Are you thinking of becoming a family lawyer? We take you through what qualifications and training you need and what to expect from the many different roles and areas of expertise.
A career in family law is a challenging and stimulating field. Your personal involvement with clients and the ability to provide legal guidance to those who are in distress can be immensely rewarding. A family lawyer will provide legal advice for family and relationship issues. Family law relates to very personal and sensitive areas of a client’s life so for this reason it can be one of the most emotive areas of law.
Family law is also remarkably diverse so although you will read about core topics (such as children, marriage and divorce) studying family law makes for many varied areas of learning.
- Divorce and relationship breakdown
- Financial disputes relating to marriage, civil partnership divorce or relationship breakdown, provision for children, division of personal assets and business assets
- Issues concerning children including parental disputes, grandparents’ legal rights, adoption, surrogacy, and child abduction
- Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements
- Civil Partnerships
- International family law
What kind of personality suits a career in family law?
It is crucial that you have the right temperament for family law due to the nature of dealing with children and adults in distressing situations. The following soft skills make the difference between an adequate candidate and an ideal candidate:
- People skills and communication skills — you are dealing with clients who are facing very difficult times, so you need to be a good listener to hear what is and isn’t spoken.
- Social skills — along with a sharp legal mind you also need social skills like tact, empathy and compassion and an appreciation for the many different sides of human nature.
- Professionalism and objectivity — the ability to detach yourself on a personal level (from children and adults in distressing situations, such as abuse cases) while still acknowledging the difficulties the client is facing.
- Hard work ethic and positive attitude
- Patience and ability to stay calm — with clients, opposing counsel, court personnel, the system and emotional outbursts.
- Resilience and confidence
Why do people specialise in family law?
Most people specialise in family law because they are deeply interested in the human aspect of law and how the law can help people at some of the most vulnerable periods of their lives, including family issues and relationship breakdown.
A good family lawyer can demonstrate empathy and inspire confidence that they will guide clients through this very difficult period, always remaining focused, but also ensuring they give the best possible legal and strategic advice.
What educational qualifications do I need?
To start training to become a lawyer, you’ll first need to be educated to degree level. You’ll then need to undertake different professional training depending upon whether you want to be a barrister or a solicitor.
Step 1: A Levels or equivalent
- You need to have a minimum of two A levels or equivalent qualifications at a minimum Grade C or above. The most popular courses will usually require a minimum of three A levels with A grades.
- You don’t need to take an A level in law, but A level subjects such as mathematics and history will develop skills such as research and analysis.
Step 2: Undergraduate degree
The next step is to achieve an undergraduate degree from a reputable university which most law firms will expect to be at a pass level minimum of 2:1.
Bachelor of Laws (LLB)
Some universities offer a law degree, LLB, but it is not essential to do a law degree. If you undertake another degree subject you will also need to add on the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which is a conversion course which is required before you can begin the final professional training to be either a barrister or solicitor.
Step 3: Legal Practice Course or Bar Professional Training Course
After graduating with your LLB, or non-law degree followed by your conversion course (GDL), you’ll then need to decide which route you want to take ie. what kind of lawyer you want to be — a solicitor or a barrister.
For those looking to become a barrister you will need to take the Bar Professional Training Course and if you want to become a solicitor you will need to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC). These courses are run by specialist law schools.
The Legal Practice Course (LPC) is a one-year postgraduate course to prepare you for a professional career in law as a solicitor. A part-time LPC course takes two years. Studying the LPC is equivalent to going to law school. You will need to study at an accredited centre.
The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is a one-year postgraduate course to prepare you for a professional law career as a barrister. A two year part-time BPTC is available at some providers. The BPTC is completed at a bar school (an accredited provider).
Qualification changes for solicitors from 2021
From 2021, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) comes into place — just one exam to encompass all. The GDL and LPC are being replaced by the SQE, however nothing will change for anyone who begins a law degree, LPC or GDL before the SQE starts in 2021.
Step 4: Practical experience
After you have achieved your BPTC or LPC you will then need specialist training and practical experience.
To become a solicitor you will need to secure a training contract at a law firm — this is usually a two year fixed training contract which normally consists of four areas of law. You will also need to complete a Professional Skills Course during this period before you can formally qualify as a solicitor and be admitted to the ‘Roll of Solicitors’.
Specialist training is the last step to becoming a qualified solicitor, gaining practical experience, spending two years in a law firm. During these two years you will have to complete the Professional Skills course which your law firm will pay for.
The final stage of becoming a barrister is pupillage, which is a 12 month training period usually undertaken in a set of barristers’ chambers. The 12 months are divided into two — the first six months which is non-practising and you complete an Advocacy Training Course and then the second six which are practising and you complete a Practice Management course. The Inns and circuits provide this training. You will benefit from practical training under the supervision of barristers much like an apprenticeship.
How long does it take to become a lawyer?
If you complete an LLB degree it takes six years to become a lawyer. If you choose the BA/BSc undergraduate degree path it takes seven years as you will need to complete the GDL conversion course as an addition.
It takes five years to become a barrister if you choose the LLB degree route, or six if you have to complete the GLD conversion course.
To summarise, you need to complete the following training to qualify:
As a solicitor:
- Three-year undergraduate degree with a one-year GDL conversion course if needed
- One-year Legal Practice Course (LPC)
- Two-year Professional Skills Course
As a barrister:
- Three-year undergraduate degree with a one-year GDL conversion course if needed
- One-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)
- One-year pupillage
Do I need relevant work experience?
Work experience will always help you progress and set yourself above the rest in a competitive field. As people skills and communication skills are particularly valuable for a family lawyer, work experience which deals with clients and customers is beneficial.
Possibilities to explore include:
- Many law firms offer vacation schemes — vacation schemes usually last from a week to a month. You’ll get the opportunity to shadow lawyers and work on current family law cases.
- Formal work experience at a firm that specialises in family law.
- Completing a mini pupillage that allows you to shadow a barrister working on a family law case.
- Marshalling (shadowing) a judge that is sitting on a family law case.
- Family law essay competitions at university — as winning one of these displays a particular interest in the field.
- Volunteering for family pro bono work in legal clinics — these clinics offer free legal advice to those who would otherwise be unable to afford help.
How much do trainee solicitors earn?
The Law Society recommends, as a matter of good practice, that providers of training contracts should pay their trainees £19,619 outside London and £22,121 in London.
How much do lawyers earn after qualifying?
The average salary for a Family Lawyer is £46,735 per year in the UK according to data on Indeed, though this will vary depending on location and the firm you work for.
Salaries for newly-qualified lawyers across all disciplines vary across the UK and can be in the region of £26,000 to £55,000, with London City firms paying the highest salaries on average.
Employees in the law sector enjoy some of the highest salaries in the UK, with many firms offering generous pay and bonuses, whatever specialism you choose.
Although a career in law is likely to be well paid, the practice of law is to serve others. The career satisfaction you will experience, knowing you have played a crucial role at a vulnerable and critical time in a client’s life — such as seeing a parent and child reunited — is fundamental to your work. There are also intellectual rewards — the constant learning and diversity keeps your work interesting.
Those who seek to make a difference in the lives of individuals will find family law practice to be a rewarding career path.