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THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO A CAREER IN
If you decide that a career as a lawyer is for you, there are a few things you should be doing even before you begin university. Here is a checklist to get you started: Your ‘first steps’ checklist:
Talk to your careers adviser at school to go through your options.
Research the different paths into law – university, chartered legal executive, paralegal, apprenticeship (read The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2021 ) – and decide which is right for you. Get some practical work experience at a law firm, barristers’ chambers or legal advice centre; it will help you to decide what suits you best and will also improve any applications you make later.
Work hard at your academic studies. Excellent grades are essential!
Sign up to online platform Vantage (vantageapp.io) to connect with top law firms that are genuinely interested in engaging with you.
Think about the kinds of extracurricular activities you can do, or have done, to make yourself into a well-rounded candidate. Think sport, volunteering, drama, music… Sign up to a free LawCareers.Net account. You will receive our weekly email newsletter with news and information about the profession, and gain access to MyLCN.
Read newspapers’ online business sections to improve your commercial awareness and get you starting to ‘think business’.
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If you are interested in a potential career as a lawyer, but don’t know where to start, The Beginner’s Guide to a Career in Law is for you. In this guide you will find information about what a job in law involves, the differences between the three main types of lawyer (solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives), and the courses and training you need to complete to qualify. There are also some key questions to ask yourself and information about the next steps to take for those who want to find out more. The Beginner’s Guide is brought to you by LawCareers.Net (LCN), the number one resource for those interested in joining the legal profession. On the website you will find information on employers; interviews with law firm recruiters, trainees, associates and partners; advice from LCN’s resident agony aunt, the Oracle; blogs and videos from people at different stages of their legal careers; information on law courses (undergraduate and postgraduate); and a searchable database of training contract and pupillage vacancies.
Welcome to the first stage of your legal career!
What lawyers do Lawyers perform an important role, as law covers every aspect of society – from the age you can take your driving test to the speed you can drive when you qualify; from the minimum wage you can earn in a job to the cleanness of the water you drink.
and representation. Most solicitors are employed by law firms, while others work in central or local government, in companies’ legal departments or in alternative business structures (ABS) – a type of business which provides the same services as a law firm, but is controlled by non-lawyers (eg, the Co-operative Group). Solicitors’ jobs are very different depending on what area of law they work in (eg, crime or family) and whether their work is advisory (eg, helping one company buy another) or involves legal disputes (eg, one company suing another). All solicitors’ jobs involve some or all of the following: • meeting clients, finding out their needs and establishing how to help; • researching relevant areas of law and advising clients of their options; • drafting letters, contracts and other legal documents; and • acting on behalf of clients in negotiations and representing them at tribunals or in court. Being a solicitor is a tough but rewarding job. Many solicitors in law firms work their way up from trainee to associate to partner. (NB chartered legal executives often have very similar jobs to solicitors.)
The first thing to know is that traditionally, the legal profession is divided into two main branches – solicitors and barristers. However, these are not the only types of lawyer and there are chartered legal executives, paralegals, apprentices and more – find out more in “Apprenticeships and paralegals” on p6 and in the companion to this booklet, The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2021 , which is available free at schools and online at www.lawcareers. net. For now, here is an introduction to what solicitors and barristers do. Solicitors Solicitors provide advice and guide clients through legal issues. They are the first point of contact for people and organisations (eg, companies and charities) seeking legal advice
Practice area snapshot Below is just a small selection of the vast array of work areas out there:
Corporate/ commercial Commercial and corporate solicitors advise on complex transactions and act for businesses of all sizes, from international corporations to small start- ups. General company law might involve advising on company directors’ rights and responsibilities, board meetings and shareholders’ rights. Corporate work often concerns mergers and acquisitions, demergers, joint ventures and share issues.
Criminal lawyers advise and represent their clients in court on criminal charges that can range from minor motoring offences to more serious crimes, including murder. Barristers may be called on to act for either the defence or the prosecution.
As a solicitor, you’ll be working on disputes that end up in employment tribunals or in the High Court, helping to draft contracts of employment or advising on working hours. Your client could be the employer or employee. As a barrister, you will be appearing on behalf of your client in either a tribunal or court, often in different parts of the country.
