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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 goverment 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 vacancies 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 become a qualified lawyer before applying for roles with GLS, you can find pupillages for barristers listed online and in The Pupillage Handbook and TARGETjobs Law. Training contracts for solicitors are advertised in careers services, online and publications such as TARGETjobs Law. Vacancies for qualified legal professionals appear in national newspapers, The Lawyer and the Law Gazette in both their print and online versions.

Qualifications and training required

Graduates from any academic background can train as a barrister/solicitor and work for the GLS, but an excellent record of achievement is necessary: a 2.2 minimum with good A level results. Candidates will also have to pass the Graduate Diploma in Law (if applicable), the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) 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 will divide their time between chambers and their assigned government department, while trainee solicitors will experience different areas of practice.

Bear in mind that the legal system, including training and qualification routes, in Scotland differs from this.

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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