Starting university is of course a daunting yet exciting experience, however the research you do into your course and the options available to you before, during, and even after, is paramount to your degree. From my own experience and lack of research, I did not know that there was a course specially tailored for me to become a solicitor, which is why I stress the importance of course research.
Firstly, to practice law you will need to undertake academic training, however this does not have to be done from the start. Going into law and practice does not have to be done via a law degree, and even if you do a degree in law it does not mean that you have to go into practice.
There are many different ways to gain the initial academic side of law.
LLB Bachelor of Laws
Firstly there is the standard Law LLB; this is the normal degree that most people take. During this time you study the core law modules that any degree with law covers. These include: Contract law, Tort law, Public law, Criminal law, European law, Land law and Equity. The course is a total of three years and you do have the choice of optional modules which vary from university to university.
The LLB can also come as a ‘sandwich’ degree, which makes it a four year course. In most circumstances, the third year is in another country and the fourth is back in England to finish the degree.
The first thing that you must consider is what you want to do with regards to a career, however it does not matter if you are unsure. If you know for example, that becoming a solicitor is exactly what you want to do, then there are courses that may be more tailored to you which may actually allow you to save money in the long-term.
Solicitors Exempting LLB Honours
If becoming a solicitor is something that you are sure of doing, there is a course called Solicitors Exempting which may be more suitable for you. This is a four year course which combines the Law LLB with the Legal Practice Course (LPC). All the core modules are covered from years one to three, however in year three you begin elements of the LPC to then graduate with both an LPC and a full law degree in year four. The main benefit of this course is that the university fees are generally the same for a normal law degree, even though they include the LPC which can cost up to £15,000 if done separately. However, there are currently only five universities in England that offer this course, including the universities of Westminster, Northumbria and Huddersfield. If at any point when doing the course you realise that the course is not something you wish to see through until the LPC, it is possible for you to leave in the third year and still obtain a full LLB Law degree.
The Graduate Diploma in Law
Another way in which you can learn the law may be after you have a degree. For example, if you have a degree in Sociology there is nothing to stop you from still being able to qualify with an academic law qualification without doing another three years at university. This option is called The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The GDL is sometimes spoken about as ‘The Conversion Course’. It is only a year-long and covers the entire relevant academic topics needed for law.
The GDL is not only suited to those who do not have a law degree, but it is also a way for mature students to study the law. A mature student is someone who has experience and ability in the field, this can be academically or professionally, and someone that also has a general standard of education.
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives route
If you are someone who does not have a law degree or legal experience, another route into the legal profession is through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). This is a two stage programme; upon qualifying you will be able to follow CILEx and use the route to practice law.
After the academic stage
Once you have your law degree, in whatever way, shape or form, the next step for most people is to decide on what career they wish to pursue.
If it is your decision to become a solicitor and you have completed the LLB degree, the next step for you would be to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and try to secure a training contract. A training contract is a contract with a law firm as a trainee solicitor, and is the final stage of training. You work in a law firm for two years putting what you have learnt into first-hand practice. You can secure a training contract before or after your degree and some law firms will even pay for your LPC as part of your contract with them. The LPC can be completed at many different universities in England, and you would need to apply through the Solicitors Regulation Authority. One of the final stages to becoming a qualified solicitor is done via the completion of The Professional Skills Course (PSC), which is something you will undergo throughout the duration of your training contract.
If becoming a barrister is the route that you wish to take, there is further academic training. This is known as the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which is similar to the LPC, but it is of course more aimed towards barristers. Like the LPC, the BPTC is completed with a pupillage. It is the same concept as the training contract but is one year long and is completed within a Barristers’ Chambers.
The beauty of the law degree is that you will not be restricted with your choice of career outside the normal solicitor or barrister route. For example CILEx also offer a Graduate Fast-track Diploma, which is an alternative to the LPC or BPTC and allows you to become a legal executive. There are also pathways to becoming a judge, paralegal, working for government and becoming involved in politics.
The main thing to remember is that the research skills that you will gain, alongside the academic ways of writing, thinking and reasoning that a law degree requires, will give you a head start in whatever career path you choose to take, with or without regards to law.