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How to Become a Lawyer in the UK

Undergraduate law degrees in the UK have been open to international students for years. Now, many universities are seeing a growing number of law students from both the EU and Non-EEA countries wishing to qualify as a lawyer in the UK rather than in their home country.

So how do you become a lawyer in the UK? And what happens after you complete your degree as an international or EU student? How do you practice in the UK if you have already qualified abroad? This piece will give you all the relevant information you need to know if you want to qualify as a lawyer in the UK.

Barrister or Solicitor?

The first thing you must bear in mind is that in the UK, there is a distinction between a lawyer who represents a client in court, and one who advises clients in the lead-up to the court case. Read on to find out more about these two major roles in the UK’s legal sector.

Solicitor: A solicitor is a legal professional who undertakes work outside of court and provides advice directly to clients. Solicitors set up initial client meetings and provide advice on their respective situations. They also build up case bundles if a client’s case needs to go to court. Solicitors tend to be employed by a law firm or organisation and will be paid a salary based on that employment.

Barrister: A barrister is someone who defends or advocates for someone inside of court. Barristers are, therefore, used or hired by solicitors to represent a case in court and only become involved when an advocate for that case is required. Barristers tend to be specialists in certain legal areas. Moreover, 80% of barristers in the UK are self-employed which means the amount of money they make in any given period depends on how many cases they take on.

Routes to Qualification

Present: The present route to qualification as a lawyer in the UK requires you to achieve a qualifying law degree. Once you have achieved your initial legal qualification, you must choose whether you want to complete the Bar Professional Training Course to qualify as a barrister or the Legal Practice Course to qualify as a solicitor. After this stage, a future solicitor will have to undertake a two-year training contract before qualifying. On the other hand, a prospective barrister carries out a one-year pupillage at a chambers.

Future: The route to qualification for solicitors is due to change in 2021 with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) replacing both the GDL and LPC. This new assessment has been designed to centralise the route to qualification to keep the process as consistent as possible. The new assessment will have two stages with one covering legal knowledge and the other testing practical skills. Despite this change, there will be a transition period allowing for those already undertaking a law degree or already enrolled in either the GDL or LPC to continue to completion.

For Barristers, the BPTC is being replaced by the Vocational Component of Bar Training, which offers different options for barrister qualification. Read more about this on our Vocational Component guide.

Scottish Route to Qualification

Scotland has a completely different route to lawyer qualification than the rest of the UK.  Think carefully about which country you’d like to qualify in because if carry out your training in England, for example, and decide to move to Scotland, you will have to undergo further training. Read about the route to lawyer qualification in Scotland.

Law Apprenticeships

An alternative route to solicitor qualification comes in the form of legal apprenticeships. If you’re over 16 and settled in the UK, you are able to do apply for one. However, you must make sure that you are legally able to stay in the country for the duration of the apprenticeship.

How to Become a Lawyer in the UK: Undergraduates

If you’re just starting out your legal studies, see below for a list of some of the best universities for law in the United Kingdom.

Rank University*EU Fee**International Fee
1Cambridge£9,250 per year£21,168 per year
2
University College London
£9,250 per year £20,640 per year
3Glasgow£1,820 per year – to be confirmed£16,350 per year
4Oxford£9,250 per year£27,285 per year
5Durham£9,250 per year£20,500 per year
6London School of Economics £9,250 per year £21,570 in the first year with between 2.5-4% increases per year following
7EdinburghYet to be confirmed£20,950 per year
8Kings College London£9,250 per year £23,550 per year – subject to annual increase.
9Aberdeen£1,820 per year – to be confirmed£17,200 per year
10DundeeYet to be confirmed£18,150 per year – subject to annual increase
11StrathclydeYet to be confirmed£16,500 per year
12Nottingham£9,250 per year£17,550 per year
13Lancaster£9,250 per year£18,700 per year
14Bristol£9,250 per year£19,500 per year
15Exeter£9,250 per year£18,500 per year

*Change pending leaving the EU. These figures are for those beginning their study in 2020 as no assurances have been made for 2021/22 and beyond

**The vast majority of international fees are subject to incremental changes at the discretion of the university itself.

For a more comprehensive list, visit our LLB university comparisons page.

How to Become a Lawyer in the UK: Graduates

If you already have a degree from your home country it is important to note that overseas law degrees are not recognised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority as qualifying law degrees. However, students who have completed a full-time degree in any subject including law from an overseas university will qualify for entry onto the Graduate Diploma in Law or an equivalent law conversion course after which you can go on to complete either the LPC or the Vocational Component of Bar training.

The Graduate Diploma in Law or GDL is offered by many institutions and provides a way for non-law graduates to convert their degree into a qualifying law degree. The GDL can be very intense as it condenses three years of undergraduate study into one year. Various institutions also provide an equivalent to the GDL known as a qualifying LLM, which provides you with an opportunity to study the core requirements of the GDL as well as achieving a masters degree alongside it. As mentioned above, The GDL will be replaced by the SQE in 2021.

UniversityCourse nameEU fees (full time)International fees (full time)
Birmingham City University Postgraduate Diploma in Law /
LLM Professional Law
£5,700 / £8,500£8,600 / £12,800
BPP University (various locations)LLM Law Conversion /
Postgraduate Diploma Law /
LLM Law and Legal Practice
£13,290 /
Dependent on location from £9,260-£11,590 /
Dependent on location from £14,500-£16,000
TBC
Cardiff UniversityGDL£9,450 £18,200
University of Law (various locations)GDLDependent on location from £9,700-£12,050

Hong Kong – HKD$100,000
The same amounts however, Non-EEA students will be required to give a deposit of tuition fee to ensure you can receive your Tier 4 Visa to study
Leeds Beckett University GDL£6,000£6,000
London South Bank University PgDIP/
Can enrol in Top-Up to LLM /
LLM Law Legal Studies incorporating CPE
£6,090 / £3,045 / £9,135£9,186.67 /£4593.33 /£13,780




London South Bank University
Manchester Metropolitan University
GDL£9,256£12,000
Northumbria University Newcastle GDLTBCTBC
Nottingham Trent University GDL£8,700£8,700
Plymouth University GradDip Law£6,500 £14,000

How to Become a Lawyer in the UK: Practising Lawyers

If you are already a qualified, practising lawyer in your home jurisdiction then in order to qualify to work in the UK, you will have to use the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme. This scheme allows citizens from a vast number of jurisdictions including the EU, China, and Russia to qualify in the UK. To be eligible for the scheme, you need to be qualified in an SRA-recognised jurisdiction and have followed the full route to qualification.

Please bear in mind that the QLTS will also be replaced by the SQE in 2021 requiring overseas lawyers to pass this exam to practice in the UK.

Words: Alicia Gibson

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