If you’re a first-year law student interested in exploring legal career paths, here’s a guide to the two most popular routes. This guide covers how to become a barrister or solicitor, the main differences between the two professions and how to decide between them.
What do solicitors do?
Solicitors are responsible for representing and advising private and commercial clients. Their work, especially in big city firms, is cross jurisdictional and varies enormously between practice areas. Each firm will have a range of practice areas such as corporate/M&A, competition, banking and finance, TMT and real estate. As a solicitor, your role is likely to be predominantly client facing and you’ll be expected to work well in a team of other lawyers. An understanding of how a client’s business works is an essential skill, as is a strong commercial awareness of what current issues may disrupt that client’s market. Although solicitors do attend court from time to time, the career is mostly office based.
What do barristers do?
Barristers tend to be self-employed (roughly 80%) and most are affiliated with a chamber which they share with other self-employed barristers. This freedom of work is highly attractive to many students and young professionals; however, this profession carries more uncertainty in terms of pay, especially in the early years of practice. If you enjoy and excel at public speaking and being persuasive, becoming a barrister should appeal to you. However, you ought to be aware of how competitive it is to land a pupillage (the Bar’s version of a training contract). As the number of pupillages dropped in 2018 to 435, the number of BPTC enrolments increased 14% to 1,600+. In a nutshell, barristers will usually specialise in criminal, family or commercial law and develop an expertise in courtroom advocacy. You can visit courts and sit in the public galleries if you want to observe a barrister’s work in person.
After completing a law degree, students interested in becoming a solicitor will complete the LPC (Legal Practice Course) for either one year or six months depending on personal preference or instruction from the firm with which they’re holding a training contract. For non-law students wanting to pursue a career in law, achieving the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is essential. If you wish to pursue a career as a barrister, you will need to have a qualifying law degree or GDL, the BPTC and then hopefully secure a pupillage. Both routes require patience, persistence and a lot of hard work, so be prepared.
Deciding while at university
You can learn about the legal profession by attending networking events, talks on campus and speaking to people who practice in the different legal fields. At career fairs you’re likely to have access to a lot of city law firms, but barristers will still be accessible throughout the year. My best advice would be to contact the career team at your university and discover the opportunities through them. If you want to make your decision through online research, LawCareers.Net provides an excellent guide and will be able to answer your questions, so don’t be afraid to get in contact.