Alternative careers in and around the law

Government Legal Profession

Government Legal Profession

The Government Legal Profession (GLP) comprises over 2,000 lawyers who are employed within a range of departments, agencies and public bodies. They provide a comprehensive range of legal services to the government of the day. All GLP posts are open to both solicitors and barristers.

What is the role of the GLP lawyer?

There is a huge amount of legal work generated by the government in all the major areas of law, including as it relates to the private sector (eg, advisory and litigation services) as well as in a wide range of specialisms (eg, European, employment, commercial, social security, and tax laws). In addition, the GLP has unique responsibilities, including the following examples:

Legislative

GLP lawyers advise ministers and policy administrators on the implications of changes to the law, instruct parliamentary counsel on the preparation of bills, provide advice to ministers during debates and draft subordinate legislation as necessary.

Advisory

Government decisions can be subject to judicial review and it is therefore crucial that sound legal advice is on hand at all stages of the policy formulation process.

Litigation

GLP lawyers handle civil and criminal litigation from personal injury to judicial review, in all courts up to the Supreme Court, sometimes with constitutional implications. They also handle litigation in the European courts.

European

The GLP is responsible for advising on the implications of EU law as it relates to domestic policy and legislation.

It is almost impossible to attempt to list or categorise the variety of work that the GLP is involved in. In short, legal teams vary in size from three lawyers in smaller regulatory bodies to more than 1,800 in the largest (the Government Legal Department). Government departments employ lawyers of varied experience, from trainees to those who are highly experienced. The legal teams are made up of litigators, advisers, drafters and/or specialists.

Why join the GLP?

The GLP differs from private practice quite considerably. The work offers a different perspective and intellectual stimulus. The objective is the public good and GLP lawyers have the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the wellbeing of the country. Its lawyers also have the opportunity to move jobs every few years. This can mean not only a change of job but also a change of department and even specialism, which ensures that the lawyers build broad skill-sets. They are supported in this by an excellent training programme, which draws on the experience of senior government lawyers, as well as academics and other leading figures in particular fields of the law.

The morale and individual wellbeing of its lawyers is important to the GLP and to that end, its legal departments offer flexible working patterns (eg, part-time work and job-shares) and family-friendly policies.

Jenny Underhill at the GLS Secretariat says: “The GLP is unrivalled in the opportunities it can offer those starting out in a legal career. Our trainees advise and represent their client, the government, on a huge range of domestic and European matters. Government lawyers will advise not only on what the law is, but also on what it should be. This type of work is unique. Between 60 – 70 legal trainee positions (training contracts and pupillages) are advertised each year. What many of our trainees value is that they are given a high level of responsibility at an early stage in their training and have the option to work in a variety of fields of law throughout their career.”

Career paths

Generally, trainee solicitors work in four different areas of practice over a two-year period in the department they are assigned to, thereby gaining a broad view of government legal work. Where necessary, a period of attachment to another department may be arranged. Pupil barristers divide the pupillage period between a chambers and the government department they are assigned to; and spend the remainder of the training period within their department. Trainees and pupils are involved in the whole range of work conducted by their department, including high-profile matters, under the supervision of senior colleagues.

GLP lawyers are offered career development, combined with a clear grading structure, and high-quality training, allowing lawyers to progress to higher levels at a pace determined by their own performance. Sustained good performance is rewarded by additional salary increments. Lawyers also have the opportunity to move between different areas of law and practice within their department or even to other departments, in order to gain wider experience.

The GLP will pay for LPC and BPTC course fees in full (where these courses have not been started at the time of accepting the offer), as well as a bursary of between £5,400 and £7,600 per vocational year. There is a starting salary of around £28,000. To find out more, go to our GLP directory page.