Monday, May 17, 2010

OK, so how do I become a FAMILY lawyer?

In my last post in this series I set out the options for becoming a lawyer, but nothing specific to becoming a family lawyer. In fact, there are no specific requirements to becoming a family lawyer - it is quite possible to practise family law with no family-specific training whatsoever, although obviously I would not recommend this.

I will divide this subject into two parts: pre- and post-qualification, and this post will deal with the former. If it seems a little odd to deal with the latter, my explanation is that there is far more to being a good family lawyer than merely qualifying - as the old adage goes, you never stop learning. In fact, you will learn far more post-qualification than you ever did whilst training to become a family lawyer.

As I indicated in my last post, where you begin your training as a family lawyer depends upon what you are doing and what qualifications, if any, you already have. However, for the purpose of this post I shall begin with those still at school, and A-levels. This can be dealt with quite quickly: it is not necessary to have A-level law in order to do a law degree. Most law undergraduates do not have A-level law. It will, however, be necessary to get good A-levels - typical university entry requirements are AAB.

Moving on to the law degree course, family law is not one of the compulsory subjects, as I suggested at the beginning of this post. However, most (if not all) degree providers have it as an option. The family law degree course will generally be more theoretical than the far more practical course in the Bar Professional Training Course ('BPTC') or the Legal Practice Course ('LPC') - see below - but will nevertheless provide a useful background, and is therefore to be recommended to those intending to become family lawyers.

Those intending to go the barrister route will do the BPTC once they have their law degree. A list of BPTC providers, in Word format, may be found here. Once again, family law is not a compulsory subject on the BPTC. However, the BPTC includes 2 optional subjects, from a choice of at least 6, and every course provider includes family law/practice as an option. This should definitely be studied by those intending to practise family law.

Similarly, for those intending to go the solicitor route, family law is not a compulsory subject on the LPC, but rather an elective subject (or a 'vocational elective'), and should again be studied by those intending to practise family law. I have not checked all of the 38-odd LPC providers (a list of whom may be found here), but most if not all of them should have family law as an elective.

Those wishing to become legal executives should obviously specialise in family law, and paralegals will need to learn the subject 'on the job'.

Which brings me to the next stage of the process: getting in-the-job training. Aspiring family law barristers will obviously need to obtain pupillage in a set that does family law work or, preferably, a set that specialises in the work. Not being a barrister, I am no expert as to how one goes about getting pupillage, but I recommend the excellent site Pupillage and How to Get It, which has a wealth of information on the subject.

For trainee solicitors going into private practice, most firms will have family law departments and a few will specialise, so the choice is wider. Note, however, that a training contract will cover a range of subjects, not just family law. Few family law firms advertise training contracts, so I suggest that the best way to obtain one is to send your CV to suitable firms in your area. A good place to find such firms is the 'Find a family lawyer' section on the Resolution website (Resolution is an association of solicitors specialising in family law, more of which in the next post in this series).

A legal executive specialising in family law will obviously seek qualifying employment in a firm doing family law work, just as a paralegal wishing to do family law will seek employment in such a firm. Again, suitable employment may be advertised, or you may need to hawk your CV around local firms.

[Once again, 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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