While you are pre-occupied with the excitement of university life and bombarded with assignments and revision, it is well worth sparing some time to consider the career path you wish to pursue when your time at university comes to an end.
There are two main career routes post law degree: solicitor or barrister
A law degree is one that will be attractive to prospective employers; demonstrating academic commitment and capability, and so opening up numerous opportunities for many candidates in a variety of employment sectors. Many students though, will probably want to practice law as a career. To this end, there are two main career routes post law degree: solicitor or barrister. In this article I will explore both options and hope to provide a comprehensive analysis of what to expect in each role.
The time at which you are required to make a decision as to your preferred career path is at a relatively early stage. While a law degree (or non law degree and GDL conversion) tends to be a prerequisite for both, the similarities culminate there.
Upon finishing university, the routes differ. If you decide a career as a solicitor is the one you wish to pursue, you will be required to undertake the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for the next year. This is effectively the vocational stage of the training. The LPC is a costly course and the full time option starts at £10,965. The final requirement for qualification is to secure and complete a two year training contract.
For those wishing to go to the Bar, the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is the equivalent vocational training stage. Again, it isn’t cheap with full time course fees starting at £13,155. The final stage of the training is to secure and complete Pupillage, which will last for 12 months.
Day to day work
The work carried out by solicitors or barristers differs a great deal from one to the other. This part of the article is dedicated to outlining the sort of work each career route is exposed to. You ought to think about your strengths and weaknesses as you read this next section and try to establish if and where they would fit in to the typical types of work.
Typically, you can expect a solicitor to spend time advising clients on a point of law or any related legal issues to their query…
Solicitors will spend time preparing case files and bundles for court and they may correspond frequently with the barrister who they have instructed to represent the client at court. Solicitors can represent their own clients in court, particularly if they have higher rights of audience. However this role tends to be left to a barrister, especially if it is a particularly complex issue or point of law.
The work of a solicitor tends to be largely office based due to the nature of drafting documents, writing letters and corresponding with clients. They will usually work in an office with other solicitors doing a similar type of work.
The work carried out by a barrister will vary again, depending on the area of law in which they specialise. However some of the general day to day tasks and underlying responsibilities are similar.
A barrister will spend a lot of the time representing clients in court, having been instructed by a solicitor or a client directly. Representation will often involve the presentation of an argument to help their client’s case, or to negate the credibility of the other side’s case. The process may also involve the examination-in-chief and cross-examination of witnesses, either to support their own case or disprove that of the opposition.
A barrister will spend a lot of the time representing clients in court
Despite the time spent in court, a barrister will have to do a lot of work in preparation to ensure a sound understanding of their client’s case and the legal aspects of the issue. While it may be in their area of specialism, a barrister can often be required to undertake a considerable amount of research on a point of law prior to attendance at court to ensure they are able to interpret it effectively. Moreover, a barrister will often prepare a legal argument and hold conferences with a client as part of the typical tasks prior to attendance at court.
Outside of court, a barrister will also spend time drafting legal documents and writing legal opinions. They will often give advice to clients as to the likely outcome of a case based on the merits of the case and strength of the evidence being heard in court.
Barristers work in chambers, which allows a number of independent barristers to work under the same roof and to share their costs. Unlike solicitors, they are self-employed and paid based on the work they carry out rather than on a billable hourly rate. This means that their salary may not always be regularly consistent like the salary of a solicitor.
Making the Decision
It can be seen that there are some similarities between the roles of a solicitor and a barrister, but largely the day to day work they carry out requires different skills set. While solicitors must work well in a team to organise, establish and prepare a case, barristers must be able to work independently and be strong advocates to present a case in court.
If you are still unsure about which route you would like to pursue, there is nothing more valuable than seeing how they work in practice. Get in touch with a high street solicitors firm for some work experience or see if you can shadow a barrister at your local chambers. If you are in your penultimate year of university, try applying for some vacation schemes or mini-pupillages to get a real taste for what life would be like as a solicitor or barrister. That should help to make up your mind!