The UK legal sector is split into three jurisdictions Scotland, England and Wales and Northern Ireland. In NI over 600 barristers work in independent practice and more than 2,300 practice as solicitors, mainly in small – medium size firms. The region has an increasing reputation as a centre for legal services with international law firms locating in Belfast.
The legal market place in the UK and Ireland jurisdictions can differ in terms of how you train and qualify with England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland having differing processes for applications and training. The professional practice area (solicitor or barrister) you are considering as a career will differ also.
If you are a ‘non law’ student interested in barrister or solicitor careers you should research graduate conversion courses including Masters in Law at Queen’s Belfast or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
Pathways to the professions generally include an academic stage, vocational training and training contract period. The academic stage includes a qualifying law degree or equivalent but it is important to check that you meet the criteria for your chosen profession and jurisdiction in terms of academic requirements, degree and module content. Research and planning is key for the vocational stages eg IPLS, LPC or BPTC as there are deadlines to meet for entrance exams, exam costs, application and submitting paperwork to regulation authorities. The training contract element requires research and planning as applications for training contracts with law firms or pupillages with chambers can have differing methods of application. Some are directly to the firm/chambers and others are via a centralised system. A general overview can be found below but please refer to signposted links for more details and up-to-date information including deadlines. When researching professional pathways it is important to consider the financial cost of undertaking training as it is expensive and in some cases there are restrictions on part-time work. Consider also the marketplace, the reality of training, retention and an early career in your chosen pathway. There are options for firms to fund training and Inns of Court to offer scholarships but these are highly competitive.
Research materials are available to take away in the Student Guidance Centre HUB including Chambers Student Guide, Target Jobs Law, Lex 100 and the websites listed here (link to useful websites) will give you a more details to help with planning for your career. Individual law firm and chamber websites are useful research tools to differential, research them specifically and including opportunities for training and work experience.
**Please note from no earlier than 2020 qualifying as a solicitor will change. See www.sra.org.uk
NORTHERN IRELAND– General Overview
To qualify as a solicitor or barrister in Northern Ireland you normally apply to the Institute of Professional Legal Studies (ILPS) early in semester 1 of your final year (application normally closes mid-November) to sit their entrance exam in December. The IPLS hold an information session around this time and if you are considering application this is a useful way to find out more. In 2016 the IPLS offered 120 places for candidates to train as solicitors and 20 for candidates wishing to train as barristers.
To qualify as a solicitor in Northern Ireland after completing a qualifying law degree or equivalent you complete a 2 year apprenticeship that combines time in your Masters office and at the IPLS. You must find a Master and register with the Law Society of Northern Ireland. Finding a Master can be difficult so planning ahead is crucial.
Time at the IPLS is split as follows:
September – December in Masters office, January – December full time in IPLS (returning to Masters office for vacation work), January – August post course in-office training. This is being reviewed for 2018. Although qualified after this stage, there are restrictions on practise for up to two years following qualification. Further details are found on the IPLS website and Law Society NI website.
After completing a qualifying law degree or equivalent, to qualify as a barrister in Northern Ireland you attend the IPLS fulltime from August – June. Prior to this you must be admitted as a student to The Inns of Court. Between August – September you will be on structured 4 week work experience supported by Citizens Advice and organised by the IPLS. After attending IPLS trainees undertake a 12 month practical pupillage with a Master. Further details are found on the IPLS website and Bar of Northern Ireland website.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND- General overview
Training to be a solicitor in Ireland after an approved law degree is with The Law School - The Law Society of Ireland in Blackhall Place. The Law Society of Ireland is the regulatory authority for solicitors in Ireland. Here you take the Final Exam (First Part) or FE1 which is held twice a year and is entry to the Law School. If you pass you apply to the Law Society of Ireland to commence the Professional Practice Course or PPC I. The PPC I leads to the Final Exam (Second Part) or FE2. The PPC I normally starts September and ends April. Before applying to the PPC I trainees must have secured a two year training contract with a solicitor or ‘training solicitor’. See The Law Society website for further details as to the definition of a training solicitor and how they are eligible. The training contract is a mixture of time spent in-office and attending the Professional Practice II or PPC II course. After eleven months of the training period, around April, the trainee returns to the The Law School - The Law Society to start the PPC II which runs for around 11 weeks and is in the middle for the training period. The PPC II leads to the Final Exam (Third Part) or FE. After this trainees return to their firm for the final 10 months. Trainees that compete the requirements and pass all exams apply to have their names entered on the Roll of Solicitors.
