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Career profile: Human rights lawyer

Career profile: Human rights lawyerWould you like to help protect people’s human rights? Find out more about the different routes to working in this field below.

A what?

A human rights lawyer provides legal protection for people who feel that their civil and human rights have been abused.

On the job

Human rights is not a specific area of law. Solicitors who deal with human rights issues may specialise in a range of areas such as immigration, mental health, environment law, public law, discrimination, war crimes, criminal justice, property, data protection, insurance... in fact almost all areas of law.
Human rights cases involve individuals who feel other individuals or public authorities have abused their civil liberties. So they might be a prisoner who has been mistreated by prison staff, or someone with a mental illness who is being discriminated against at work.

Human rights law has become increasingly popular over the last 15 years. This is partly due to the introduction of the Human Rights Act in 1998, which enforced the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in British courts. The act came to force in 2000, and this link between the European Court of Human Rights and UK law has made it easier to provide human rights protection in the UK.

Although a lot of lawyers who work in various areas of the law will deal with human rights issues, there are firms and publicly funded centres that specifically deal with human rights cases. It is a very person-orientated area of the law, so human rights lawyers will have excellent communication skills and a sympathetic nature.

A typical day may involve talking to clients and witnesses and taking statements from them, writing court documents, and negotiating with the solicitors from the other side of the case.

Course entry requirements

Most undergraduate law degree courses require eight GCSEs at A and B grades and three or more A-levels. You do not have to study any particular subjects - even law A-level isn’t a requirement - but it is important to achieve high grades. Entry requirements do vary according to each institution, so check their prospectus of your preferred university to find exactly what is needed.

If you don’t study law at undergraduate level you will have to get at least a 2:1 to get onto most postgraduate Common Profession Exam or Graduate Diploma in law (also known as a conversion course).
This is a very competitive area of law, so it is important to do work experience if possible.

What does the training involve?

There are two routes you can take. You could complete an undergraduate law degree, followed by a one year Legal Practice Course (LPC). After that you’ll need to be trained ‘on the job’ on a two-year training contract with a law firm.

If you don’t choose law as your undergraduate degree it is still possible to train as a human rights lawyer.

You’ll need to take a ‘conversion course’, either a Common Profession exam or Graduate diploma in law for a year before starting the LPC followed by the two-year training contract.

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