If you are considering a career as a solicitor or barrister, a law degree is the perfect choice – and one that can also be very useful if you want to be a politician or a journalist.

To help us understand the different roles and pathways to get there, we spoke to the experts at The University of Law (ULaw), one of the longest-established law schools in the country – and one which has a campus in Bristol. Here’s what they told us …

What is the difference between a solicitor and a barrister?

A solicitor is a lawyer that interprets the law to act in the best interests of their clients, perhaps when they are buying a house, getting a divorce, selling a business or securing a trade deal. They are found in local practices around the country as well as within the offices of larger businesses. If you take the university route, it can take 6 years to qualify as a solicitor based on a 3-year qualifying law degree, a 1-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) and a 2-year Training Contract with a law firm.

A barrister, on the other hand, is a lawyer who represents their client in court where (s)he wears a white wig and gown. They are mostly located in London. If you take the university route, it can take 5 years to qualify as a barrister based on a 3-year qualifying law degree, a 1-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and a 1-year Pupillage with a Barristers’ Chambers.

For both academic routes, you’ll have to add a year of study if you have a non-law degree because you will need to complete a conversion course (GDL) after your first degree. Or you can deduct a year if you opt for the 2-year accelerated LLB law degree with The University of Law.

There are also qualified Chartered Legal Executive lawyers who specialise in a particular area of law and provide legal services to solicitors which can then be charged on to clients.

What is the new apprenticeship route to becoming a solicitor?

We are starting to see a rise in legal apprenticeships. It has been possible to be a Level 3 Paralegal Apprentice for some time, but this year’s school leavers joining Bristol law firm RPC, for example, will also be considered for the Level 7 Solicitor Apprenticeship after their two years as a Paralegal Apprentice. That will take a further 5-6 years, but they will be completing their LLB law degree with The University of Law at the same time as working for RPC, benefitting from a salary as well as not having to pay any tuition fees.

What are the different types of law degrees?

If law is the subject for you, the main undergraduate route is the 3-year LLB law degree. This is offered at universities around the UK as well as by ULaw, locally where all the tutors are qualified lawyers. And if you are planning to do a degree in something other than law, ULaw also offers the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) which is the conversion course for non-law graduates looking to become a solicitor or barrister.

What are my options after graduating?

After graduating, you will have a wealth of career and education options to choose from. You can continue your education with postgraduate courses, including the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) mentioned above, after which you can become a trainee solicitor or undertake pupillage as a barrister.

Or you can head straight into the workplace, into roles such as a paralegal or legal secretary, whilst outside of law, careers in politics, project management, and corporate social responsibility are also popular with LLB graduates.

What can I specialise in as a qualified lawyer?

There are many different areas of legal practice that you can specialise in. There are lawyers for divorce, personal injury, employment, criminal, corporate, immigration, tax, family and intellectual property. But don’t worry if you don’t know what area interests you the most, this will become clear once you start studying.

What skills would I need to become a successful lawyer?

To be a successful lawyer, you’ll need a number of practical skills. Being a good communicator is a great place to start. You must be a confident public speaker, as well as having strong written skills. Lawyers are required to understand complicated, technical terminology and explain it to their clients with ease.

Lawyers also require impeccable attention to detail. When it comes to contracts, negotiations and paperwork, one word out of place can change the meaning completely, so an eagle eye is a must. Other necessary skills are time management, commercial awareness and logical reasoning.

What competencies do you look for at The University of Law?

If you are looking to join The University of Law and want to wow us with your application, don’t just write that you are passionate; show it. Include any relevant work experience or part-time jobs you have had, as well as lectures or open days you have attended. Ensure your CV is easy to read, with consistent formatting and no spelling mistakes. Make sure your spellchecker is using British English, not American English, and have an eagle-eyed friend or family member read it for you, a fresh pair of eyes will find it easier to see any small mistakes.

And finally …

There is more information on the websites of the Law Society (solicitors), The Bar Council (barristers), Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), and from the Institute of Paralegals (TheIOP) as well as details of the undergraduate options, graduate degrees and scholarship opportunities with The University of Law on their website, their Facebook page, on YouTube and on Twitter

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