How to become a lawyer

Routes into law

There are different routes to a career in law. The choices you make now can affect the steps you would need to take to achieve your desired career in law. Here we will explore the process of becoming a lawyer in Scotland and look at the different roles available within the law profession. 

To start, how would we define a “lawyer”? A lawyer is the common term for someone who can provide legal advice. This is an all-encompassing term. In Scotland “lawyers” can mean solicitors or advocates.

What are the different types of lawyer?

Solicitors

A solicitor can be instructed directly by a client, and often is solely responsible for dealing with a client’s case.

In Scotland, solicitors are able to represent their clients in almost all matters including court work. However, solicitors are not able to represent clients if a dispute goes to the country’s highest courts – for that you would need to be an advocate.

lawyer outside building.

Advocates

An “advocate” is a lawyer who is able to represent individuals in the country’s highest courts. They have what is called “the right of audience” to do this.

Solicitors tend to instruct advocates if disputes reach those courts. Advocates can also provide independent advice to a solicitor and their clients. Advocates are self-employed.

Becoming a Queen’s Counsel

When an advocate gains sufficient experience, they may apply to become a Queen’s Counsel (QC). Usually an advocate can apply for this role after 13 years’ experience. The rank of QC denotes an advocate’s seniority and experience.

What do other countries call lawyers?

“Solicitor” is a common term used across the world. “Advocate” is a term used in Scotland. In England, an advocate is referred to as a “barrister”. In the US there is not the same distinction between solicitors and advocates as there is in Scotland. The common term used in the US for a lawyer is an “attorney”.

Specialisms in law

Qualified lawyers often become specialists in particular areas of the law. You may often hear about “criminal lawyers” – this refers to lawyers who specialise in either the prosecution or defence of those charged by the police with an offence.

Other terms often used are “commercial lawyers” (lawyers who act mainly for companies), “family lawyers” (lawyers who represent in family matters, such as divorces) and “conveyancing lawyers” (lawyers who specialise in the buying and selling of property).

Whilst specialisms are often referred to, many lawyers can be “general practice” which means they deal with a wide range of matters. This is commonly the case for local lawyers based in local towns.

How to become a lawyer in Scotland

If you are looking to become a lawyer, you first must qualify as a solicitor. This involves three stages:

  • Step 1: complete an undergraduate degree (between 2 and 5 years, but commonly 4 years)
  • Step 2: complete a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (9 months full-time, or 2 years part-time)
  • Step 3: undertake a traineeship (2 years)

How long does it take to qualify?

It typically takes less than 7 years to qualify as a solicitor, but it can be less or more, depending on how you study.

It typically takes less than 7 years to qualify as a solicitor, but it can be less or more, depending on how you study.

  • Step 1
    Complete an accredited undergraduate degree
  • Step 2
    Diploma in Professional Legal Practice
  • Step 3
    Undertake a two-year traineeship

1. Complete an undergraduate degree in LLB Law

Our LLB Law programmes provide an excellent foundation for your future in law and help to provide practical courtroom experience.

Our LLB Law degrees are accredited by the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates. This accreditation is essential in gaining qualified lawyer status in Scotland.

Two students walking together
Graduate-entry routes

If you already have an undergraduate degree in a non-law subject, accelerated, graduate-entry routes are available to you. You'll study a 3-year LLB condensed into 2 years covering all the required professional subjects required by the Law Society of Scotland to practice as a solicitor in Scotland.

If you complete an “ordinary” LLB, this takes 3 years. Most students undertake an LLB with Honours, and this takes 4 years. If you study part-time the LLB usually takes 5 years to complete.

2. Complete the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice

The Diploma in Professional Legal Practice is required for entry to the legal professional in Scotland.

You can complete the Diploma in 9 months if studying full-time, or over 2 years if part-time. The Diploma is a vocational course. You'll learn the ethical rules, practical knowledge and personal skills required of lawyers in Scotland while applying your professional skills to legal simulations.

The Diploma qualification is essential for entry to both the solicitors and advocates branches of the profession. It meets the requirements of the Law Society of Scotland’s Professional Education and Training Stage 1 (PEAT 1).

3. Undertake a two-year traineeship

To become a solicitor, you then need to undertake a traineeship. Getting such a role can be difficult and often the job market is competitive. It is worth investigating what sort of law firm you would like to train at, as larger firms (and public bodies such as the Crown Office) often recruit some years in advance.

During your 2-year, paid traineeship you are supervised by at least one Scottish-qualified solicitor. This traineeship forms the Professional Education and Training Stage 2 (PEAT 2) mandated by the Law Society of Scotland. The PEAT 2 outcome are as follows:

  • professionalism,
  • professional communication,
  • professional ethics and standards,
  • business, commercial, financial and practice awareness,

You'll be responsible for securing your own traineeship opportunity.

After you've successfully completed your traineeship you then become a solicitor.

How to become an advocate

If you wish to become an advocate, you first require to qualify as a solicitor. This involves completing your traineeship. Some people wish to become advocates straight after their traineeship has finished, whilst others may first spend many years as a solicitor.

Going to the Bar

In Scotland, if you wish to become an advocate, this is called “going to the Bar”. The “Bar” is the collective term used to describe advocates.

The Faculty of Advocates is the administrative body for the Bar in Scotland. They control admissions and regulate admission to the Bar. Once you have completed your traineeship, if you wish to become an advocate, you will have to study for and then undertake exams set by the Faculty.

High Court in Glasgow.

If you meet the Faculty’s entrance criteria you then commence a period of "devilling”. This is a Scottish term used to describe a period of 9 months unpaid work that must be undertaken. This involves you working with a number of advocates for that time, and learning from them.

There are some grants available from the Faculty – but devilling can be expensive. It's important to consider how you will finance it. Members of the Faculty can advise on how that can be managed.

If you become an advocate you will become part of a “stable” of advocates. This is term used to describe clusters of advocates who are served by the same administrative team. Often this is done on specialism grounds. Despite this, advocates remain self-employed. Advocates are reliant on work being referred to them by solicitors.

Once you have completed your traineeship, if you wish to become an advocate, you'll have to study for and then undertake exams set by the Faculty of Advocates.

Specialising in areas of the law with an LLM

If you're keen to specialise in a field of law, you may wish to consider postgraduate study. This enables a deeper understanding in an area of law that you're interested in and could again help to shape your career and strengthen a job application.

Specialisms include:

  • commercial law
  • construction law
  • corporate law
  • employment law
  • environmental law
  • human rights law
  • media law
  • property law

What is an LLM?

The LLM is a Masters of Laws – an internationally recognised postgraduate degree in law. Students that have completed an undergraduate degree could choose to go straight into an LLM Masters programme. This will allow them to pursue the academic study of law and then go on to become a lawyer. Alternatively, those practicing law can return to University to develop their knowledge in a specific area.

For LLM degrees at Strathclyde, an undergraduate degree in law is not essential for entry onto the programme. This opens our offering up to students from other areas, who may now wish to enter a career in law.