For more information check the Law Society of Ireland website
After completing an approved law degree (chck with provider) apply to the Honourable Society of King’s Inns and sit an entrance exam for a one year Barrister-at –Law Professional Vocational Degree course. The course normally runs from October to June. If you pass this you are ‘called to the Bar’. You must pass a specific exam in the Irish Language. Following this a year is spent working unpaid with a Master as a pupil know as ‘devilling’. Many train with a second Master for another year if they want to work outside the Dublin circuit. More details including scholarship information can be found on The Honourable Society of King’s Inns and Bar of Ireland Law Library website.
ENGLAND AND WALES - General overview
**Please note from no earlier than 2020 qualifying as a solicitor will change. See www.sra.org.uk
Currently to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales with a qualifying law degree or equivalent you would complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which takes up to a year (some accelerated LPC’s are shorter). The LPC is then followed by a 2 year ‘training contract’ (period of recognised training) with a law firm or legal department authorise by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Almost all authorised LPC providers manage applications via the Central Application Board (CAB). Details of the vocational stage and authorised LPC’s can be found on the SRA website Central Applications Board (CAB) website. Law firms can pay for GDL’s and LPC’s as part of successful application to their training contacts and use specific GDL and LPC providers that can tailor the training to the specific firm. Larger law firms close training contract applications in July but be aware some close as early as December. In some cases firms can close application early if they have filled training contract places so never leave application too close to the deadline if possible. Penultimate year law students can apply up to two years in advance for a training contract. Retention by a training contract provider is not always guaranteed after qualification. Further details are found on the Law Society of England and Wales website.
After completing a qualifying law degree or equivalent eg GDL, complete the vocational Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) in one year and a one year practical pupillage approved by Bar Standards Board eg with barristers chambers or other approved legal environment. Prior to this you will need to apply to BPTC providers at www.barsas.com as applications for BPTC courses are processed here. A test called the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) must be passed before applicants can enrol in a BPTC. Please check providers for deadline details. The BPTC www.barsas.com opens in December and you can apply to BPTC before you pass the BCAT but please give yourself time in case the result is not positive on first test. You must join an Inn of Court before you can start the BPTC. Deadline for this is currently end of May of the year you are due to start BPTC. There are four Inns- Gray’s Inn, Inner Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Middle Temple. It is important to research the Inn you plan to join as membership is for life and each differ eg scholarships available. It is possible to make contact with them and arrange a visit.
Middle Temple offer an annual Access to the Bar Award that involves 1 week mini-pupillage and 1 week marshalling placement. The Award is open to level 2,3,and 4 undergraduates. You apply to Queen's University Careers Service first and are shortlisted by the School of Law.
For pupillages you can apply to the pupillage gateway http://www.pupillagegateway.com/ as over 100 chambers use this system to manage applications. This opens in November to view vacancies and see a sample application form but application opens early January and closes early February. Chambers that do not recruit through Gateway are live all year round and you apply directly to them. Most sets of chambers recruit a year in advance. After pupillage the next step is applying a permanent position or tenancy with a set of chambers. Retention is not guaranteed.
For more information see Bar Standards Board and Bar Council website. This contains more information on barrister career path and a useful document ‘Health Warning’ that covers reality of studying for the Bar in England and Wales.
Students with a non-law degree can complete a Graduate Diploma in law GDL conversion course in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland students can complete the Masters in Law (MLaw) as this is an accelerated two-year, full-time postgraduate degree in law. It is designed for graduates in a discipline other than Law who wish to obtain a Law degree for professional practice for England & Wales and Northern Ireland.
Key Employers – Northern Ireland
Law firms: A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox, Carson McDowell, Ceaver Fulton, Rankin Pinsent Masons, TLT NI LLP, Tughans
Legal service providers: Axiom Law, Baker & McKenzie, Herbert Smith, Allen & Overy, Citi
Key Employers – UK and Global:
Law firms: Baker & McKenzie, Stephenson Harwood, Freshfields, Pinsent Masons, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Hogan Lovells, Herbert Smith, Freehills, Travers Smith, Clyde & Co, Slaughter & May, Burges Salmon, Eversheds, White & Case, Shearman & Sterling, Ashurst
On Campus resources –
Online resources -
England and Wales
Republic of Ireland
On Campus resources–
Each county will have its own requirements to ensure you are qualified to practise law. This may even change in different parts of the same country.
Links to some of the requirements in English speaking countries are listed below -
Ancillary Legal Professions:
We have lots of really useful information resources in a variety of formats available in MyFuture and the Student Guidance Centre Hub which includes WI-FI, FREE TEA and COFFEE.
Prospects industry insights and Gradireland sector career guides will help you to search for employment in this employment sector.
All About Law- provides students with a variety of information ranging from the Areas of Law and Top Law Firms to work for to Interview Tips for Law. We also advertise jobs, internships and work placements on our website.
This information is obtained from a variety of sources, including the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), Association of Higher Education Careers Services (AHECS), Prospects, Gradireland and relevant professional organisations and other appropriate resources, as available.
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