Overview: Britain’s legal system is world renowned, built on the premise that every person is equal before the law and that all should have access to legal advice and representation. As a lawyer, you would play an integral role in society, upholding one of Britain’s most respected institutions. There are two main career paths within the legal profession: becoming a solicitor or a barrister (in Scotland this would be a solicitor or an advocate).
In England, solicitors advise and support their clients – who can be individuals or organisations – outside of court. Solicitors play a crucial role in preventing cases reaching court and therefore need to have strong negotiating and persuasion skills to resolve disputes. Typical duties include researching cases, writing legal documents and liaising with other professionals such as barristers. Solicitors usually work in firms which range from small high-street organisations to large international commercial firms.
Barristers are advocates. They represent individuals or organisations in court, arguing their case to convince a judge or jury of their client’s position. To become a barrister, solicitors must apply for a pupillage (an apprenticeship of sorts) in a set of chambers, offices which they may share with other barristers, although each barrister is self-employed. Typical work for barristers includes researching and preparing cases and writing legal documents, liaising with other legal professionals such as solicitors, negotiating settlements, and cross examining witnesses in court.
Solicitors and barristers or advocates will usually specialise in a particular area of law such as criminal, commercial or common law.
Skills required: Excellent written and oral communication skills, strong negotiating and persuasion skills, strong advocacy skills, the ability to condense and analyse large amounts of information, excellent time management skills and good interpersonal skills.
University and beyond: Graduates from any academic background can train as a solicitor or barrister. To train as either, graduates must pass certain professional qualifications such as the common professional examination (GDL) in England, or a law degree (LLB) in Scotland.
Before qualifying as a solicitor, students will then have to take a postgraduate legal practice course (LPC in England, DPLP in Scotland). After this it is necessary to undertake a two year Law Society-approved training contract or traineeship.
To become a barrister or advocate, graduates must complete further training. In England this would be the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and then go on to complete a pupillage; a period of practical training under the supervision of an experienced barrister. In Scotland this is referred to as devilling with an experienced advocate or devilmaster.
How the SMF can help: The SMF works with leading solicitors’ firms and barristers’ chambers. Mentors range from trainees to senior partners in firms, as well as barristers in all stages of their careers. Students on Law internships have rotated around departments in major commercial law firms, while others have undertaken mini-pupillages at barristers’ chambers, attending court and helping with case work.