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What's the Difference between a Lawyer, a Solicitor and a Barrister?

The term lawyer is a generic term used to describe both solicitors and barristers.

What does a solicitor do?

Solicitors typically give legal advice and can work with companies (commercial clients) or individuals (private clients).  Commercial work can involve litigation, property, tax matters, employment disputes whereas private client work often covers writing wills, probate, divorce, civil disputes and property work.  There are many areas of specialism within each sector, family law will cover children and custody, farming can get involved with wind-farms, conveyancing for buying and selling property, pensions for documentation, trustee matters and company mergers.  The area of law is vast and each case unique.


What does a barrister do?

Barristers represent clients in Court.  They draft court papers, speak in the court and wear robes.  They are usually specialists in one or two main areas of law, developing their reputations and giving legal opinion.  Barristers are usually self employed, they are persuasive and able to explain complex issues to clients, members of a jury or other non-specialists so that arguments can be followed clearly.

How do I become a solicitor?

Complete a law degree followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

OR

Complete a non-law degree then take the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course followed by the LPC.

OR

Take the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives qualifications (CILEx).

The Degree LLB (Hons)

Studying law requires dedication over a number of years, and obtaining the LLB (Hons) is traditionally the first step to becoming a solicitor. This is the UK’s most popular undergraduate taught law degree comprising of four compulsory courses, covering all seven foundations of legal knowledge: obligations I (contract) and II (tort); criminal law; equity and law of trusts; European Union (EU) law; property law; and public law. It has been developed in association with the College of Law and if completed within the strict time limits, is recognised as a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD) by the Law Society of England and Wales and the Bar Standards Board. A qualifying law degree satisfies the professional bodies’ first stage of legal education, known as the Academic Stage of training.

Legal Practice Course

The LPC is an essential component of the process of qualification for those who wish to practice as solicitors in England and Wales. It features a more practical approach, ensuring trainee solicitors have the knowledge and skills when they undertake their training contracts.

The Law Society split the framework into five broad areas: core; compulsory; pervasive; skills; and elective. Six areas of law identified as fundamental to the course are contract law; crime; equity & trusts; EU law, property law & tort.

Diploma in Law

If you do not have a qualifying law degree, you will have to take the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The course is offered by many universities to traditional law schools UK wide. The CPE and GDL comprises of an examination in each of the seven foundations of legal knowledge, plus one other area of legal study.

The LPC must be started within seven years of passing the CPE or GDL.

Training Contract

Individuals should apply for their training contract whilst at University, during the second year of a qualifying law degree or the final year of any other degree.  There is considerable competition for these places and during your training contract you will have to complete the professional skills course before you can be admitted as a solicitor. The course is divided into three compulsory components: financial and business skills; advocacy and communications skills; and ethics and client responsibilities. Once you have completed your training contract and the PSC, you will be eligible to apply for a Practising Certificate from the Law Society which allows you to undertake client work.

CILEx

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives offer an alternative study course and qualification for individuals who do or do not hold a degree.  This study can be part-time, full time or distance learning and on qualification you can undertake the same work as a solicitor.  Longer serving individuals become Fellows and CILEx professionals are eligible to apply for many judicial posts and become Chairs of Tribunals.

How do I become a barrister?

You will need to complete your Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) which can be done either full or part time and you will be required to join one of four Inns of Court as a student.

The next stage is pupillage, which are two 6 month periods where you will be supported to identify and apply for sets of chambers suitable to meet your career aspirations.

What other legal jobs are there?

There are alternative careers for individuals who are legal professionals.  Society has seen many law graduates enter the profession to then move on to politics, comedy, media, company secretaries and senior civil servants.  For those within to remain in the legal sector roles can include:

  • Legal executives
  • Judges
  • Ushers
  • Researcher at the Law Commission
  • Paralegal
  • Law costs draftsmen
  • Legal cashiers
  • Legal secretaries

For more information relating to how to qualify to become a solicitor please visit http://www.sra.org.uk

Useful Websites

www.lawsociety.org.uk
www.solicitors-online.com/
www.legal500.com/
www.cilex.org.uk
www.clc-uk.org
www.associationofcostslawyers.co.uk/

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