

Step 5 - Complete the vocational component of legal training‍

To become a solicitor

If you start your law degree after September 2021 the next step is to take the Solicitors Qualifying Examination. Anyone who began their law degree earlier can take the Legal Practice Course.

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination is a single assessment that considers the work experience, along with the academic and vocational stages of training to be a solicitor.

To become a barrister

Traditionally studying law to become a barrister required completion of the Bar Professional Training Course. From 2020 the Bar Standards Board introduced a vocational component for training in skills needed to be a barrister. The detail of what's required will depend on which of four pathways is taken.

In summary: How to become a lawyer in the UK

Step 1 - Ensure you have good English language skills

Step 2 - Decide whether to become a solicitor or a barrister

Step 3 - Take a qualifying law degree

Step 4 - Get the work experience and on-the-job training

Step 5 - Complete the vocational component of legal training

Your options, once you've qualified, are extensive. You can work in a law firm, as a self-employed licensed legal practitioner, in a business or in other public or private bodies.

Start your study of law with Summer Schools

Becoming a lawyer in the UK involves many decisions. You have the choice between several qualifying law degrees, a variety of law schools at different UK universities, and whether to become a solicitor or a barrister.

The sooner you start acquiring legal knowledge, the sooner you'll be able to make well-informed choices about your future as a lawyer. Our courses help you prepare, giving you insights into what to expect. Take a look at the courses we have on offer

Cress Warnell

Cress is a skilled copywriter who transforms ideas into captivating content. With a passion for words and a keen eye for detail, she crafts compelling copy for Summer Schools, helping students explore their options in education.

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