There are a wide range of postgraduate legal courses on offer in the UK. In England and Wales, for example, the Legal Practice Course and Bar Vocational Course prepare law graduates to practise as a solicitor or barrister, while the Common Professional Examination offers non-law graduates a fast-track route onto these programmes. Legal professionals looking to develop their academic profile are increasingly enrolling on Master of Laws and MA degrees, and postgraduate law courses aren’t just for lawyers: they are also useful for those dealing with legal aspects in a whole range of careers, including business, engineering and construction.
If you are considering studying law in the UK, you should be aware that there are three separate legal systems: England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Because of this, students normally complete their studies within the same system where they started. If you transfer from one country to another – particularly to or from Scotland – you may have to re-sit some subjects and repeat at least one year of your course.
Areas of specialism
Because of the three different jurisdictions in the UK, we have listed the different types of courses available within each country that form the routes into practising law.
England and Wales
Common Professional Examination/Graduate Diploma in Law (CPE/GDL)
Those who have not completed a qualifying law degree will need to take a conversion course if they wish to practise law as a solicitor or barrister. The CPE is a law conversion course for graduates of a non-law undergraduate degree who wish to practise law in England and Wales. These intensive programmes of study also enable overseas graduates and mature students who may hold qualifications considered to be equivalent to an undergraduate degree. In both cases, applicants will need to approach either the Law Society or the General Council of the Bar (known as the Bar Council) to obtain a certificate of academic standing. The certificate is evidence that their qualifications meet the minimum requirements for admission to a CPE programme.
An alternative route for non-law graduates is to take a two-year full-time or three-year part-time senior-status law degree. Applications should be made directly to the institution concerned.
Legal Practice Course (LPC)
The LPC is what you take if you wish to become a practising solicitor in England or Wales. It normally takes a year full time or two years part time. If you have completed an undergraduate degree in law, you will need to check that it is a qualifying law degree with the Law Society. If your degree meets its criteria, you need to become a student member of the Law Society and obtain written confirmation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority that you have completed the academic stage of training. These are essential prerequisites before starting the LPC and progressing to a training programme. The Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test (QLTT) enables lawyers who are qualified in certain jurisdictions outside of the UK (or barristers within England and Wales) to qualify as solicitors in England and Wales. Visit the Law Society website (www.lawsociety.org.uk) for further details.
Bar Vocational Course (BVC)
This is a year-long course (two years part time) that gives students necessary training to enter a career as a barrister in England or Wales. All students are required to be admitted to one of the four Inns of Court before registration on the BVC. Applications for a place on the BVC must be made through the Bar Standards Board’s central applications system, BVC Online. To make an application, visit the BVC Online website at www.bvconline.co.uk
The BVC is the compulsory stage prior to more specialised training in the 12 months of pupillage. There is strong competition for places on the BVC, and approximately 3,200 candidates apply for around 1,900 places. Candidates are advised to submit their application as early in the system as possible. The main areas of study cover every stage of civil litigation and the criminal process. Students can then take options in specialist areas of law.
Diploma in Legal Practice
This is a 26-week course (provided by the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh, the Glasgow Graduate School of Law and the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen), which gives students the necessary training to enter a career as a solicitor or an advocate (the Scottish equivalent of a barrister) in Scotland. By 2008, each of the Diploma providers will have been through a Law Society of Scotland accreditation process. The Diploma is essential for entry to both the solicitors’ and advocates’ branches of the profession.
Candidates will normally have passed the LLB undergraduate degree or professional examinations first, and will follow this course with two years of training in order to become fully qualified. There are alternative routes for those without an LLB qualification – see the Law Society of Scotland’s website (www.lawscot.org.uk) for details.
Certificate in Professional Legal Studies
The Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queen’s University Belfast offers a one-year postgraduate course of vocational training for both trainee barristers and trainee solicitors. Anyone who intends to enter either branch of the legal profession in Northern Ireland must attend the Institute and successfully complete the course.
The Law Society of England and Wales: www.lawsociety.org.uk
The Law Society of Scotland: www.lawscot.org.uk
The Law Society of Northern Ireland: www.lawsoc-ni.org
The Bar Council: www.advocates.org.uk
Bar Standards Board: www.barstandardsboard.org.uk
The Northern Ireland Bar Library: www.barlibrary.com
The Higher Education Academy UK Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE): www.ukcle.ac.uk
The Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX): www.ilex.org.uk
Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA): www.sra.org.uk
Law Postgraduate Course Listings
· LLM Law
· MA Law
· MBA Law
· MSc Law
· PhD Law
· MJur Law
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