How to Become a Lawyer in the UK: Steps & Schools Explained
Working as a lawyer can be hugely rewarding in many ways; perhaps you have strong feelings about social justice, or would simply like to work in a sector where you can be generously financially remunerated. As a profession which will most likely always be required within society, a legal career is also one of the most future-proofed that you could choose.
The UK has long held a significant political role in world affairs, with English remaining one of the principal global languages of communication, and the main language for international law. Becoming qualified in the UK as a lawyer means that you will be expertly prepared to communicate, negotiate and transact with partners and clients all over the world.
Graduates of UK law degrees have a range of employment options available to them. Many graduates practice law by pursuing a career as a solicitor or barrister, and a UK degree in law is recognised by the Bar in many countries around the world.
A law degree is also a highly respected qualification among employers with many transferable skills that can be applied in other industries. International students who complete law degrees in the UK might be especially interested in pursuing a career in international law, where they might work on human rights cases, and advise NGOs or government departments. There are also opportunities within large law firms which deal with international legal cases.
To become a lawyer in the UK, you'll likely need to complete a university degree and several years of training. It is an academically challenging profession and highly competitive.
In this guide, we look at the steps to becoming a qualified lawyer in the UK, exploring:
- the path to law school in the UK
- the different legal professions and how to decide which to aim for
- the different undergraduate law courses at UK universities
- the top UK law schools, and how to make your final choice of universities, including as a postgraduate option
We are experienced in helping students intent on a career in the legal world get on the path to success, and our programmes are specially designed to prepare them for the challenges ahead.
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The path to a career in Law (International and UK students)
There are generally four stages to becoming a fully qualified lawyer in the UK.
Stage #1: Gain A-level qualifications or an equivalent Law Foundation
To get in to law school you will need at least three A-levels with high grades. The top universities, with the most competitive courses will most likely require three A or A* grades, although entry requirements for each university vary.
There are no specific A-levels needed for Law, but your Course Director will advise you on the best subject choices, which will most likely include Government and Politics, Geography, History and/or Economics. A-level Law is not required but can be useful to give you an idea of the subject.
A Law Foundation is an alternative route to studying law. Law Foundations, such as the Kings Law Foundation, are generally one-year pre-university programmes primarily for international students that prepare them for the rigours of a UK law degree. At Kings, it is based on A-levels and assured by Pearson, and recognised by a broad range of quality UK universities.
Stage #2: Complete an Undergraduate degree
To become a lawyer, you need to study an undergraduate degree, which takes three years (or four years in Scotland). You can choose an LLB or BA/BSc (see below for more information on the differences).
Stage #3: Do a Legal Practice Course (LPC)
The LPC is the final vocational stage of training to become a qualified solicitor. It is taken after successful completion of a qualifying Law degree, or other recognised qualifications and is intended to bridge the gap between theory and practice, providing the practical skills needed for a career as a solicitor. The LPC can generally be studied either full time or part time.
It's important to note that any student beginning a degree from September 2021 onwards will study for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which will effectively replace the LPC (and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)). Those who had already started a Law degree, GDL or LPC before September 2021 will be able to qualify via the traditional route until 2032.
Stage #4: Complete any specialist training
The final step to becoming a qualified lawyer in the UK is to gain practical experience with a law training contract. This means spending two years at a law firm before you are a qualified solicitor. During this time, you will also complete the Professional Skills Course, a series of specialist training modules paid for by your law firm.
Below we look at some of the steps that form part of the decision-making process when it comes to applying for a law degree.
Step #1: Consider whether you want to be a barrister or a solicitor
The term 'lawyer' is a general term referring to anyone who is qualified to give legal advice as a licensed legal practitioner. This includes solicitors and barristers, and an important thing to understand is that in the UK, there is a specific distinction between the two.
What does a barrister do?
A barrister is someone who defends or advocates for someone inside of court. Barristers are hired by solicitors to represent a case in court and only become involved when an advocate for that case is required. Barristers are usually specialists in distinct legal areas.
What does a solicitor do?
A solicitor is a legal professional who undertakes work outside of court and liaises directly with clients to give legal advice. Solicitors conduct initial client meetings and provide advice on their specific situations. They also build up case files if it needs to go to court. Solicitors are usually employed by a law firm or organisation and will be paid a salary, rather than barristers, who are generally self employed.
What are the differences between a solicitor and a barrister?
Solicitors provide legal support, advice and services to clients, who can be individuals, private companies or public sector organisations. They can often specialise in certain areas of law.
In England and Wales, barristers represent individuals or organisations in court, carry out research into points of law and advise clients on their case. Often they are self-employed, although some do work in government departments or agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). In Scotland, advocates hold a similar role.
Step #2: Decide on whether you want to study a Bachelor of Laws (BBL), a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Law
If you want to pursue a law career in the UK, you need to study an undergraduate degree, which takes three years (or four years in Scotland). You can choose a LLB or BA/BSc, depending on your future plans or preferences for study.