Family lawyers deal with all legal matters relating to marriage, separation, divorce, cohabitation and legal issues relating to children. Family law also encompasses financial negotiations, inheritance issues and prenuptial contracts.
Barristers Barristers represent clients in court and advise on specialist legal issues. They receive their cases through solicitors and are self-employed. When not in court, they work in chambers (offices shared by groups of barristers) where they prepare their arguments and advice. Again, barristers work in many different areas of law. Key elements of the job include: • advising clients on the law and the strength of their case; • writing advice letters and legal opinions for clients; • representing clients in court, including presenting the case and cross-examining witnesses; and • negotiating settlements (when a legal dispute is resolved privately outside of court). Once they qualify, a barrister is known formally as a ‘junior’. They remain a junior until they are made a Queen’s Counsel (QC) – this is also known as ‘taking silk’. A QC is a senior barrister with extensive experience who is seen as having outstanding ability. Most barristers never become QCs.
Areas of law There are hundreds of different types of law. At the simplest level, you can divide lawyers between those doing commercial work (ie, work for companies) and those involved with individual people. You could be a banking lawyer scrutinising a major loan by a bank to a corporation, or a personal injury lawyer advising someone who was injured at work. Day-to-day working life varies hugely from practice area to practice area – an immigration lawyer’s job will differ from an intellectual property solicitor’s. See the “practice area snapshot” below for more detail.
Further reading Solicitors www.lawcareers.net/solicitors Barristers www.lawcareers.net/barristers
Chartered legal executives and paralegals are also lawyers who work in law firms, but the route to these jobs does not require a university degree. Find out more about paralegals, legal executives and apprenticeships in the rest of this booklet.
This practice area is incredibly wide ranging and includes immigration and asylum cases, privacy cases affecting celebrities and international law issues. Clients may range from low-income refugees and prisoners through to large news organisations and government departments.
This involves protecting intellectual ideas (eg, new inventions, brands and music) from exploitation, usually through copyright, trademarks and patents. The work of IP lawyers includes commercial exploitation cases, infringement disputes, and agreements covering IP rights, either exclusively or as part of larger commercial deals.
Private client lawyers advise on all aspects of an individual client’s
Public law concerns relationships between people and government. This might mean challenging the level of care provided to a disabled person by a local authority, or on a larger scale, advising the government on national infrastructure
financial affairs, including capital
gains tax, inheritance tax planning, setting up lifetime trusts and preparing wills. Private client lawyers also handle a wide range of charity work.
development, such as a new energy or transport project.
Branches of the profession
is almost always self-employed and a solicitor/legal executive may be in a law firm of thousands of people, the reality is more complicated. Barristers often work together in teams and with solicitors, and some solicitors/legal executives spend many hours on their own in a room drafting documents. Deciding which career path would suit you best could be a challenge – factors to bear in mind include school grades, your key interests and financial circumstances. Over the page is a brief guide with some key facts, which may help you to decide.
One of the key questions to ask yourself is what type of lawyer you want to be. For many, that will mean deciding between becoming a solicitor or a barrister. For others, the option to ‘earn while you learn’ as a chartered legal executive will appeal. Simply put, a barrister appears in court, while a solicitor or chartered legal executive works in a law firm. All three are ‘lawyers’. However, there are key differences. The stereotype is that barristers are individualists while solicitors and legal executives are team players. But while it is true that a barrister
Further reading Solicitors www.lawcareers.net/solicitors Barristers www.lawcareers.net/barristers
The CILEx section on www.lawcareers.net
Chartered legal executives As of May 2020, there were around 20,000 trainee and practising chartered legal executives.
Solicitors As of March 2020, there were 148,284 practising solicitors. The total number of solicitors on the roll was 201,186. Women make up 49% of all solicitors in law firms. But there are many more men than women at partner level – on average a large firm has 65- 70% male partners and only 30-35% women. People from BAME backgrounds make up 21% of all solicitors, as well as 20% at partner level. Mostly employed in private law firms, so receive regular monthly salary.
In 2019 there were 16,982 practising barristers. Of those, 13,434 were self-employed (not including those in dual practice, registered European lawyers or second six pupils). Women make up around 37% of all practising barristers (ie, 6,389 women compared to 10,465 men).
