How Can I Enter the Legal Field at a Discount?


“What’s the least expensive route to a career in law?”

After becoming a pilot, becoming a lawyer is one of the most expensive professions to enter. It requires spending tens of thousands of pounds on a degree that may or may not get you a job.

There is no straightforward answer to which entry method costs less, as your choices will have far-reaching effects.

The least expensive choice is the Legal Executive approach. Many people choose this path after completing their undergraduate studies in law or another field. The Legal Executive route is much more affordable than the cost of a Graduate Diploma in Law/LLB degree and the Legal Practice Course (the solicitor path).

We did some research, and as of 2013, it costs around £6,500 to finish the entire Legal Executive training program (Parts 3 and 6), including all associated costs (course fees, test fees, etc.). The current cost of the Legal Practice Course at the University of Law is around £11,000–13,000. About £18,000-£20,000 is the total price tag for doing both the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

When added to the price of a law degree, the Legal Practice Course can add another £25,000 to £30,000 to the total, a figure that is slowly but steadily rising as law schools capitalize on the willingness and ability of prospective lawyers to pay.

The vocational course and New York Attorney routes are no longer viable options for aspiring lawyers in the United Kingdom because, as far as we can tell, the Law Society still requires you to complete the LPC and a training contract or training contract equivalent.

The Institute of Legal Executives route to becoming a chartered legal executive is the most cost-effective alternative, followed by either becoming a solicitor or staying in the legal executive’s role.

It’s getting increasingly difficult to distinguish between legal executives, paralegals, solicitors, and barristers. Work that was formerly reserved for barristers is now open to attorneys. Barristers can have direct client contact. The exclusive Right of Audience, historically held only by Solicitors and Barristers, is now available to Legal Executives. In addition to barristers, legal executives can now become partners at law firms. In the role of Advocate, solicitors are not required to seek out clients for instructions.

But the fact that lawyers still perceive a social hierarchy based on factors like fee money and position is undeniable.

Because paralegals have no rights in advocacy and cannot practice independently without another form of lawyer, they are at the bottom of the pile. This is extremely unlikely to change for a good few years yet.

Legal Executives come in second, and while they have gained some clout in recent years, they still aren’t as highly regarded as attorneys like solicitors and barristers. This outdated perception partly exists because many current legal executives started as secretaries. This is still true for some, and it’s easy to see why; it’s a simple entry point.

After all, becoming a solicitor necessitates years of schooling, while training to become a legal executive can be accomplished while working full-time with only a few evenings a week spent in class and more time spent studying on weekends.

Solicitors occupy the number two spot. Solicitors, even business lawyers who earn significant sums of money and more than the Barristers they instruct, are universally viewed as second-rate within the legal profession. The legal community has come to view solicitors as more businesspeople than attorneys, and the work itself has come to view solicitors as the monkeys to the barristers’ organ grinders.

The barristers are at the very top of the hierarchy. Most lawyers probably consider themselves to be middle or upper-class. They typically drive expensive luxury vehicles and live in gated communities frequented by professional athletes, physicians, and business tycoons.

Barristers view solicitors as a necessary evil due to the historical relationship between the two professions: solicitors bringing in clients, and barristers doing their best for those clients despite rarely ever meeting them before the first hearing and caring little about them or their lives.

Barristers are only engaged in the law and are not concerned (reasonably) with their client’s well-being.

This is how the legal profession has always been understood. The preceding material is based on my experiences in the legal system, both as a layperson handling issues independently and as a trained solicitor collaborating with barristers and other solicitors.

This level of detail was included in the article to demonstrate that the cheapest entry point into the legal profession always comes with a price and that the price right now is diminished status for the rest of your career.

You never forget your roots when you become a legal executive. Currently, most of the lawyers trying to hire you are “pure” solicitors. They will remember that you are a legal executive and use that against you forever. Because of the common belief among lawyers that legal executives are not as valuable as attorneys, your income may take a hit. Your decision to become a Legal Executive will cost you between £5,000 and £10,000 per year in lost earnings until you have been working as an attorney for at least five years.

There will also be some permanent barriers placed in your path. To become a legal executive, you’ll likely need to specialize in an area where such professionals are in demand. Debt collection, employment law (especially when disputes arise), criminal law, family law, real estate transactions, wills and estates, and occasionally commercial real estate all fall under this category. Most business law, for example, will lose outside your purview, even though some of these are not rumored to be that bad in the long run (commercial property and wills and probate are not too severely compensated at the time).

Once you become an expert in one area of law, it is exceedingly challenging to switch to another. For this reason, it is impossible to change from practicing as a solicitor or legal executive in criminal law after gaining expertise in that field for five years.

If you are a bright student or recent graduate with strong academic credentials, you should try to enter the legal profession as a lawyer or barrister. It’s a common misconception that hiring a lawyer would break the bank.

For instance, the Legal Practice Course and the Graduate Diploma in Law at the College of Law and BPP are both free of charge. Most qualified lawyers view these courses more as burning hoops to jump through to qualify than any sign of your ability, and there are much cheaper alternatives. This is true regardless of what more prestigious institutions tell you.

Having a bachelor’s degree is always a plus in the eyes of potential employers. For the duration of your working life. Forever!

They will also be looking at your AP scores. Forever!

This and your A-Level results will tell us if you are a promising high school student or a successful college grad. Straight As, A-As, or even Bs in A Levels are excellent grades for legal education.

To train and become a qualified solicitor, you need a 2:1 Degree in something other than pop music or country dancing (my first degree was in pop music).

Starting as a lawyer will be much more challenging if you have less than this. The legal community does not recognize a 2:2 degree qualifying you to work in the field. There is no way to prevent this from working against you in the future. If you’re reading this and only have a 2:2 degree, I think you’ve been grossly misguided by whoever advised you to go into law. I have worked with and mentored numerous students and graduates who have earned a 2:2 (or even a 3rd) and have gone on to successful jobs in the legal field. The lack of a 2:1 degree has made their path into law school much more challenging.

As a result, I stand by my earlier assertion that if you have stellar grades, you should strongly consider becoming a lawyer rather than a Legal Executive.

The legal executive track is worth considering if your academic credentials are less than stellar.

If you don’t already have legal work experience, however, it would be unwise to invest in a lawful executive course that you might only utilize once.

I mean that you, fresh out of college or university, should not rush to enroll in a legal executive program through the Institute of Legal Executives. Once you have finished your undergraduate degree or A-Levels, further academic education is irrelevant if you are taking a non-traditional path into the legal profession. Only actual work experience is relevant. Gaining relevant work experience in the legal field is essential for breaking into the area.

Many people try every year, yet none of their attempts succeed.

This is why foreign corporations seeking a quick profit have been buying up universities.

Many people waste their time and money on graduate and undergraduate degrees when they have no realistic chance of ever working in their chosen field.

Further, many persons in the world have the necessary academic credentials but no practical experience or extracurricular hobbies or interests, making them similarly unlikely to ever advance in law or pass through the easy path.

No career counselor will tell you this, but the most important thing you can do to enter the legal field is to gain experience. You could point out that I already have bills to pay and food to eat if I do this, which is true. This proves my claim that higher education is not an excellent long-term investment for a person’s career. Spending money on gaining experience is inevitable.

As I type, one of our central London legal companies just posted a job opening. They need a fee earner to help out with a lot of paperwork for a few months. This position pays well and is a good fit for someone with an LPC degree.

Yes, I can think of one.

Not someone with a 2:1 law degree or solid A-levels from the Legal Practice Course. It is not a graduate of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) who also holds a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from a prestigious institution or summer school. The company needs a recent LPC grad with relevant work experience.

The company could care less if the LPC grad has any other credentials, but they will look closely at their prior work experience before deciding whether or not to hire them.

That there is no simple response when someone asks, “What’s the cheapest way to get into law school?” is a point that bears repeating. You can’t just decide now that one path into the legal profession is worth a few thousand more than another because of a difference of a few thousand pounds.

So far, you may have noticed; I haven’t addressed barristers at all. This is because, in my opinion, becoming a lawyer is nearly always a waste of time and money. You’d be astonished to hear this, and you could probably chalk it up to my inherent prejudice against barristers as a former solicitor. The barristers’ branch of the legal profession is pretty much tied up, and it is essential to understand this. I would reluctantly admit that I am probably a little biased against barristers, having run around courts for them; I’ve dealt with some pretty awful ones over the years (as well as some fantastic ones).

It’s in this field that the term “nepotism” seems tailor-made. Give me a moment while I illustrate.

When I started practicing law many years ago, we contracted with a local chamber that stood out as the best group of barristers in the region. I don’t think any of their barristers were unqualified or inept, and many were tremendously gifted lawyers.

They were looking for two pupil barristers somewhere during my first year out of school. Given the high caliber of the chambers and the demand for their services in a region with a relative dearth of barristers’ offices, it should come as no surprise that many people applied.

Even while I don’t know the specifics of the hiring process, I do know that the two students chosen are the offspring of two different barristers at the firm. Unfortunately, all the discussion about diversity and equal opportunity in the barristers’ profession is meaningless when recruiting in a chamber of that size.

If top-tier chambers only hire their members, then others who want to join will have to either start their own or settle for lower-quality organizations.

It’s possible that the two children of the practicing barristers were the best candidates for the position; I do not doubt that both became outstanding lawyers. However, the point is that both of these individuals secured pupillages with chambers with which they were already affiliated due to their parents’ positions in the legal profession.

Suppose you don’t have family or very close friends who can help you in your search or pupillage. In that case, this is not a branch of the profession to go into because no recruitment process eliminates this (and after all, why should it – I would have done the same myself as a barrister if my children wanted to practice as barristers!).

Even after completing the Bar Professional Training Course, the vast majority of its graduates do not go on to practice law as barristers. They take jobs as paralegals or in other legal support roles without having completed the expensive Legal Practice Course to do so at some point in the future.

Completing the Bar Professional Training Course and the Legal Practice Course is a false economy because the investment required to reap the benefits later is ludicrous.

To sum up, I advise newcomers to the field to do one of two things.

1. Try to qualify as a solicitor if you have stellar grades and the opportunity to add relevant employment experience to your resume. You must follow this path to completion.

2. Don’t bother with the arduous process of becoming a lawyer unless you have stellar grades. You can acquire some job experience and maybe prove me wrong. Still, I think you’d be better off as a legal executive, either with an eye toward cross-qualifying later by completing the Legal Practice Course or simply content with your current position.

Always ask yourself, “Why do I want to be a lawyer?” Just what are you hoping to accomplish? How much money do you need to make each year to live the life you envision?

Lawyer, Life Coach, and Recruitment Consultant Jonathan Fagan work at Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment ( He acts as a mentor to attorneys and helps those pursuing a career in law. Every year, Jonathan gives seminars to postgraduates on CV writing and interview preparation and publishes articles on legal recruitment concerns.

Visit our online shop at to purchase Jonathan’s books on writing a legal CV, answering questions, preparing for an interview, and more. Jonathan’s email address is

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