Before embarking on a career in the law, you will need a lot of training in the complex intricacies of the British legal system. All this training requires funding, both for payment of fees and to meet your living expenses. Some of this training can be pricey, and not all of it will qualify for assistance from the Student Loans Company.
For some of “the professions,” such as teachers, there are government schemes to provide help with training costs. This is unfortunately not the case with the legal industry. However, there are a few options available for funding.
What are the Costs of Legal Training
The first step in training for a legal career will be a degree. Aside from living expenses, these will carry standard university tuition fees – currently up to £9,000 a year in England and Wales, as well as in Scotland unless this is your home region. The degree lasts three years.
If you study a subject other than law, then you will have to undertake a Graduate Diploma in Law, commonly known as a conversion course. This can cost between £7,500 and £10,000.
After you graduate, further training will be necessary. If you aim to become a barrister, you will have to complete a Barrister Practice Training Course (BPTC), costing at least £11,000 and potentially up to £16,950.
If you aim to become a solicitor, on the other hand, then after graduation you will have to complete a year-long course known as a Legal Practice Course. The price tag on this is lower than that attached to a BPTC, but still will still come in at £8,000 minimum and up to £13,500.
Total fees associated with legal training, therefore, can be up to £53,950 for barristers and £50,500 for solicitors. If your degree is in law and you don’t need a conversion course, this knocks £10,000 off each figure, but still leaves over £40,000 in fees.
For your first degree, you will qualify for student loans to fund your study just as any other student does – assuming you have not attended university before.
For your training after graduation, there are a few options available to you. One possibility is a specialist loan. While the Student Loans Company may no longer be willing to help you, some private lenders offer loans specially designed to help with legal training costs. You could also potentially qualify for low-interest postgraduate loans known as Professional Career and Development Loans (PCDL).
There are also some scholarships and bursaries available. For solicitors, these come from bodies such as The Law Society, while barristers-to-be may be able to access schemes from the likes of the Bar Council.
A few very lucky students may be able to get a sponsor – a legal firm who pays for their training on condition you work for them after you qualify. Sadly, these are very few and highly competitive. Usually, the only students who even get a look-in are first-class graduates of Oxford or Cambridge.
A career in the law can be rewarding both emotionally and financially. However, it can also be demanding and hard work, meaning often only those with the greatest love for the subject decide to pursue a career.
Unfortunately, this means that some people can be unnecessarily put off of studying law because they perceive the subject to be essentially vocational. Even if they do love the subject, they may be reluctant to spend years of their life and amass a lot of student debt when they may ultimately decide they are not cut out for a law career. While it is important to think about any degree choice carefully, a law degree can open up work in many areas besides the legal sector. It is not necessary to see it as a vocational qualification leading to one defined career path, as it can also open up opportunities in:
Obtaining a law degree is a demanding process, and involves many transferrable skills. Law graduates are often well-equipped for careers in management, particularly through joining graduate management training schemes. More even than most graduates, they are used to demanding workloads and challenging tasks. They often have more specific skills too, such as knowledge of contract law, which can also work in their favour when pursuing a management career.
Finance is a regulation-heavy area, and like management it is also a field that requires many of the transferrable skills that a law degree will teach. Many financial companies, from investment banks to insurance firms, are keen to recruit legal graduates who have a good appreciation of the regulatory challenges that face the industry.
If you have the necessary skills and knowledge for a legal career but have decided you don’t want to follow this avenue for yourself, you could instead use your abilities to help others enter the sector. Law is taught at various levels in the UK school system from GCSE upwards, so if teaching is a career that appeals to you then this can be an excellent and rewarding way to put your knowledge to good use. For the vast majority of teaching posts, however, you will need a further teaching qualification to go with your degree.
Publishing is also an industry that likes to recruit its fair share of law graduates. Part of this is down to specialist legal publications, which understandably want to recruit staff members who have an appreciation of the area. Other publishers simply like law graduates because they tend to be skilled at research tasks, and simply because a law degree is evidence of hard work. Departments dealing with intellectual property and rights issues may also be open to law graduates with knowledge in these areas.
There are a number of reasons people might train in the law. Some may not even intend to enter the legal profession upon graduating, as the law is a subject with many transferable skills which can be useful for a variety of career paths inside and outside the legal industry. However, many students choose to study law for the most obvious reason: to work in the legal sector after qualifying. There are a number of factors that attract students towards legal work, and a recent survey by the University of Law has revealed the key motivations that are driving current law students.