Women make up around 74% of all CILEx members.
BAME individuals make up 14% of all practising barristers (ie, 2,289).
BAME individuals make up around 13% of all CILEx members and more than a third of new student members. Mostly employed in private law firms or in-house, so receive regular monthly salary.
Mostly self-employed, so receive irregular (but often substantial) fees. The early years can be hard.
Work mainly with individuals, companies and barristers.
Work mainly with solicitors and other barristers.
Work mainly with solicitors and individuals.
Office-based, although they have some of the same rights of audience as solicitors. Engage more in ongoing advisory and one-to-one client work. Should they choose to do so, legal executives can go on to become coroners, judges or partners. Starting salaries are usually £15,000 - £28,000 per year while qualifying, while qualified chartered legal executives can expect to earn £35,000 - £55,000, and can earn much higher.
Office-based, although have some rights of audience. Engage more in ongoing advisory and one-to-one client work.
Chambers and court-based. Engage more in one-off advocacy (ie, court cases).
Aspire to become partner – that is, part-ownership of firm and entitlement to a percentage of its profits.
Aspire to become Queen’s Counsel (QC) – that is, a top barrister, normally instructed in very serious and complex cases. As of 1 January 2020, all pupil barristers must be paid a minimum of £16,322 (outside London) or £18,866 (in London). Many earn much more - upwards of £50,000 in some cases.
Trainee salaries vary widely. A small firm could pay £20,000. Trainees at regional firms earn around £27,000 while City firms pay from £35,000 to much, much more.
Intermediate, legal administration or business administration apprenticeship These apprenticeships provide training in administrative roles, which involve tasks such as research, secretarial work and dealing with confidential information. Paralegal apprenticeship The Paralegal Apprenticeship trains apprentices in the skills needed to work in a certain area of law (eg, personal injury). Paralegals support solicitors on legal matters and do many of the same tasks. Find out more about paralegals on the next page.
You don’t have to go to university to start a career in the legal profession – a legal apprenticeship enables you to gain qualifications while in paid work, through on-the-job training at a law firm. Legal apprentices can eventually become solicitors, chartered legal executives or paralegals without the tuition fees and living costs involved with going to university. Some types of apprenticeship take 18 months to complete, but the more advanced levels provide training over five or six years – around the same amount of time as it would take to qualify through the university route. You don’t have to start paying a student loan back until you are in a job paying at least £25,000 a year, so high fees should not necessarily put you off higher education. But there are many reasons why you might decide that going to university is not right for you – and a legal apprenticeship is a genuine – and free – alternative. This section is a basic introduction to legal apprenticeships. To learn more, read the companion to this guide, The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2021 , for everything you need to know about the different types of apprenticeship. Pick up a free copy from your school or read it online at LawCareers.Net. Am I eligible? To become a legal apprentice, you must be 16 or over, not in full-time education and a UK citizen/ someone who has right of residency in the United Kingdom. Most legal apprenticeships require candidates to have five GCSEs (or equivalent) graded A* - C, including maths and English. The paralegal apprenticeship requires at least two A levels, while the solicitor apprenticeship requires three A levels, but grade requirements vary between employers. Earn and learn The minimum wage for a legal apprentice is £4.15 (as of 1 April 2020) an hour for people aged under 19, as well as for people aged over 19 who are in the first year of their apprenticeship. All other apprentices over the age of 19 are paid at least the National MinimumWage. There are four levels of legal apprenticeship.
Chartered legal executive apprenticeship
This programme trains apprentices to qualify as chartered legal executives, a type of lawyer that is similar to a solicitor. Candidates don’t usually start this apprenticeship straight after leaving school – it is recommended to complete another qualification first, such as CILEx Level 3 or a Paralegal Apprenticeship. Solicitor apprenticeship This apprenticeship is a six-year programme which integrates studying for a law degree with on-the-job training at a law firm, ending in qualification as a solicitor – a role which was previously reserved for those who took the traditional university route.
