Getting into Law
What is the difference between a solicitor and a barrister?
Solicitors make up the largest part of the legal profession with about 195,000 registered solicitors of which circa 147,000 hold practicing certificates. 65% are in private practice. Most solicitors work in-house in offices and many rarely venture into Court.
Barristers number ca. 17,000 and the majority are self employed but may be based in Chambers (solicitors who use barristers to represent clients in court.)
Note the legal profession used to be very male dominated, but now 52% of solicitors are female and close to two thirds of trainees are female. 62% of barristers are male but an increasing number of women are training.
The legal profession is perceived as an attractive career, partly because of TV and Film dramas but also because of the perceived high earnings of solicitors and barristers. However, this is not wholly true (witness the recent threats of strikes by barristers – because at the younger end of the profession they earn less than the UK National Minimum Wage by the time they take into account down time and research time on cases)
Do you need a degree to become a lawyer?
Law remains a popular subject for degrees, (about 35,000 applicants per year) but technically some parts of the legal profession are open to non-degree qualified practitioners. There is also a non-university qualification through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) of which there are only 7500. However, for the purposes of this section we will only consider law degrees.
There are various divisions including Criminology and Business Law. Additionally, there are associated degrees such as International Relations, Politics and Social Sciences.
Other careers may include accountancy, civil service, commerce, finance, police, teaching or media.
What subjects are needed to apply for a law degree?
There is an A Level subject in Law , but many universities regard it as non-essential and might prefer other essay based subjects such as history or a modern language. A Level Law is sometimes regarded as a “soft subject” although the real reason is that it takes a brief and introductory approach as opposed to the depth of study required in the degree.
The elite universities like Oxbridge demand 3 A grades at A Level, but there are a plethora of big name universities will accept law applicants on under 100 UCAS tariff points. Some universities like Bristol, King’s and UCL require an external test known as LNAT. This does not test law but more your aptitude for the skills required to study law. Specimen questions may be seen at www.lnat.ac.uk
Oxbridge and York require interviews, but most others do not.
Law degrees are generally 3 years in which the first year usually covers criminal and constitutional law before splitting into specialisms for the second and third years.
Graduates emerge with a BA in Law or an LLB. The latter usually requires 100% of study on law whereas the BA Law may involve non-law modules.
If you intend to practice as a barrister or solicitor, the degree must be a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD) to progress to vocational training. All QLDs cover 7 core subjects:-
- Criminal law
- Public law
- Property law
- Equity and the law of trusts
- EU – even though we are no longer in it
What are employment prospects?
New graduates often start work with the large corporate law firms to gain more experience while earning a decent salary.
The Magic Circle large international firms are
Allen & Overy (964 UK lawyers)
Clifford Chance (871)
Slaughter & May (797)
Most of these firms have international firms or local links
There is a lesser stable Silver Circle
Travers Smith (344)
Other major international firms include Ashursts, Berwin Leighton, Herbert Smith, Mischcon de Reya, Eversheds and Irwin Mitchell
These large international firms often concentrate on corporate work, but the largest number of law firms are the smaller companies on a typical high street, which deal in family law, wills, employer law and criminal law.
Which are the best universities for law?
Most universities offer a law degree and there is one specific private university – the University of Law. The London universities seem to offer more law degrees, possibly because most international law firms are head quartered in London.
The most sought-after universities include