Perhaps encouragingly, one of the most prominent motives uncovered by the survey is a decidedly selfless one. Almost half of all prospective solicitors responding to the survey (49%) said that the main reason they were looking forward to pursuing a career in law was that they had a desire “to help people.” For those who hope to become barristers, this figure is 61%.
Law Society Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) chair Max Harris described the large number of legal students motivated by wanting to help people as an encouraging one. Harris said that “Helping people can range from helping large in-house legal teams with their corporate considerations, to helping vulnerable children or adults in family, housing or other human rights matters.”
He went on to say that the latter form of helping people is “under great threat” in light of “recent cuts to legal aid.” This, he believes, is a particularly pertinent point as a recent survey by the JLD revealed a mere 4% of junior lawyers were interested in or actively involved with legal aid work.
According to Harris: “The Society, the JLD and so many other organisations are fighting hard to ensure that a career in legal aid remains a viable option for law students.”
The survey took in the opinions of more than 1,200 new GDL, LLB, BPTC and LPC students. A number of other factors were also identified as key motivators of solicitors-to-be. These included a hope for “interesting and varied work,” an enjoyment of “intellectual challenge” and simply holding an interest in the law. Collectively, these three motives help to drive more than two thirds of current law students towards a career in the legal profession.
It also seems that many students have decided to pursue a legal career from a fairly young age. Over a quarter of them reached the decision that they would like to work in the legal sector between the ages of 16 and 18. Of course, this is not a prerequisite for a successful career and the law is also open to those who only realise their interest later.
If you are not currently studying law but considering a career in the industry, there is a strong chance you will be looking into a law degree. However, regardless of subject one of the biggest problems with taking a degree is working out where you should study.
It is possible that this question has been decided for you by circumstances. For example, if you are returning to study as a mature student based in your current home and maintaining a job in the meantime, you might have chosen a local university, or a distance learning option such as the Open University, out of necessity. However, most students approach this decision with the luxury of choice. For the subject of law specifically, these are currently some of the top-ranked universities in the UK.
University of Oxford
It is no great surprise that the list is currently headed by Oxford. The nearly 1000-year-old institution is famously a world-leader in most subjects, and this includes an exceptionally strong law school. The main catch is the fact that, due to its prestigious nature, entry to Oxford is much harder than getting into most universities. There is an extra application process specific to this university on top of the standard UCAS form, and only very high-achievers are likely to be accepted.
University of Cambridge
Equally unsurprising is the presence of Cambridge in second place. Currently, Oxford is only ranked above Cambridge by a tiny margin (in rankings that use scores out of 100, the difference tends to be measured in decimal points) and this is always subject to change. As Cambridge is similarly prestigious, the disadvantages are much the same as those which apply to Oxford. However, if you can gain access to either of the Oxbridge institutions, your standard of education and current employability will be excellent.
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
While most people who think prestigious universities think Oxbridge, LSE is often placed with those universities as the third corner of the “golden triangle.” It is somewhat more accessible than Oxford and Cambridge, though still looks for higher-achievers than the average institution. People who have graduate from any golden triangle institution have, on average, noticeably higher salaries than graduates of other institutions. One of the key disadvantages of studying anywhere in London is the cost of living, higher in the Capital than in any other part of the UK.
University of Edinburgh
By rankings alone, the University of Edinburgh comes in below University College London (UCL) and King’s College London. However, when all factors are considered, the University of Edinburgh has two key advantages. It offers lower tuition fees in many cases, and the cost of living is also far lower than in London. Despite this, the University of Edinburgh is still a leading university that appears high in world rankings, both in general and specifically for studying law. Overall, this makes it a very appealing place to study indeed.
Those who would like to consider a career in the law but have not taken a degree in that subject may still have a way in. A law conversion course allows people with a degree in another subject, or in some cases strong relevant experience, to qualify for a legal career after a year’s further study.
What is a Conversion Course?
Commonly known as a law conversion course, this mode of study is more properly known as a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or the Common Professional Examination (CPE). The course takes one year, or two years if taken part-time, and essentially crams the seven core modules of a law degree into a single year’s worth of study. Transferable skills and knowledge gained in your first degree is considered to take the place of the rest of the law degree.