If you are considering applying for an
apprenticeship, you can learn more by reading The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2021 and then start your search for the right employer on LawCareers.Net’s apprenticeship jobs board. Further reading The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2021
Paralegals work in law firms, but are not qualified as solicitors or chartered legal executives. Although paralegals used to be seen purely as support staff, the role of paralegal has moved beyond just assisting solicitors. Paralegals are a distinct group of legal professionals in their own right, although this kind of role is often still used as a stepping stone to becoming a solicitor or chartered legal executive. Some paralegals’ roles are very similar to those of solicitors. This means that you can apply to qualify as a solicitor while working as a paralegal, provided that you can satisfy the Solicitors Regulation Authority that you have gained the same knowledge and skills in your role as you would have through a training contract. This is called the ‘equivalent means’ route to qualifying.
Another common reason why many graduates work as paralegals is that this is a good way to gain the crucial legal work experience needed to get a training contract. Some paralegals gain experience and then apply for a training contract at the same firm, while others move on from firms where this is not an option and go on to apply successfully elsewhere. However, a note of caution: paralegals perform many of the same tasks as solicitors, but are generally not paid as much and there is not the same clear career progression that solicitors can pursue. Be careful and stay mindful of your prospects for career progression. Further reading The Paralegal section on www.lawcareers.net – find it in the hover menu under the ‘Solicitors’ tab. The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2021 .
‘Equivalent means’ offers alternative path to qualification It is possible to use experience gained in a paralegal role to qualify as a solicitor, as long as you have a university degree and have completed the LPC. In 2015 Shaun Lawler was one of the first solicitors to qualify in this new way. He says: “If people have the necessary qualifications and experience, then they should be able to qualify as
in the door of the legal profession. I moved away from home to London and applied for a few different paralegal roles with the aim of getting some experience while completing the LPC. Working and studying at the same time was hard, but it definitely gave me the experience that I needed to move forward, without which I would have found it much harder to pursue qualification as a solicitor.”
solicitors without needing a law firm’s say so. Paralegal work effectively got my foot
CILEx Level 3 Certificate
CILEx Level 3 Diploma
CILEx Level 6
Chartered legal executive apprenticeship
CILEx Fast Track
3 years’ qualifying employment
Pupillage Training contract
Chartered legal executive
Equivalent means cross-qualification
The following describes the various stages along the path to formal legal qualifications:
Intermediate legal and paralegal apprenticeships A legal apprentice is
Pupillage Pupillage is a compulsory, year- long period of training before qualification as a barrister. A pupil works as a barrister under the guidance and supervision of a pupil supervisor. Period of recognised training/training contract The period of recognised training (‘training contract’) is a period of paid employment and training with a law firm or other approved organisation before qualification as a solicitor. In most cases this will take the form of a two-year formal traineeship. Barrister Barristers offer advice on specific legal issues and represent clients in court. Solicitor Solicitors give advice and assistance on matters of law; they are the first point of contact for those seeking legal advice and representation. CILEx chartered legal executive A chartered legal executive is a qualified lawyer (though not a solicitor) who is trained to specialise as an expert in a particular area of law. The route to qualification is to complete CILEx 3 and CILEx 6 (or CILEx Graduate Fast Track for those with a law degree) and three years’ qualifying employment. You can also do a chartered legal executive apprenticeship . For more info, go to www.cilex.org.uk.
GCSE The foundation of your career and the essential first step – good grades are important if you want to progress in your legal career. A level Again, good grades are essential. Some universities favour traditional, academically rigorous subjects such as history (A-level law is not a requirement). Non-law degree Lawyers are not required to have studied law at university! You can do a non-law degree and then do the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Law degree The qualifying law degree, or LLB, covers seven compulsory subjects: public, criminal, contract, tort, property, equity and trusts, and EU law. Law conversion A law conversion course such as the Graduate Diploma in Law packs the key learning of a law degree into one year (if studying full time). It is studied after gaining a non-law degree and makes your qualifications equivalent to those of a law graduate. Bar course Completing a Bar course is a mandatory stage of training to become a barrister that comes after your law degree or law conversion. The old Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) has been replaced by a range of new options, as of September 2020. LPC The one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) is the vocational stage of training to be a solicitor.
someone who joins a law firm straight from school, rather than going to university. You receive paid, on-the-job training and gain competence in legal skills, commercial skills and professional conduct. For more info, see p6 or visit the Legal apprenticeships section on LawCareers.Net. Solicitor apprenticeship The solicitor apprenticeship is a six-year programme of paid, on-the-job training, integrating a law degree, which ends in qualification as a solicitor. The general entry requirements are five GCSEs graded A* - C and three A levels graded B or above (or equivalent work experience) – but A-level requirements vary between employers. Paralegals Paralegals have traditionally worked alongside solicitors in law firms as support staff, although in practice many paralegals do the same work as trainees or newly- qualified solicitors. Paralegal roles provide a good route into the profession for students and graduates, either as valuable work experience before applying for a training contract or as a way to fulfil the SRA’s qualifying requirements without doing a training contract.
