The term Lawyer is a generic term used to describe anyone who is a licensed legal practitioner, both solicitors and barristers are types of lawyer.
There are many different types of law, at the broadest level you could divide lawyers into those involved in commercial work and those involved with individuals.
Commercial Lawyers have a comprehensiveness understanding of how businesses operate, their clients could range from a small business to multinational corporation. The areas they would be used for could include, contracts, intellectual property, data protection, employment or corporate law.
Other types of law involving individuals could include; family law, criminal, human rights, personal injury, tax to name but a few.
A Solicitor is the first point of contact for a client, they will listen to the grievance or issue and provide general legal advice on the next course of action. If court proceedings are required they will research and collect evidence and liaise with a barrister to represent the client in court.
Routes to becoming a solicitor
The most obvious route is to complete a law degree for which you will need strong academic qualifications with at least three good A level passes. Once you have completed your degree before you become a solicitor you must complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which is the vocational stage of the training, it is a one year full time or two year part time course designed to bridge the gap between academic study and training in a law firm. Once you complete the LPC you then have to secure a Training Contract with a Law Firm, which lasts 2 years.
If you have a degree in a subject other than law you can take a law conversion course which is an intensive one year full time or two year part time course which will take you to the same level as a law graduate.
It is possible to train without a degree by joining the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) which is the governing body. The minimum entry requirement is four GCSEs including English. You will firstly need to pass examinations to qualify to become a member and later a fellow. This route does take a long time and will require that you enter and maintain CILEx approved legal employment but the framework enables you to fulfill the requirements of the academic stage of training including the foundations of legal knowledge.
Most Barristers will specialise in one area or a small number of areas such as crime, divorce, personal injury, children, company or commercial disputes, immigration or employment law. They will normally represent the client in court and liaise with both the client and their solicitor.
Barristers will put legal arguments to judges, magistrates and juries and cross-examine witnesses to sway the outcome of the court case.
To become a barrister you will either need to have a degree in law or in another subject and take a law conversion course. Once this is completed, the next step would be to complete the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) which is a one year course that prepares you for a life at the Bar. Full details of the BPTC are available from the Bar Standards Board.
Judges are required for the following types of court in England and Wales - Magistrates’ Courts, Tribunals, Crown Court, County Court, High Court of Justice, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
To become a judge you will have be a citizen of the UK, Republic of Ireland or a Commonwealth country. You also must have a relevant qualification for five years, this could be an undergraduate law degree, a graduate diploma in law, followed by the Legal Practice Course or Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).
You will need to have practised law – as a solicitor, barrister or legal executive – for a good few years first. It is quite common for solicitors or barristers to apply to be a part-time judge initially, in order to build up expertise.
For further information on law careers, take a look at The Law Society website.