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Postgraduate Law Career Choices



There are around 140,000 practising solicitors in most towns across the UK. Many specialise in areas such as business law, conveyancing, litigation and family law, probate, criminal law, human rights and mediation. They can work in central and local government, for the Crown Prosecution Service (England and Wales)/Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (Scotland), in private practice, commercial practice, for a company as an in-house solicitor, or in legal aid.


Ways into the profession are detailed below:


England and Wales


When the LPC has been achieved, the final stage of training involves a two-year full-time or four-year part-time training contract with a firm of solicitors. Qualified ILEX Fellows are exempt from this, but they must complete the Professional Skills Course (PSC), which is part of the training contract.




After completing the 26-week Diploma in Legal Practice (DLP), candidates must complete post-diploma practical training. All candidates are required to serve a two-year training contract with a practising solicitor in Scotland, which includes the Professional Competence Course.


Northern Ireland


Trainee solicitors complete an apprenticeship programme that lasts two to four years, depending on the academic route they pursued.

Solicitors are expected to take continuing professional development and the Law Societies of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland all have their own schemes. See the relevant Law Society website for details.




Income for qualified solicitors varies considerably depending on their role and sector. In private practices in England and Wales, trainees earn on average about £21,000 and the average salary range for assistant/associate solicitors is £33,000-£64,000, for equity partners £50,000-£130,000 and for salaried partners £40,000-£70,000 a year. (Source: Law Society Private Practice Salaries 2007)


Barrister or advocate


A barrister or advocate is principally a professional who represents the client in court. They work within a set of chambers in a self-employed capacity and are known as ‘tenants’. New tenants are usually expected to contribute to the costs of running the chambers.

In Scotland, advocates have a comparable role and have rights of audience in all Scottish courts. Practice is normally in supreme courts, both civil and criminal (the Court of Session (Scotland) and the High Court (England and Wales)).

Most barristers and advocates work in private practice, although approximately 20 per cent work in industry, commerce, and central or local government. The role of the barrister or advocate varies greatly depending on their employer. The majority will work in specialist legal departments advising only the organisation they work for.


Barristers (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)


Once candidates have joined one of the Inns of Court and completed the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) candidates must then complete 12 months’ pupillage before they can qualify as a barrister. Successful completion and qualification will not guarantee a tenancy (a permanent place in a set of chambers), as there are usually more applicants than places. Once fully qualified, barristers must undertake continuing professional development (CPD).

Barristers are normally self-employed. As of 1 September 2007 there were almost 600 barristers in private practice in Northern Ireland, and in December 2006 the Bar Society counted more than 13,000 practising barristers in England and Wales, 2,800 of which were employed in the commercial sectors or in government. The rest were self-employed.


Advocates (Scotland)


Becoming an advocate is a four-stage process. First, candidates must have a valid degree to enable them to be admitted as an ‘Intrant’ to the Faculty of Advocates. Next they must fulfil the Faculty’s educational requirements by passing the Diploma in Legal Practice. They must then serve a period of training in a solicitor’s office lasting 21 months, then a further period of nine months of pupillage to a member of the Bar approved by the Dean of Faculty (called ‘devilling’) followed by a Faculty examination in Evidence, Practice and Procedure that must be passed. Once the candidate has successfully fulfilled all these requirements, they will be admitted as an advocate. This process is currently under review and may be changed.

There are over just 460 practising advocates in Scotland, all members of the Faculty of Advocates based in Edinburgh. They are mostly self-employed, although some work for commercial employers, or in local or central government. Advocates may become sheriffs and can also be appointed to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service as deputies (Crown Counsel) for set periods.




During pupillage, most barristers receive a minimum of £10,000 a year. Most qualified barristers/advocates earn between £19,000 and £260,000 a year. A few may earn significantly more than this. Barristers employed by the Crown Prosecution Service earn between £22,000 and £55,000. In the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, advocates earn between £22,000 and £52,300. (Source: various)


Patent attorney


Patent attorneys (also known as patent agents) give advice on the scientific, technical, practical and legal aspects of patents, trademarks, designs and industrial copyrights. They usually work in the patent departments of large industrial organisations, in private firms of patent attorneys or in government departments, and are involved in obtaining and enforcing intellectual property rights for inventors or organisations.

A good (2.1) honours degree in a science, technology, engineering or maths-based subject is necessary to become a patent attorney. Language skills may also be necessary as many clients will require international patents; knowledge of at least French and German, although not essential, is highly desirable.

After successfully gaining a degree or postgraduate qualification, you will need to apply for a traineeship or technical assistant position with a patent attorney's office or a research or manufacturing organisation (see the CIPA website at for more information). Career development is good, and becoming a partner in a firm of patent agents or the head of a patents department is not always the pinnacle of a career. There are other possibilities: for instance, some attorneys move to executive or management positions, or abroad.


Salary guide


Entry-level pay is usually between £20,000 and £30,000, and this can often rise to six-figure salaries with experience. (Source: various)


Law Postgraduate Course Listings


·         LLM Law

·         MA Law

·         MBA Law

·         MPhil Law

·         MSc Law

·         PGCert Law

·         Masters Degree Law

·         PGDip Law

·         PhD Law

·         MJur Law

·         DPhil Law


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