Bachelor of Laws (LLB)
The LLB initiates from the Latin abbreviation of Legum Baccalaureus (also known as the Bachelor of Laws). It is a Qualifying Law Degree and is the first stage of training if you want to become a lawyer in the UK. It teaches the seven ‘Foundations of Legal Knowledge’ and develops the knowledge, analytical and practical skills you need for a career in law. The seven core modules include contract law, criminal law, constitutional & administrative law, EU law, land law and equity & trusts.
The LLB can be studied in several forms: in the usual three year, full-time law degree format; as a two-year graduate course; or as a part-time degree over four to six years.
Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Law
Rather than the LLB, some students choose to take a BA in Law or an undergraduate degree in another subject. These students then need to complete a one-year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course before they can apply for the Legal Practice Course.
Whilst this route can take longer, it can suit students who are more interested in the academic side of Law, rather than the prospect of practicing as a Solicitor or joining the Bar, or who is considering a career in journalism, politics or business, which all make use of the skills developed on a BA in Law.
What are the differences between an LLB and a BA/BSc in Law?
The difference is that the LLB focuses exclusively on Law, whereas a BA in Law includes modules in law and other subjects like history or business. BA Law students often study for joint honours, for example, they can study Law with German, or Law with Criminology.
You are able to become a Barrister or a Solicitor with a BA in Law. But unlike the LLB Law, the BA in Law is not a qualifying law degree. This means you will most likely still have to take the GDL — the one year conversion course taken by all non-Law degree holders seeking to qualify as lawyers (which is now being replaced by the SQE).
Step #3: Choose the right Law School
Once you have established what kind of legal career you might like to pursue, and the type of law degree you are most interested in completing, the next step is to research different law schools in the UK, so that you can make your UCAS application.
Of course, overall university rankings, as well as subject-specific rankings for law are important to look at, but equally as important to consider are factors such as:
- tuition fees
- location and cost of living
- graduate prospects for employment
Should you enrol on a pre-university programme at Kings our expert UCAS advisors will help establish the best university for your law course, putting you on the best possible path for success..
8 Best Law Schools in the UK
The UK law schools have a long and rich tradition and the variety of law degrees offered is huge. Once you have decided which type of law degree you would like to do, you can then turn your attention to choosing the universities to apply for.
British universities are renowned the world over for their academic prestige, with four of the current global top 10 based in the UK according to the Times Higher Education World University rankings (University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, UCL and LSE).
There are several different annual university league tables, most of which include rankings by subject area, including the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, the Guardian Good University Guide and the Complete University Guide.
The eight universities selected below all feature regularly within top rankings for Law within them.
1. University of Oxford
As one of the most prestigious and globally renowned universities the world-over, studying law at the University of Oxford certainly carries academic acclaim, which in turn can be hugely advantageous when it comes to looking for employment post graduation. Here, you'll encounter some of the best academics, the widest range of resources and the finest cohort of fellow students anywhere in the world.
The Faculty of Law in the University of Oxford is one of the largest in the United Kingdom. It is a federation of thirty law schools in the colleges of the University
The University of Oxford's BA in Jurisprudence is a three year undergraduate law degree, equivalent to what would be called an LLB in other universities . The BA in Law with Law Studies in Europe follows the same syllabus as the three-year BA course, except that the third year is spent studying at a law faculty in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, or the Netherlands, before returning to complete the Oxford degree in the fourth year.
Location: Oxford, central England
Website: Faculty of Law
2. University of Cambridge
Ranked the second best place to study Law in the entire world within the Times Higher Education World rankings, renowned University of Cambridge offers a BA (Hons) course (referred to at other universities as an LLB degree) that is primarily concerned with English law, though there are also opportunities to study other legal systems, including civil (Roman) law, EU law and international law. Students can also elect to study theoretical and sociological aspects of law such as jurisprudence or parts of criminology.
The David Williams Building houses lecture theatres, seminar rooms and a moot court. It is also home to the Squire Law Library, home to one of the most extensive academic law collections in the UK.
The Faculty and University Law Society organise numerous activities, including public lectures, careers events with leading barristers’ and solicitors’ firms, social events, and mooting competitions (debates about hypothetical legal cases). Thanks to a firm trust established in the job market, Cambridge graduates enjoy high employability.
Location: Cambridge, East of England
Website: Faculty of Law
3. University of London (UCL)
Ranked among the best law schools not just in the UK but also globally (Times Higher Education World University rankings), UCL is a university which attracts a large number of ambitious students from all around the world.
The three-year LLB Law combines theory and research with practical application and skills-based training. Students may also have the opportunity, after year two, to extend their studies by a year and spend part of their degree studying abroad in the USA, Australia, Hong Kong or Singapore.
The UCL Faculty of Laws also offers some of the following law degrees:
- Law with French Law LLB
- Law with German Law LB
- Law with Hispanic Law LLB
- Law with Another Legal System (Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong)
- LLM (Master of Laws)
- Law MPhil/PhD
Location: Central London
Website: Faculty of Laws
4. King’s College London
The Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London is traditionally recognised as one of the best law schools in UK. Ever since its foundation in 1831, this school has played a massive role in serving the community by supplying the legal system with well-educated lawyers.