By the end of the GDL, you will essentially be at the same stage as somebody who has just completed a law degree. You will still need to complete a vocational course and a training contract in a law firm (to become a solicitor) or set of chambers (to become a barrister) before you are fully qualified. These requirements are the same as those that apply to law graduates.
How Much Does it Cost?
The cost of completing a GDL varies, depending on the institution in which you wish to study. Prices for the most recent courses, which began this year, generally ranged from £7,500-£10,000. You may be entitled to a discount if studying at the same institution as you chose for your original degree. There may also be other funding options available from professional bodies or even city law firms.
If taking the course full-time, you will find study very intensive. This has an impact on costs, because it makes it very difficult to fund your course or living expenses with a part-time job while studying. Unless you are able to meet both course costs and living expenses without additional income, you should probably consider the part-time course.
What Does the Conversion Course Entail?
The conversion course entails most of the central aspects of a law degree. This includes the study of seven core modules, which are as follows:
- Land Law
- Contract Law
- Equity and Trusts
- Public Law
- Criminal Law
- European Union Law
There will also be additional aspects to the course and examinations you will have to complete. These include an examination based on your ability to analyse an example case, a statute analysis exam, and a project dealing with European Union Law.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May has sent out a warning to the police stating that their abuse and improper use of their powers to stop and search people can undermine public assistance. She stated in an open speech aimed directly at the police forces that she need not remind them of the immense importance of public backing and public co-operation. She stated that this support is unable to be maintained if the public think that senior officials and police officers are lacking in integrity or behaving in a way which serves them best. She continued the sharp warning by saying that it is unacceptable for police officers to be rude and disrespectful to the public.
The speech which she delivered before the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales conference, marks the Home Secretary strongest stance on her movement towards reducing the waste of time which is involved in conducting the roughly 1.2million searches per year by police officers on the streets across the country. May stated that the astonishing search rate only produces a success rate of 3% which is the amount of people arrested as a result of these searches. This figure in her opinion is far too low to get comfortable with.
However, the speech also gave credit where it was due to police officers since they have handled the their ongoing duties and have delivered despite there being a 20% cut in funding by Whitehall. The Home Secretary extended her praise to the officers by labelling them “the model public service” when previous speeches have seen her target the sector as “the last unreformed public service”.
Further praises went to the force who have managed to cut the number of crime rates while doing their job with less officers on the line and a lower budget to service the police force. The secretary stated that the stop and search law was a priceless tool which if used correctly may aid in reducing crime rates staggeringly especially when targeting knife crime. She said that it was the superintendents it was their duty to make sure stop and searches are properly and fairly conducted by their officers in command on the streets. She said that the power is a double edged sword due to the fact that if it is improperly used it can backfire by causing the public not to trust the police.
If you are in your sixth form, college, taking a gap year off or simply looking to go back into education and a law degree has caught your eye, then read the following list of points which this article has compiled to inform future law students of the task which is ahead of them. Often many students jump into the mammoth task of studying law without being fully informed of the future career prospects and academic requirements needed of them.
Reading and graduating with a law degree from university will get you universal respect amongst employers and society in general. The course is demanding and often tests your ability to handle pressure, work towards tight deadlines and conduct multiple complex tasks at a time. However, a career in law may not be secured by graduating with a law degree and the future prospects of becoming a lawyer are often inflated by many universities. The reality is that the number of training contracts and pupillages being offered to students at law firms and chambers is on the down turn. The next myth surrounding a career in law is the pay which comes with it. The first thing that comes to most peoples mind is little work for astronomical amounts of money. However this is far from the truth especially in a lawyers early days and sectors such as the criminal bar pay very little and less compared to other less respected professions.
There’s so much reading
Most students generally going to university are prepared for the amount of reading that they are about to take on through the horror stories which they have heard from their friends and relatives. In fact studying law is much worse! This is because in order to obtain a good solid grade in any subject it is near enough impossible to pull an all nighter the night before the exam. Third year students are required to have an solid understanding of the law and the underlying policies behind it which means reading 100 in a rush 7 hours before the exam just won’t cut it.
In order to avoid dreadful and stressful all night library sessions you must be able to manage your time efficiently while prioritising school work ahead of partying and drinking sessions with your friends. Another skill which is grasped and not taught in university is being able to selectively study. A good amount of the text you come across may not be relevant for the type of assignment you will be put through at the end of the year meaning it can be skimmed or left out as a whole.