Caroline Haydon

How do I become a legal adviser? How good are Open University science degrees?
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The Independent Online

Legal options

Do I need a degree to become a legal adviser, or is there another route?


In strictly legal terms, "adviser" doesn't have any meaning, and it is more helpful to talk about legal executives, solicitors or barristers. There are others who give advice, for example through charitable organisations, and national standards to cover these are being developed (see www.

You do not need a degree to become a legal executive. These are qualified lawyers working alongside solicitors and barristers in all aspects of the law, and there is a considerable demand for them. It takes around four years to qualify, but you work and study at the same time. You have to be working in a legal office to be eligible to take the exams and qualify.

The Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX/www.ilex. approves offices where you can train and provides the exam framework. You need a minimum of four GCSEs, graded A to C, one being English, and at least three subjects must be on the Ilex-approved list. Passes in two A-levels and one GCSE (including English) or three AS-levels are also acceptable. If you want to go on to become a solicitor it would take you another two years.

There is another route, usually for mature students. If you have qualifications or experience that together can be treated as equivalent to a degree, the Law Society (for solicitors) and Bar Council (for barristers) will issue what they call a certificate of academic standing. This will be acceptable to universities offering relevant accredited training courses - the Common Professional Examination (CPE)/Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The Law Society website ( explains this path.


A degree of distinction

How do employers and other institutions regard Open University (OU) science degrees? Are they considered equal to other university degrees?

All employers tend to rate OU graduates highly. The organisational skills and commitment of students who take up part-time study, often while holding down demanding jobs, are held in high regard. These sorts of life skills are exactly what employers now want, and they're seen as pretty vital additions to a degree.

Companies such as Pfizer and Unilever, and government bodies such as the Ministry of Defence have sponsored staff to complete OU courses. Professional organisations such as the Royal Society of Chemistry recognise relevant OU degrees. Some employers might think the opportunity for practical work (for those not in science-related jobs) might be more limited than on traditional courses. But the OU runs residential schools with lab sessions, and work delivered by DVD or CD-Rom is interactive.

The new Teaching Quality Information website ( offers some external assessments of OU courses which suggest performance is comparable with other institutions. But in the end there is no survey that gives a definitive answer, so it is best to investigate employers offering the sort of job you want. It may be that in particular areas employers prefer some institutions over others, but that isn't an issue for OU students alone.

Professional bodies set out guidelines for an accredited degree, and as long as modules chosen follow those, a student will be eligible to work towards chartered status in that profession. OU students should work on their marketing, and make employers aware they have just those qualities most in demand.


Career advisers Jayne Rowley, publishing director, Graduate Prospects; Carl Gilleard, chief executive, the Association of Graduate Recruiters.


Send your queries to

Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon