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Qualifying for the Bar examination in the United Kingdom is not an easy task. It entails various steps starting from completing a degree from a university to clearing the bar examination and undergoing years of strenuous training. The territory of the United Kingdom encompasses four nations, namely, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The admission into the bar and becoming a lawyer has its own distinct procedure in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Hence, in this article, the focus will be laid down on England and Wales, since both of these countries share a common jurisdiction and court system.
Generally, the history of legal education can be partitioned into three broad sections. The first period starts in 1292 and goes up to the American Revolution. The emphasis is on the English system since even in the late colonial time frame, American legal education was reliant upon the English model. The following two periods are for the most part, American. For at least a good 50 years or so after the Revolution, there was a surge in experimentation in the United States.
New institutions were being developed that were not even known to England. These institutions aimed toward eliminating the negatives of their English rivals. The third period, finishing in 1895, starts with the appointment of United States Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story to a faculty position (Professor) at Harvard Law School. This period brings about the firm foundation of the subject of law as a science in the universities during the term of Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell at the Harvard Law School.
The Birth of Inns
After passing some time, the students, who spent their lives in that little area of London dominated by Westminster, routinely assembled at few dwelling spots and started to get organized. The current day Inns of Court started to come to shape when experts, men experienced in litigation, were recruited to give lectures to students where they resided. Progressively, gatherings of professionals began working at the dwelling places, regularly known as Inns. Some of these lodgings became known as the Inns of Court. Out of these, the four most noticeable ones were Gray’s, Lincoln’s, Middle Temple, and Inner Temple.
Types of advocates
Broadly, the legal profession in the United Kingdom is differentiated into two major branches namely, Solicitors and barristers.
One can understand a solicitor as a lawyer who gives legal advice and aid to his client outside the court. In addition to providing legal advice, solicitors also work in the preparation of case bundles, legal documents, contracts, etc.
On the contrary, a barrister is a practicing lawyer in court, who specializes in litigation and advocacy. Generally, barristers are hired by solicitors to aid the clients in court. The majority of the barristers work as self-employed and others work under government departments and other agencies including the Government Legal Service (GLS) and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
There are certain prerequisites required for an individual into becoming a lawyer such as
1st step: graduating with a law degree (LLB)
2nd step: opting for an SQE preparation course (this is a condition for those individuals who have specifically not studied a related subject in their undergraduate program)
3rd step: taking the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination)
4th step: completing a two-year legal experience which can also be a training contract
5th step: passing the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) character and suitability requirements.
What is meant by Solicitors Qualifying Examination?
For an individual to become a solicitor, it is a mandatory requirement to pass the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination) irrespective of the fact that one has chosen a university route or an apprenticeship route or whether an individual has completed a law degree from the UK or any other country abroad. Prior to September 2021, a person had to complete Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC). But now the SQE has replaced both of them from September 2021.
Before the implementation of SQE, there were certain stages that an individual had to clear such as qualifying for a law degree along with a Legal Practice Course and a training contract.
However, after the introduction of SQE, there is witnessed a change as both GDL and LPC have been done away with. With the introduction of SQE, a better and standardized system of examination and qualifying is expected to be set for an individual to become a solicitor.
Becoming a barrister in The UK
For an individual to become a barrister in the United Kingdom, the following stages need to be completed
- Competing of the academic component i.e., completing the law degree
- Completing the vocational component i.e., a bar course which is traditionally called the Bar Professional Training Course
- Completion of the work-based training component, known as pupillage.
Once, all of the above-mentioned courses are completed, an individual is eligible to apply for tenancy either as a self-employed barrister or as an employed barrister.
A very basic requirement for a good lawyer is that he shall have a deep knowledge of the law subjects and legal system as a whole of England and Wales. The foundation stone to this course is having completed a degree in law. The degree needs to be a minimum of 2:2. For a law degree to be valid and applicable, it is required to fulfill certain essential foundations of legal knowledge. These seven foundations are Contract Law, Tort, Criminal Law, Equity and Trusts, Property Law, Law of the European Union, and Public Law. Public law further includes Human Rights, administrative law, and constitutional law.
This course is focused on the training phase. It is the postgraduate phase that aims at preparing the individual for the phase of pupillage and practice. An individual is required to pass this course in order to enter the phase of pupillage and practice. The main aim of this course is to teach an individual subject such as advocacy, litigation (civil and criminal), evidence, and ethics. This course particularly hones the more practical aspect of a lawyer rather than the theoretical part. An individual is also given the choice to opt for an elective module such as Company Law, Family Law, Commercial Law, etc.
In simple terms, pupillage can be understood as the work-based practical training that an individual has to take, that too under the guidance and supervision of an experienced barrister. The people who are in the phase of pupillage are called ‘pupils‘. The period of pupillage can further be divided into two major parts: a practicing period and a non-practicing period, both being six months long. The completion of the phase of pupillage happens only when the supervisor barrister confirms that the pupil has met all the required standards for being an independent barrister. After this, the individual has to apply for the Practicing Certificate.
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 Glen, Kristin Booth. “When and Where We Enter: Rethinking Admission to the Legal Profession.” Columbia Law Review, vol. 102, no. 6, Columbia Law Review Association, Inc., 2002, pp. 1696–740, Available here.
 Kidder, William C. “The Bar Examination and the Dream Deferred: A Critical Analysis of the MBE, Social Closure, and Racial and Ethnic Stratification.” Law & Social Inquiry, vol. 29, no. 3, [American Bar Foundation, Wiley], 2004, pp. 547–89, Available here.
 Boon, Andrew, and Julian Webb. “Legal Education and Training in England and Wales: Back to the Future?” Journal of Legal Education, vol. 58, no. 1, [Association of American Law Schools, Southwestern Law School], 2008, pp. 79–121, Available here.