How do I get into law?
The legal profession introduced apprenticeships for school leavers in 2014 and we are expecting this route to become increasingly popular over the next five years. In the meantime, however, the two most popular and well-trodden routes into law remain qualifying as a solicitor or barrister via a university degree.
Getting into law: uni first, job later
Once you’ve decided that you’d like to pursue a career in law, the next decision is whether you would like to complete a law degree or study another subject at university followed by a conversion course.
Studying for a law degree
The law degree is designed to cover the areas of law you are likely to come across as a qualified lawyer. By opting to study a law degree, you are choosing the quickest route into your career. We take you through the factors to consider when weighing up a law degree versus a non-law degree here.
Studying for a non-law degree
You don’t need to study a law degree at university to work as a lawyer. In fact, most law recruiters have a very balanced intake – recruiting roughly 50% each from law and non-law backgrounds. If you study a non-law degree at university (eg, history, French or maths) you will need to complete a one-year conversion course, also known as the GDL (graduate diploma in law). This conversion course condenses the three-year law degree into one year. You are not putting yourself at a disadvantage in choosing a non-law degree.
On-the-job training to qualify as a solicitor
You can’t dive straight into a job as a solicitor straight after university, even if you’ve studied law. Between graduating from your law degree (or GDL) and starting work at a solicitors’ firm you need to complete the postgraduate course known as the legal practice course or LPC. You can then start your training contract at a law firm. During the two-year training contract, employees are known as trainee solicitors. You will be known as an associate once qualified and work towards becoming a partner, when you’ll help run the firm with your fellow partners.
On-the-job training to qualify as a barrister
Aspiring barristers have to complete the Bar professional training course (or BPTC) after their degree or GDL. They then need to secure a one-year pupillage at a barristers’ chambers – barristers in training are known as pupil barristers. They become tenants on qualification and, as their career progresses, aim to become a QC (Queen’s Counsel). A limited number of senior barristers are made QCs each year in recognition of outstanding ability and experience. The process is also known as ‘taking silk’ due to the tradition of being allowed to wear a silk gown once the barrister is awarded this honour.
Getting into law: starting work at 18
There are emerging alternative routes into law for school leavers: paralegal apprenticeships and articled apprenticeships. These advanced level apprenticeships normally lead to basic law qualifications through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) Law School and a full-time job as a paralegal. Such school leaver schemes were introduced in 2014 and, at the time of writing, only a handful of law firms offer legal apprenticeships. However, more and more firms are planning on introducing these schemes in the future so watch this space. We go into more detail about apprenticeships in law in our advice on opportunities for school leavers in law.
Which A levels do I need to get into law?
There’s no getting around it: law is an intellectually challenging subject and profession, and you’ll need to show you have the potential to cope with that by getting high A level grades. There are no essential A levels you need to take to get into law but we recommend you choose subjects:
- in which you have an interest and think you can get good grades. It varies but most universities/law recruiters want to see a minimum of ABB at A level (or equivalent) , with many of the top law schools/big commercial law firms asking for between AAB and A*AA before they offer you a place on their degree course or job in law.
- which develop the skills needed in law. As well as being clever, you also need good research, communication and analytical skills to be a successful lawyer so think about which A levels develop those skills – eg history, English, science or maths.
- that are regarded as ‘facilitating subjects’ by the Russell Group of universities. Some A level subjects are more frequently required for entry to degree courses than others and the UK’s leading universities call these subjects ‘facilitating’ because choosing them at A level leaves open a wide range of options for university study. These include: maths and further maths, physics, biology, chemistry, history, geography, modern and classical languages, and English literature.
Should I study law at A level?
You don’t need to choose law at A level in order to become a lawyer – only study it at that stage if you are genuinely interested in it. Don’t feel obliged to choose it as it won’t give you an advantage – universities and law employers will treat it the same as any other A level when considering your application.
Many universities exclude A levels in critical thinking or general studies from their A level entry requirements so, if you want to study those subjects, treat them as an extra rather than as one of your core A levels.
Eight leading UK universities require applicants to take the LNAT (National Admissions Test for Law) test as part of their application criteria. The test is designed to help you decide whether law is the right career path for you as well as allowing those nine universities to check whether you will be able to cope with the demands of the law degree.