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In order to qualify as a solicitor or barrister it is necessary to spend a further year studying for either the LPC or BPTC.
The Legal Practice Course
The Legal Practice Course (LPC) forms the vocational stage of your training to qualify as a solicitor. The compulsory year-long course is designed to equip you for practice.
The LPC is not assessed centrally, so to apply you must go through the Central Applications Board (CAB) (www.lawcabs.ac.uk). You need to submit your application in the autumn prior to the September in which you wish to start your LPC. You are permitted to apply to three law schools and the closing date is usually in early December. Despite the fact that you will have to pay thousands of pounds to take the course, having the cash does not guarantee you a place. Providers usually expect a 2:1 degree (although it is not impossible to get a place with a lesser degree class), so you will have to sell yourself. Also, do not forget that you will also be asked to provide an academic reference. There are around 30 institutions that offer the LPC, most of which are part of universities. The biggest providers are BPP Law School and the College of Law (CoL).
The LPC was overhauled in September 2009 to allow greater flexibility, with courses being tailored to suit the needs of employers. The new-look LPC, which can be studied either full-time or part-time, is delivered in two stages.
Stage 1 covers the three essential practice areas of business law and practice, property law and practice, and litigation. Course skills comprise professional conduct and regulation, taxation, and wills and the administration of estates.
Stage 2 is made up of three vocational electives. It is possible to take the electives at the same law school at which you complete Stage 1, or with one or more other law schools. The range of electives on offer is huge, so we suggest you choose the subjects that fit most closely with the area of law you eventually want to specialise in, although students must choose electives from at least two groups. For instance, if you want to work in the City there is no point in choosing the criminal or family law electives.
The idea behind splitting the LPC into two stages is to enable students to spread the cost of the course, as it will no longer be necessary to complete the electives immediately after the compulsory subjects. The changes described above are still at an early stage, with new courses being launched all the time. We therefore recommend that you speak to individual providers about what they offer. Teaching methods on the LPC usually include small classes and large lectures and tutorials, although many providers, most notably the CoL, are increasingly making use of web-based learning. Another trend that has swept the postgraduate legal education market in recent years is topping the LPC up into a Masters in Law. This is being offered by a number of law schools. BPP, CoL and Kaplan Law School also have the power to award students who complete their law conversion course and LPC or BPTC with an LLB.
Choosing an LPC provider
The LPC is run by a number of dedicated law schools and universities throughout England and Wales. As with qualifying law degrees, the course varies from one institution to the next. Teaching methods, class sizes and the range of electives differ. Therefore it is important to find an institution offering electives that fit your career interests. It is also important to think about location. Although studying the LPC in London is inevitably going to be more expensive, there are certain advantages to being close to the City, especially if you need to look for a training contract while on the course. Many major law firms also specify which institution you should attend, or have preferred LPC providers (see above).
Course fees for the LPC vary enormously depending on where you choose to study, and in London can be in excess of £12,000. Unless you are lucky enough to have wealthy parents willing to fund you the chances are that, after completing your degree, you will not have this kind of money in your bank account and so will be unable to pay these fees yourself.
Thankfully there are a number of options. The most attractive is undoubtedly to persuade a law firm to shell out the cash for you. But this will only happen if you secure a training contract in advance. Sponsorship typically includes payment of the LPC fee plus a maintenance grant of around £7,500 to cover living costs.
Bar Professional Training Course
To become a barrister you must first complete a degree and at least one further year’s academic training. At this point, if called to the bar, you will be what is known as a barrister at law, but to actually practise and to join a set this will have to be followed by at least one year as a trainee barrister known as a pupillage. The minimum requirement is a 2:2 undergraduate degree in any subject, although increasingly chambers require a 2:1. If your degree is not in law (LLB), then you will have to do a further year’s conversion course the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
On completion of the GDL or LLB stage, you must join one of the four Inns of Court - Grays Inn, the Inner Temple, Middle Temple or Lincoln’s Inn - to enrol on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which is replaced the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) last year (2010). A student’s choice of Inn does not affect the area of law in which they wish to practise or their choice of pupillage or tenancy and is a matter or personal choice.
Although the Bar Council is the representative body for the bar, the Inns are also very important. They are the organisations that govern the exclusive areas of London where two-thirds of barristers continue to work and also serve as the bar’s social societies. The Inns are also the institutions that will call any barristers to the bar.
Once signed up to an Inn, a student can enrol on the BPTC. This is done via the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) online system BVCOnline (www.bvconline. co.uk) and applications typically open in November. There is heavy competition for places on the course, with around 2,500 candidates chasing approximately 1,500 places per year.
The Bar Council and BSB are currently in the throes of shaking up entry to the bar. In addition to replacing the BVC with the BPTC, one other recommendation they have put forward is for course providers to bring in entrance exams that students need to be pass before being accepted onto the bar course. When this comes in is anyone’s guess, but it will not be in the far-distant future.
Graduate Diploma in Law
A common misunderstanding among aspiring lawyers is that you have to read law at university if you want to qualify as a solicitor or barrister. The good news is that this is simply not the case. You will, however, need to do an extra year’s postgraduate study.
Provided you have a strong academic record, your lack of a law degree will not be a disadvantage. Indeed, some firms have around a 60:40 split of law and non-law graduates. Again, traditional subjects such as Economics and History are viewed more favourably by law firms, as well as sciences and modern languages.
The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Common Professional Exam (CPE) are the academic qualifications that transform non-law graduates into potential lawyers. The SRA and the Bar Council recognise both qualifications, so they are in effect the same.
Once you have completed the year-long GDL, you will be on the same footing as a law graduate and able to embark on the LPC or Bar Professional Training Course. Given that the GDL is a three-year course squeezed into a year, it is not for the faint-hearted. You will sprint through the seven foundations of legal knowledge - criminal law, equity and trusts, EU law, contract law, tort, property law and public law (including constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law), and the pace is extremely demanding.
Applications for the course are made through the Central Applications Board. Application forms are normally available from November, with a closing date around February. You will find there is tough competition for places and that most applicants will have at least a 2:1 from their first degree. The course is not cheap and you should be prepared to pay more than £8,000 at some colleges, especially the London-based ones. However, as is the case with the LPC, students who secure training contracts may be able to receive sponsorship from future employers that will cover the course fees and living costs.