You are here

Everything you need to know about a Career in the Legal Profession

advertiser

The work of a lawyer is interesting, challenging and rewarding. Lawyers give legal advice on a wide variety of issues, and a career in the legal profession offers tremendous scope and prospects for young people

Overview of the Profession

The work of a solicitor
Solicitors give advice and assistance on matters of law. Specifically, they are the first point of contact for people and bodies (members of the public, companies and charities) seeking skilled legal advice and representation. Most solicitors work together in private practice, while others work in central and local government, or ‘in-house’ in a commercial or industrial organization.

For further information on the work of a solicitor and the different areas of law in which they practise, see the ‘Solicitors’ section of the LawCareers.Net website.

The work of a barrister
Barristers offer advice on legal issues and are on the front line, representing clients in court. They receive their information and instructions through a client’s solicitor. When not appearing in court, they work in chambers where they prepare their court cases and arguments.

For further information on the work of a barrister and the different areas of law in which they practise, see the ‘Barristers’ section of the LawCareers.Net website.

Necessary skills

If you’re looking for a career that gives you variety in terms of work, allows you to be self-employed and puts your advocacy skills to good use, a career at the Bar could be for you.

Broadly speaking, those working as solicitors will enjoy working as a part of a team (ie, working together in the same firm), and are happy with plenty of client contact and paperwork (although the amount varies depending on the type of law practised).

Regardless of which branch of the profession you choose, academic ability is a high priority. Most employers expect a 2.1 degree or above, as well as commercial awareness, and excellent interpersonal and communication skills.

Firm types

Although barristers share chambers with each other, they are all self-employed and independent. In contrast, solicitors tend to form partnerships and practise together under the firm’s name (although not all solicitors who work for a firm will be partners). Generally, law firms can be categorized as follows.

General practice involves working in a small or medium-sized firm and offering legal advice to the local community. Lawyers in general practice work on drafting wills, investigating compensation claims for injury victims, helping clients to buy and sell property, representing workers at employment tribunals and advising accident victims on compensation claims.

Commercial firms, particularly those in London, specialize in advising large corporate clients on multi-million pound transactions. Such firms often have branch offices in major financial and commercial centres throughout the country and abroad. Because of their size, breadth of experience and highly qualified staff, they offer advice in numerous areas of law, such as company/commercial, corporate finance, media and entertainment, and shipping.

Niche practices specialize in a particular area of law - for example sports law, where they could find themselves representing a famous footballing client in contractual and sponsorship negotiations.

Legal aid firms

Legal aid firms specialize in cases brought by clients who cannot otherwise afford solicitors’ fees. Legal aid solicitors concentrate on advising on issues such as divorce law, personal injury claims, and landlord and tenant issues. Criminal law legal aid solicitors attend police stations and help members of the public who have been arrested on suspicion of having committed a crime.

Qualifying as a Lawyer

Top grades are required throughout your academic studies to become a solicitor or barrister. The quickest route into the profession is to get top marks in GCSEs and A-levels, at least a 2.1 university law degree, and then further training and qualifications.

The further training depends on whether you wish to become a barrister or solicitor. For barristers, the one-year Bar Vocational Course (BVC) followed by at least a 12-month pupillage in chambers is necessary. Pupillages are divided into two six-month periods, commonly referred to as ‘sixes’. Solicitors take the one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by a two-year training contract - usually with a firm of solicitors or the legal section of a commercial firm or government department.

The LPC and BVC are offered by colleges and universities throughout the country, and ensure that students have the necessary skills to work in a solicitors’ office or barristers’ chambers.

For solicitors, there are alternative routes into the profession - for example, qualifying as a legal executive through the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) and undertaking training while working. The minimum qualifications to study for ILEX qualifications are passes in four GCSE subjects at minimum grade C, including English. Full details of the qualifying route can be found on the ILEX website at www.ilex.org.uk.

Graduates in a non-law degree subject can still qualify as a solicitor or barrister by taking the Common Professional Exam or Graduate Diploma in Law before embarking on the LPC/BVC, although this entails an extra year’s study and more expense. These ‘conversion courses’ prepare non-law graduates for a legal career as they cover the foundations of law, namely contract, tort, criminal law, equity & trusts, EU law, property law and public law.

Timetable

It pays to be organized: the law is a profession that recruits years in advance (many employers recruit during the penultimate year of the law degree), which means it’s never too soon for students to plot their path from school to university to a solicitors’ office or barristers’ chambers.

At school and college

Aspiring lawyers should get ahead of the pack by focusing on getting top grades: most university law courses require GCSEs at A and B grades and a minimum of 3 good A-levels (note that some firms and chambers won’t accept an A-level in general studies).

In addition, they should seek out informal work experience opportunities, firstly through their sixth form or college. If school/college doesn’t offer placements, it’s time to ‘network’ - that is, use existing contacts such as family or friends to find employers in the profession who are willing to offer a week or two’s work experience.

At University

Students set on a career in law need to continue getting good grades throughout university, and not make the mistake of thinking that it’s only the end-of-third-year exam performance that counts. First and second-year exam results are taken into account by firms and chambers when considering candidates for work experience, as well as training contracts/pupillages. Most will want to see a steady stream of 2.1s and firsts.

At university level, many firms have formalized Easter, summer and Christmas vacation placement schemes, and welcome applications from first and second-year law students. At the same time, barristers’ chambers offer paid work experience, know as ‘mini-pupillages’.

Applications for training contracts and pupillages should be made from the second year onwards.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose a university/postgraduate provider?
Choose by identifying factors that are important to you – these might include location, entry requirements, the courses on offer and the standing of the institution within the profession. Take advantage of open days, check websites and ask those already in the profession for their opinions. Check www.ucas.com for universities, www.qaa.ac.uk for law department ratings and www.LawCareers.Net for postgraduate providers.

If I do a law degree do I have to become a lawyer?
Not at all! Law graduates are in demand for having a high-status degree and a variety of options are available to them. See the ‘Alternative careers’ section of LawCareers.Net for further details.

What about the cost of all the training?
Law student debt is a serious issue and means that the decision to train as a lawyer shouldn’t be taken lightly. Rewards after qualification and especially at partnership level are high, but there’s lots of scrimping and saving to be done before then. Recent estimates from the Trainee Solicitors Group show that students must finance the increasing cost of university life while contending with the recent implementation of tuition fees, as well as footing the bill for completion of their vocational qualifications. Often, this can mean debt figures well in excess of £15,000 upon commencement of the training contract/pupillage.

How competitive is the profession?
In a word, very: law is the third most sought-after degree in British universities, with over 14,000 students applying to study it annually. In addition, pretty much anyone with a good degree can take a conversion course and go on to become a lawyer, which equals a lot of competition. Hence the need for hard work, top grades and work experience to show interest in the profession early on.

If you are interested in the law please visit www.LawCareers.Net. The site is designed to provide all the information you need for a career in the legal profession.

online magazines