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Completion of the Legal Practice Course is a prerequisite of entry to the solicitor branch of the profession in England and Wales. The position is slightly different for those who wish to go to the Bar and their training route is considered below. As noted above, in order to be accepted onto the LPC you must either be a law graduate or have a degree in another discipline and have successfully completed the one-year conversion course, i.e. either the Postgraduate Diploma of Law or the CPE courses. Graduates in Scots law who wish to practice in England should be able to gain a variety of credits for the subjects which they will have studied during their degree, exempting them from some of the requirements of the Postgraduate Diploma of Law or the CPE. However, because Scots law and English law are distinctive, there are certain key foundation subjects in English law for which exemption is unlikely to be granted. These are the subjects of property, and equity and trusts. You need to clarify the position with the Law Society for England and Wales, and it is always worth checking with the various institutions what their rules are. They may ask the institution from which you graduated for verification of the content of the courses and details of the syllabus. It will help them to consider your application if you can send details of course guides and syllabus when you make your enquiry about exemptions from part of the Postgraduate Diploma of Law or the CPE courses. It may be possible to take the subjects required in the conversion course while you are completing your Diploma in Legal Practice in Scotland. That is an extremely tough and demanding route but I know of at least one student who has completed this recently. Much of the course was completed through distance learning with short periods taken throughout the academic year to attend workshops and sit exams. Credit ought to be given by the English institution for skills courses currently being undertaken on the Scottish Diploma.
The Central Applications Board referred to above, also handles applications from law graduates and others who wish to study for the LPC. The LPCs are offered at the College of Law in four centers in England as well as at 33 English universities, predominantly the "new" universities. The course was introduced in 1993 to replace the previous system which required students to take a final diet of examinations set by the Law Society. The LPC emerged in response to a growing recognition by both the profession and the universities that training students for the practice of law should involve more than simply requiring them to be good at passing exams. Instead, it should be about learning the skills needed to apply the law. Thus the LPC was designed to teach fundamental lawyering skills such as advocacy, drafting, negotiation and research. In 1997 the LPC underwent further changes to accommodate the demands of an increasingly specialist legal market which wanted to recruit students who had some insight and understanding of niche areas of practice in addition to the generic skills. These changes resulted in a greater range of specialist options being offered by the different LPC providers, more emphasis on I.T. skills, greater uniformity of assessment by the providers, and more weight given to the subjects of accountancy and business law.
One of the aims of the current LPC is to permit students who wish to work for firms that specialize in business or commerce to select options under the broad grouping of corporate client electives. Typically, that group of electives will cover subjects such as contract law, competition law, intellectual property and corporate finance. This is in contrast to another group of electives; that of the private client, which covers family law, employment law, welfare law, personal injury litigation, taxation and wills, trusts and estate planning. Students wishing to join a general practice law firm with a solid client base of individuals as opposed to a corporate client base of companies and businesses, would be advised to opt for the private client electives, while students who are uncertain in which area of law they wish to practice can take a mixture of the two main groups of electives.
Entry to the English Bar
The two most frequent routes to becoming a barrister are either to qualify first as a solicitor and then to qualify as a barrister or to train directly for the Bar. This branch of the profession is changing very rapidly and new entrance and qualification rules apply almost every year. Prospective Bar entrants must complete the one-year Bar Vocational Course (BVC). Until 1997 the BVC was only offered at the Inns of Court School of Law. There are four inns of court, namely Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. From September 1997 the BVC has been offered at seven additional centers, and applications for the BVC are processed through the Bar Council's Central Clearing House. Around 2,000-3,000 applications are received each year of which the vast majority give the Inns of Court School of Law (ICSL) as their first preference. The ICSL is affiliated with the City University in London and is, in effect, a department of that university. It is by far the biggest provider, being validated to provide 750 full-time places. It is also the only provider validated to deliver a part-time course, of which there are 100 places.
The Bar requires entrants to have a "qualifying law degree", which means one approved by the Council of Legal education. In effect this requires students to have studied certain core legal subjects, and generally all those who have graduated with a "law" degree will have covered these subjects. Graduates from a discipline other than law may apply to do the BVC and, as with entry by non-law graduates to the LPC, will usually have to take the Postgraduate Diploma in Law or the CPE.