Its law degrees aim to identify and address common problems in today’s world, such as climate change, international relations, global finance and so on.
Currently, the following degrees offered at the King’s College London:
- LLB Law
- LLB English Law & Spanish Law
- LLB Politics, Philosophy & Law
- LLB English Law & French Law
- LLB English Law & German Law
- LLM Master of Laws
- MA Medical Law
- MA Medical Ethics & Medical Law
Website: The Dickson Poon School of Law
5. University of Glasgow
Excellent law degrees, a leading team of academics, a vibrant, dynamic and a research community, plus an extensive range of modern facilities make the University of Glasgow one of the best law schools in UK.
A law degree at this university will provide you with a fundamental understanding of the Scottish and Common Law, but will also enable you to gain additional critical and analytical skills much sought after by prospective employers.
Location: Glasgow, West of Scotland
Website: School of Law
6. University of Edinburgh
The Faculty of Law at the University of Edinburgh, now known as Edinburgh Law School was founded in 1707 and is situated in historic Old College in the heart of Edinburgh, minutes from both the Law Courts and Scotland's Parliament. It has been ranked 11th in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2022 for Law.
The University's undergraduate degree programmes enable students to gain a qualifying degree in Scots Law, whilst offering the flexibility to choose from a wide range of optional courses during their studies.
The Law School's historic home in Old College has recently undergone a complete refurbishment and students will now benefit from brand new teaching, study, and research facilities.
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Website: Edinburgh Law School
7. Durham University
Ranked in the Top 50 universities to study Law globally by QS Durham University delivers excellent tuition through small group teaching in seminars and their tutorial system, which is highly valued by employers.
The LLB degree is a flexible, full-time course delivered over three years. Students also have the opportunity to specialise across a wide range of optional modules from public law and human rights to corporate and international law as well as modules in other subject areas.
Location: Durham, north east England
Website: Durham Law School
8. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
LSE Law School is one of the world's top law schools with an international reputation for the quality of its teaching and legal research.
In the 2018 QS World University Rankings the LSE was ranked 9th globally, and 1st in London, for the study of Law. The LSE law student body is one of the most cosmopolitan in the world with over 60% international students.
According to LSE, their Law students learn 'that law in not a body of knowledge stored in libraries, but a presence all around us, constantly evident in our social, civil and business interactions.'
LSE students benefit from being instructed by academics who, through their world-leading research, actively contribute to shaping the development of the law, and exploring how the law can provide solutions to issues of contemporary significance.
Website: LSE Law School
How to become a lawyer in the UK if you already have a degree
Whilst overseas law degrees are not recognised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority as qualifying law degrees, 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 this, they can then complete either the LPC or the Vocational Component of Bar training.
The GDL (replaced by the SQE from September 2021) is offered by many institutions and provides a way for non-law graduates to convert their degree into a qualifying law degree.
An equivalent to the GDL is the 'qualifying LLM', which provides the opportunity to study the core requirements of the GDL as well as achieving a masters degree alongside it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are some of the most commonly asked questions relating to becoming qualified as a lawyer in the UK.
Q1. What grades do you need to be a lawyer?
Universities generally expect excellent A-level grades as evidence that you'll be able to cope with the intellectual demands of studying law. Entry requirements for an undergraduate law degree at top universities typically range from A*AA to AAB, although it varies by institution. A Law Foundation is an alternative route to studying law.
Some universities specify require GCSE grades in English, maths and possibly a foreign language.
In addition, to study law at university you’ll often have to take the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) as part of your application. This does not test your knowledge of law — instead, it assesses your aptitude for the required skills.
Q2. How many years does it take to become a lawyer in the UK?
It takes six years to become a lawyer if you choose the LLB degree route. It takes seven years if you choose the BA undergraduate degree route as you will need to complete the GDL conversion course.
You need to study for five years to qualify as a barrister:
Q3. What qualifications do you need to become a lawyer?
Becoming a solicitor via the university route requires you to complete a qualifying law degree (LLB) before taking the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which is replacing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) for all new entrants as of September 2021, although there are transitional arrangements in place for those already studying these courses.
Those who studied an unrelated subject at undergraduate level will need to embark on a SQE preparation course before sitting the exams. The next step is to complete two years of qualifying legal work experience, which can include a training contract, before passing the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) character and suitability requirements. In summary:
- Three-year undergraduate degree (+ 1 year GDL conversion course if required)
- One-year Legal Practice Course (LPC)
- Two-year Professional Skills Course
- Two-year law training contract in a law firm
To become a barrister in England and Wales you need to complete at least three stages or components of training.
- Three-year undergraduate degree
- One-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)
- One-year pupillage in Chambers (also known as the work-based learning component)
We hope that this article has helped you understand more about the processes involved with applying to law school, and to learn about some of the best universities for Law degrees in the UK. You can find more detailed information about studying Law and a career as a doctor in the Subjects/Career Guides section of the Kings website.
You can also find detailed profiles of the top UK universities.
If you would like receive more detailed information about the Kings and our programmes, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.