Government lawyer: job description

Government lawyer: job description

Government lawyers are qualified solicitors and barristers who act on the behalf of and give legal advice to government ministers and administrative staff.
Entry can be competitive but many government lawyers get a sense of satisfaction from providing a public service.

What does a government lawyer do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Government lawyers advise government members on a variety of legal issues including legislation on tax, environment, discrimination, employment and justice. Their main duties include:

  • directing senior government staff in the preparation of proposed bills and debates
  • researching and preparing legislation
  • drafting subordinate legislation
  • handling civil and criminal litigation
  • writing legal documents
  • defending or prosecuting cases in court
  • representing the UK in international meetings

Typical employers of government lawyers

Many government lawyers are employed by the Government Legal Service (GLS), comprising the legal teams of more than 30 government departments, agencies and public bodies. The Crown Prosecution Service, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel also employ government lawyers.

Around 90% of GLS vacancies are based in London and are open to qualified lawyers, although a small number of training contracts and pupillages are offered each year, for which there is strong competition. Early applications are essential. Graduates looking for training contracts or pupillages can apply online at the GLS website.

Qualified lawyers also apply online to the GPS website. To become a qualified lawyer before applying for roles with GLS, you can find pupillages for barristers listed online and in The Pupillage Handbook. Vacancies for qualified legal professionals appear in national newspapers, and in the Law Society Gazette Jobs in both their print and online versions.

Qualifications and training required

You can only become a government lawyer if you have a degree with a minimum 2.2 classification. The degree can be in any discipline. Graduates from a non-law background will also have to pass a conversion course, known as the graduate diploma in law (GDL) or common professional examination (CPE). Candidates also have to pass the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for solicitors or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for barristers before commencing training.

Following academic qualification, barristers will take a vocational pupillage (comprising training, job shadowing and small case work) for a minimum of one year, while solicitors undertake a two-year training contract. In the GLS, pupils divide their time between chambers and their assigned government department, while trainee solicitors experience different areas of practice.

Bear in mind that the legal system, including training and qualification routes, in Scotland differs from this. Government lawyers in Scotland are civil servants recruited by the Government through open competition. The Scottish national press advertises vacancies, as does the Scottish Government website. Vacancies are advertised on the Scottish Government website as well as in the national press.

Key skills for government lawyers

  • Applied intellectual ability
  • Ability to absorb, understand and analyse large amounts of information
  • Ability to handle pressure, long hours, demanding deadlines and great responsibility
  • Clear and concise writing and drafting skills
  • Excellent communication and presentation skills

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