While the UK provides great healthcare through the NHS and the private sector, mistakes sometimes happen. Whether these mistakes arise as a result of malpractice, or due to a failure to follow legal requirements like gaining consent, obtaining advice from a medical lawyer or solicitor is the best way to ensure that a claim is handled properly. Medical solicitors in the UK primarily deal with negligence, but they can also handle criminal cases involving battery. This area of the law is particularly complex and is constantly adapting; as such, adequate training is required before you can practice in the area.
Medical Lawyer/Solicitor Training in England and Wales
England and Wales share a legal system that is separate to the ones in Northern Ireland and Scotland. As such, the training there is different. First, you must obtain an LLB; this is a law degree that you study at undergraduate level. It covers many aspects of law, and you have the option of choosing modules that focus on medicine and healthcare. After this, you should aim to pursue your Legal Practice Course (LPC) if you want to become a solicitor. If you want to become a barrister, you should pursue the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Each course is quite expensive, and so many students choose to complete this part of their academic training on a part-time basis while subsidising themselves with relevant part-time work.
Following the LPC, a training contract is required. When you reach the training contract stage, you will need to seek training with a solicitor's firm that specialises in medical law. This training contract will include a professional skills course. It is carried out over the space of two years. During this period, you will have the opportunity to take on more responsibility with your chosen firm's client database. Upon completion, the majority of trainee solicitors will have a job waiting for them at the firm they trained with. Training contracts can be quite hard to obtain, so it is recommended that you gain work experience prior to your application to prove your dedication to your chosen field.
To become a barrister, you will need to obtain a pupilage following your BPTC. This peerage will be undertaken with a trained barrister, but is usually unpaid. Pupilages can be quite difficult to obtain, and so it is recommended that you network during your BPTC to increase your chances of success.
Medical Lawyer/Solicitor Training in Scotland
Scotland's legal system is governed separately to England and Wales. As such, if you want to practice in Scotland, you must head down the correct educational route. Much like England and Wales, you can undertake an LLB at a Scottish university. This is known as an LLB in Scottish Law. It will cover various legal topics, which will be relevant to the Scottish system. Upon completion of this, you will need to take your education to postgraduate level. This means completing the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice, if you want to be a solicitor who specialises in medical law. The DPLP comes with the opportunity to volunteer and obtain experience. Once you have completed this, you should seek a traineeship. This is a paid position in a solicitor's firm, which leads towards professional registration as a medical solicitor in Scotland. Ensure the firm you undergo your traineeship with specialises in medical law.
In order to become an advocate, you should still aim to complete the DPLP. In Scotland, an advocate is equivalent to a barrister. Prospective advocates then need to undergo a 21 month training period in an office specialising in advocacy. This leads to registration with the Scottish bar.
Becoming a Medical Lawyer/Solicitor in Northern Ireland
Much like the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland requires prospective legal professionals to obtain an undergraduate degree in law. This can then be used to gain access to begin studying a degree in Professional Legal Studies. Upon completion, it is then necessary to seek a 'master' to train under for a set period of time. Again, focusing on obtaining a master who specialises in medical law is necessary to become a medical lawyer/solicitor.
All three legal jurisdictions offer alternative routes of entry. For the majority of positions, this involves working in a solicitor's officer in order to gain the experience necessary to become a paralegal. Eventually, with the right training and some small courses, it is possible to practice as a solicitor. Currently, this route does not exist for those who want to become a barrister in England and Wales. However, there are some opportunities to become a solicitor via an alternative route and obtain a pupilage after.
In each of the legal jurisdictions in the UK, there are governing bodies regulating who can become a solicitor or barrister. These bodies set the standards required to meet your career goals.
In England, the Law Society regulates solicitor practice. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, the Law Society of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Scotland fulfill this role. For barrister's practice in England, the Bar Council regulates training. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, this role is fulfilled by their respective law societies. Once training is complete, you become a member of these bodies. However, if you are found guilty of malpractice in any away, you can be struck off. For example, if you are found to be taking bribes or messing with accounts, you will no longer be a registered member of the society that is relevant to you. It is also these societies that handle claims relating to solicitor, barrister, and advocate conduct.
Becoming a solicitor or barrister who specialises in medical law in the UK can be a long process. For many, it involves at least six years training. However, upon successful completion of your training, you will be able to represent those who have experienced negligence or unfair treatment as a result of a medical professional's conduct.