Alternative careers in and around the law

Government Legal Service

The Government Legal Service (GLS) comprises the legal teams of about 30 central government departments, agencies and public bodies, which between them employ about 2,000 lawyers. The teams provide a comprehensive range of legal services to the government of the day. All posts are open to both solicitors and barristers.

What is the role of the GLS 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 services, litigation and prosecution) as well as a wide range of specialisms (eg, company/commercial, charity, criminal, social security, land, property and trust laws). In addtion, the GLS has unique responsibilities, including for example:


GLS 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.


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.


GLS 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.


The GLS 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 GLS is involved in. In short, legal teams vary in size from one lawyer in smaller regulatory bodies to more than 450 in larger organisations. The GLS employs 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 GLS?

The GLS differs from private practice quite considerably. The work offers a different perspective and intellectual stimulus. The objective is the public good and GLS 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 GLS and to that end, it offers flexible working patterns (eg, part-time work and job-shares) and family-friendly policies.

Jenny Underhill at the GLS Secretariat says: “The GLS is unrivalled in the opportunities it can offer those starting out in a legal career. Our trainees will advise and represent their client, the British government, on a huge range of domestic and European matters. GLS lawyers will advise not only on what the law is, but also on what it should be. This type of work is unique to the GLS. The GLS recruits approximately 40 trainee solicitors and pupil barristers each year. What many GLS trainees find attractive is that they are given a high level of responsibility at an early stage in their training/pupillage 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 their time between a chambers and the government department they are assigned to. 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.

GLS lawyers tend to be given responsibility at an early stage of their career. They are offered career development and training opportunities, combined with a clear grading structure, 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 areas of responsibility within their department or even to other departments, in order to gain wider experience.

The GLS will pay for LPC and BPTC course fees in full, 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 GLS directory page.