Change ahead: the Solicitors Qualifying Examination Anyone who starts an undergraduate degree after Autumn 2021 will have to take the Solicitors Qualifying Exam, a new assessment that must be passed to qualify as a solicitor. This will replace the LPC and the training contract may also see changes. For more information, see LawCareers.Net’s Solicitors Qualifying Exam page.
Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about a career in the law.
What is commercial awareness?
Why should I choose law over other professions? Don’t pursue a legal career for the sake of it or because you’ve
Law firms often stress that their lawyers must be ‘commercially aware’, which is a phrase that can cause confusion. In essence, it means that commercial lawyers deal with more than just the law. They must understand the client’s business and the market/ environment in which it operates, and be proactive in spotting and suggesting ways to avoid potential problems that the client might face. Commercial awareness will not mean the same thing to a student as it will to an experienced businessperson, and nobody expects you to be an economic expert. What firms are looking for is a combination of basic knowledge, common sense, interest and enthusiasm for commercial matters, and, most importantly, the ability and willingness to ‘think business’.
heard that it pays well; you must have a strong desire to be a lawyer in order to succeed. Do you find law interesting? Is there a particular area of law that has already caught your attention? Are you the kind of person who would thrive in a legal environment? The only way to really find out whether law is for you is by doing some work experience within and outside of the legal profession. What skills and strengths do you need to be a good lawyer? A number of core skills are needed to be a good lawyer – many of them you can hone through your academic studies and work experience. The core strengths sought by legal recruiters are: • intellectual ability;
How important are grades at A level and uni? Law is an intellectually rigorous career, which is why firms and
• motivation; • resilience; • accuracy/attention to detail;
• teamwork; • leadership; • commercial awareness; and • communication skills. If you have the majority of these, law could be a good option for you!
chambers require excellent academics; in fact, many simply won’t look at applicants who have less than a 2.1 degree, and As and Bs at A level. It is therefore vital that you get the best grades you possibly can.
Should I go to university or try one of the new routes, such as a legal apprenticeship? Over the past couple of years,
Why are work placement schemes so important? Getting work experience at law firms is essential. Work
placement/vacation schemes (usually run during university holidays) are a good place to start; they provide an opportunity for you to find out about not only the law, but also individual firms. Firms increasingly rely on extended work placement schemes to select which candidates they want to take on as trainees, so getting on a scheme is a great chance to impress and earn the offer of a training contract.
the chance to join the legal profession as a legal apprentice has become a real option to launch a career in law. Apprentices join firms as school leavers and work in roles similar to that of a paralegal, while receiving on-the-job training that takes them towards a formal qualification. Solicitor apprenticeships also allow those with A levels to qualify as a solicitor without going to university. See the ‘Apprenticeships’ section on p6 for more detail and our companion publication, The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2021 .
Do law firms prefer candidates to have a law degree? Most firms are looking to recruit a
How do I go about getting legal work experience? Work placement schemes are a great way to learn more about the
balance of law and non-law graduates – in fact, roughly half of all solicitors are from non-law backgrounds. Studying another subject at university may also help to make you a more well-rounded individual. This means that if you have a burning desire to study English literature, but think you might want a career as a lawyer, it’s fine to do English at uni and complete a law conversion (often called the Graduate Diploma in Law – GDL – but course names may differ between universities). This postgraduate course squeezes the seven foundations of legal knowledge into one year. You then join the law graduates and do either the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar course, followed by a training contract in a law firm or a pupillage in a set of chambers. But note: most firms do favour traditional academic subjects (eg, history or sciences) over more modern options (eg, media studies or drama).
profession and many firms run schemes specifically for first years. You can get a comprehensive list of firm schemes on LawCareers.Net’s work placement deadlines page. But you are not restricted to these structured programmes – you could get a day or two shadowing a trainee or lawyer simply by writing speculatively to firms/chambers you’re interested in or which are local to you. You should also get involved with university pro bono schemes or legal advice centres. Even if you’re stuffing envelopes or answering phones, it’s all a valuable introduction to the types of work and client interactions that lawyers are involved with every day.
