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Legal education in the United Kingdom

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  • Legal education in the United Kingdom

    Legal education in the United Kingdom is divided between the common law system of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and that of Scotland, which uses a hybrid of common law and civil law.

    England, Wales and Northern Ireland

    Training and qualifications process
    Requirements differ slightly on whether the individual plans to become a solicitor or barrister.

    Qualifying law degree

    Regardless all prospective lawyers must first possess a qualifying law degree, or have completed a conversion course.

    A qualifying law degree in the England and Wales consists of seven modules drawn from the following subject areas:
    • Public law (constitutional/administrative)
    • European Union law
    • Procedural Law (including law of evidence)
    • Criminal law
    • Law of obligations (contract, restitution, and tort)
    • Property law (real property)
    • Trusts and equity

    Vocational and other training

    It is at this point where the paths differ for solicitors and barristers. Prospective solicitors must enrol with the Law Society as a student member and take a one-year course called the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and then usually undertake two years' apprenticeship, known as a training contract. Whilst prospective barristers will move on to complete the one-year Bar Vocational Course (BVC), followed by a one-year pupillage.


    Scots law differs from that of England & Wales and other common law countries. When Scotland and England & Wales united to form the United Kingdom in 1707, the legal systems remained separate and this is still true today. Scots law is founded upon Roman or civil law, although today it has evolved into a hybrid or mixed system, using both civil and common law.

    Initial qualification
    Qualification to the profession is to the Law Society of Scotland for solicitors, or to the Faculty of Advocates for those wishing to practise as Advocates at the High Court of Justiciary or the Court of Session.

    Diploma in Legal Practice
    Following successful completion of the LL.B., graduates must undertake a one-year vocational Diploma in Legal Practice (Dip LP), taught at the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Dundee, Stirling, jointly by Glasgow & Strathclyde (at the Glasgow Graduate School of Law), or The Robert Gordon University.

    Traineeships and devilling
    Those who wish to qualify as a solicitor must then undertake a two-year traineeship with a law firm. Qualification as an Advocate (the Scottish equivalent of a barrister) requires a further nine-month unpaid traineeship (known as devilling) with an experienced Advocate.

    Practising in other jurisdictions
    Once qualified, Scots solicitors and advocates can practise in Scotland. If they wish to practise in the European Union they may do so provided that they satisfy the requirements of the relevant EU Directives. However, to practise elsewhere in the United Kingdom, they will be required to sit the relevant exams or to study further courses.

    Alternatives to an (initial) law degree

    There are also conversion courses available for non-law graduates, available as an alternative to the full-length LL.B. degree course. The two most common such courses in England and Wales are the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), and Common Professional Examination (CPE), both one year long. Alternatively, a number of institutions are now offering two-year conversion courses, usually at a lower cost with a more distinguished qualification, such as a Masters degree.

    Scots Law regulations usually require a full LL.B qualification. It is possible to complete an Honours degree in any subject, whether in Scotland, England, or indeed anywhere in the world, and subsequently undertake an accelerated two-year LL.B. for graduates degree in Scotland, and thus obtain a qualifying LL.B. qualification in Scotland. Universities offering these two-year conversion degrees include Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde.
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