How to become a Lawyer
Ever seen Suits? Of course you have. Suits, Law and Order, even Legally Blonde: the world of law has been all over our screens for many years. Although no-doubt over-dramatised and a little bit glamourised for the purpose of entertainment, being a lawyer can be just as rewarding and engaging as it seems on the big screen.
Like medicine, the path to becoming a lawyer can be a long and expensive one, involving many years of study beyond an ordinary three-year bachelors degree. In the UK you follow one of two paths to become either a Barrister or Solicitor, involving an extra two or three years training respectively. In the US, things are not so specialised and everyone will pass through law school and take the Bar exam. The differences between these two systems are covered below in “How do I get there?”
The world of law requires people with all sorts of skills. If you’re outgoing and like debating and public speaking then the prosecution and defence law of the courtroom could be for you, but if you prefer quieter, methodical work then the work of a Solicitor (UK) or Litigator (US) might take your fancy. The one thing all lawyers have in common though is a rigorous attention to detail, the ability and desire to pour over the intricate subtleties of law in order to do the best for their clients.
Being a lawyer is hard work with long hours and a considerable amount of pressure, but if you like a challenge and thrive in a competitive environment, the rewards can be great.
What subjects do you need to become a lawyer?
Unlike subjects like Medicine, there are no specific subjects that aspiring lawyers must study before law school.
Many law firms actively encourage future applicants to study as widely as possible before going on to law so that they have a well-rounded background. Lawyers deal with individuals and companies in all walks of life and in all sorts of fields, so it is good for the legal profession to have lawyers who have a broad spectrum of experience. However, being a profession of analysis, research, and communication, subjects such as languages, humanities, science, and maths can be a good starting place for your future law career.
Find out what it’s like to study law by joining our Oxford Law Summer School for students.
How do I become a lawyer?
Becoming a lawyer in the UK
Your foundation training begins with a bachelors degree in law or, increasingly, by doing the one-year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) having first completed a bachelors degree in another subject. Both routes put you on the same footing at the end of each respective course. At this point, lawyers specialise to become either a Solicitor or a Barrister.
Solicitors are legal professionals who provide legal advice, support, and litigation (filing lawsuits) to their clients. They are generally the first point of call for clients who are seeking legal help with a particular issue, be that commercial, familial, or criminal.
In order to become a solicitor, a law graduate must study for a year for their Legal Practice Course (LPC) and then undertake a further two-year training contract at a licensed law firm.
Barristers are a client’s representative in Court and tribunals. They can also offer specialist legal advice but are more often hired by Solicitors to bring forward a client’s case to court.
Trainee barristers must gain hands-on experience of working at Court, so a law graduate hoping to become a barrister must study for their Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for one year and following this undertake one year’s pupillage in court chambers.
Read about a day in the life of a law student doing the GDL after an undergraduate degree in Modern Languages.
Becoming a lawyer in the US
All prospective lawyers enter law school for three years following their bachelor’s degree. After completing this Juris Doctor (JD) degree, most states require all law school graduates to pass their state-specific Bar exam, which normally takes a few months to prepare for.
It is important to remember that there is no distinction between solicitors and barristers in the US, so passing the Bar exam does not mean you will necessarily go on to spend a lifetime working in court.
Even after all this training, landing your first legal job in either country can still be very challenging. Many people work as a paralegal (someone who supports lawyers administratively, preparing lawsuits and interviewing clients) for a period at some point in their training in order to broaden their experience and confirm that law really is the career for them.
Learn more about Oxford Scholastica Academy’s Oxford Summer School and how it can help you prepare for a career in law.
Best books to read before starting law school
Here are four of the best books for law students pursuing future careers as lawyers:
by Nicholas J McBride
In “Letters to a Law Student,” Nicholas J McBride offers guidance to prospective law students to help navigate the often daunting experience of studying law at university. This book is structured as a series of letters addressing numerous issues that students typically encounter while pursuing a law degree. By drawing upon his wealth of experience, McBride shares insights and advice on different facets such as the admission process, understanding legal concepts, and how to excel in examinations. Reading this book would provide law students with a mentor in written form, helping them to not just survive, but thrive throughout their law studies. It is essentially a road map that sets forth what to expect and how to succeed in law school, making it a valuable resource for aspiring lawyers.
by Truman Capote
(2000: Penguin Classics)
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote is a seminal work of true crime literature that narrates the real-life horrific murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. While not a traditional law book, it offers law students a deep dive into the complexities of criminal behavior, investigative processes, and the subsequent trials. The meticulous detail and narrative style employed by Capote provide an in-depth view into the criminal justice system, showcasing the painstaking process of building a case and the repercussions of a criminal act. Reading this book could cultivate critical thinking and analytical skills necessary for law students as it encourages them to consider multifaceted perspectives of a criminal case, including those of the perpetrators, investigators, and the judicial system.
by Harper Lee
“To Kill A Mockingbird” is a classic novel that depicts the deep-rooted racial tensions and social injustices in the 1930s’ American south. Centered around the young Scout Finch and her family, the book takes a critical lens to the prejudice and moral hypocrisy prevalent in society. A significant portion of the narrative involves a court trial where Scout’s father, attorney Atticus Finch, defends a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. This book can serve as a profound educational tool for law students, helping them to understand the importance of moral courage, integrity, and empathy in the practice of law. It also illustrates the workings of the courtroom, the role of a defense attorney, and the systemic challenges present in the justice system, offering a rich narrative ground for discussions on legal ethics and human rights.
by Tom Bingham
Tom Bingham, a renowned British judge, elucidates the fundamental principle that governs democratic societies, “The Rule of Law.” In this book, Bingham outlines what the rule of law entails and why it is essential to a just and civilized society. He discusses various aspects of law, including individual rights, the role of judiciary and government, and the global reach of the rule of law. Law students would find this book immensely beneficial as it breaks down complex legal concepts into a comprehensible format, providing a foundational understanding of the legal system’s backbone. By exploring real-life cases and historical events, it equips students with a solid grounding in the principles that underpin legal practices, helping them appreciate the broader impact and the integral role of law in sustaining societal harmony and justice.
Leverage online courses to experience what becoming a lawyer is like
In conclusion, the path to becoming a lawyer is both challenging and rewarding, filled with rigorous academic training and practical experience. Leveraging online resources such as the young lawyer summer experience offered by Oxford Scholastica can be a pivotal step in your law career journey. Our residential and online courses for teens not only grant you a flexible and adaptable learning environment but also offer a glimpse into the esteemed legal education provided at Oxford. Prospective law students can immerse themselves in an enriching educational setting, learning from experts in the field and gaining a substantial understanding of the complexities of the legal world right from their homes. Utilizing such platforms paves the way for a successful law career, offering you a sturdy foundation and the confidence to pursue your ambitions in the legal field.