Friday, May 14, 2010

I want to be a family lawyer

I dealt with the above question in a recent Questions and Answers post. I gave the somewhat facetious answer: Can I persuade you otherwise? I thought I should now give a rather more helpful answer. Before I do, however, I should say that there was a good reason for that facetious answer: as anyone who has done family work will tell you, the life of a family lawyer is not an easy one - the work can be extremely stressful, and at times appear to be unrewarding. Anyone wishing to become a family lawyer must understand the nature of the work before they embark on their career. I may touch upon this further in a future post.

OK, so you do understand what you are letting yourself in for and you still want to be a family lawyer, what are your options? There are four separate career paths, although the last is not technically a 'lawyer':

Barrister - "Barristers are specialist legal advisers and court room advocates." So says the Bar Council website. You will usually take instructions from solicitors, who will be wanting you to represent their clients at court, or to provide advice upon some complex issue, for example what the client may be entitled to in a complicated ancillary relief (i.e. financial/property settlement on divorce) case. To become a barrister typically involves three main stages of training: the Academic Stage (a degree in law, or any other degree followed by a conversion course), the Vocational Stage (the 'Bar Professional Training Course', one year full-time or two years part-time) and finally Pupillage (usually one year spent in a barristers' chambers). Once training is complete, you will need to obtain a 'tenancy' in a set of barristers’ chambers, or to go into employed practice with a company or other organisation which employs barristers.

Solicitor - Solicitors "provide clients with expert legal advice and assistance" (Law Society website), working in a law firm or elsewhere, such as for a local authority. Working in a law firm your clients will usually be members of the public - you will take instructions from them, advise them and (usually) act for them throughout the course of the matter. There are three routes to becoming a solicitor: the law graduate route, the non-law graduate route and the Institute of Legal Executives ('ILEX') route. Most take the law graduate route, which involves obtaining a law degree, followed by a one-year 'Legal Practice Course' ('LPC') and finishing with a two-year training contract (usually at a firm of solicitors), incorporating the 'Professional Skills Course'. The non-law graduate route is similar, save that after getting your degree you will have to do a one-year 'Common Professional Examination' ('CPE') or a one-year Graduate Diploma in Law. The ILEX route essentially involves becoming a legal executive (see below), followed by CPE, LPC and training.

Legal Executive - The work of a legal executive is similar to that of a solicitor, save that they usually specialise in one particular area of law. They are most often employed by solicitors. The exact route to becoming a legal executive depends upon what relevant qualifications, if any, you already hold, but involve an academic stage and a five-year period of 'qualifying employment', usually working for a solicitor. For more information on becoming a legal executive, see the ILEX website.

Paralegal - Paralegals are simply non-lawyers who do legal work that a solicitor might do. They are usually employed by solicitors, who will supervise their work. Paralegals do not (at this time) require any formal qualification - most learn 'on the job', although many also seek relevant educational attainment. For more information about paralegals, see the Institute of Paralegals website.

Of course, none of the above options is specific to becoming a family lawyer - that will be the subject of my next post in this series.

[If you believe that I have made any errors or serious omissions in any of the above, do please let me know, by leaving a comment below.]

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