What do I need to know about the postgraduate law courses? In brief, this is the compulsory
Howmuch longer will it take to qualify if I choose a non- law undergraduate degree? It only takes one year longer to
vocational stage that must be completed before you do either the training contract (solicitor) or pupillage (barrister). The LPC and the Bar course are usually one-year courses, but each can be done two years part time, or by distance learning. Many providers around the country offer the courses, including our sponsor, Nottingham Law School. Alternatively, CILEx offers a Graduate Fast Track Diploma.
qualify if you choose a degree other than law. After graduating, you will need to complete a law conversion (such as the GDL) which covers the key parts of a law degree, before progressing onto the Legal Practice Course or Bar course.
Are postgraduate law courses expensive? Do I have to pay for them myself? The total cost of qualifying
I keep hearing about the new SQE: what is it and how will it affect me? The SRA plans to introduce
as a solicitor or barrister should not be underestimated. Over and above the £9,250 per year that you are likely to have to pay for your undergraduate degree, you will have to pay as much as £12,050, £17,285 or £16,000 (plus living costs) for, respectively, each of the GDL, LPC and Bar course in 2020-21. And unlike undergraduate and master’s degrees, postgraduate loans are unavailable for the GDL, LPC and Bar course (unless they include a master’s on top of the core qualification). For this reason, it’s best to have a training contract or pupillage before embarking on any of the courses – many large firms/chambers offer sponsorship (usually covering course fees and maintenance grant) to their future trainees/ pupils. At the very least, you’ll have a job at the end of all the study. Bank loans are usually the preferred option for those who self-fund. For more detailed funding advice, look at the ‘Finances’ section on LawCareers.Net.
the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in 2021, which will replace the LPC as the exam that all solicitors must pass in order to qualify. The idea is to ensure that all qualified solicitors are of the same high standard, regardless of which route (ie, university, equivalent means or apprenticeship) they take to get there. Unlike the GDL and LPC, the SQE is not a course but a series of exams, which are divided into two stages. Universities and law schools are currently developing new courses to prepare students for the SQE. There is still uncertainty around its implementation, including potential new SQE preparation courses, affordability and quality of training. Anyone who commences a law degree, GDL or LPC before September 2021 can qualify through the old system. Check the SQE page on LawCareers.Net for the latest information as we find out more.
Have all lawyers been to private school and Oxbridge? No. Most firms and chambers
Is the role of lawyers essentially the same in all law firms and chambers? No. Take solicitors’ firms –
fully understand the benefits of a representative workforce, which means recruiting the best candidates regardless of background. These days, most go further by establishing their own diversity policies to ensure that they provide a welcoming and supportive environment for people whatever their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, socioeconomic background and so on. That said, different firms and chambers do have different personalities and it’s important to find one that suits you – a compelling reason to attend law fairs, open days and get work experience.
the work and lifestyle that you would experience in a large City firm and a small high-street practice are completely different. And it’s the same with a London- based commercial barristers’ chambers and a small regional crime chambers. It’s therefore vitally important that you find out which type and size of practice would suit you, by doing work experience and speaking to people in the profession. Only by getting first-hand experience and speaking to those in the know can you really start to get a feel for the kind of work that you think would appeal and that you would be good at.
How can my careers service help me? Your school or university careers service is a key resource. Some
How can I find out more? Pick up a copy of this year’s The LawCareers.Net Handbook or our companion publication,
advisers specialise in the legal sector and can help you to check through work placement and training contract/ pupillage applications (or speculative CVs and letters, if you’re trying to secure informal work experience). Some also have contacts at local law firms and chambers, so might even be able to help you set up some work shadowing.
The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2021 , from your careers service or order a copy online. In addition, check out LawCareers.Net for news, advice, features and interviews.
Further reading See the Oracle on LawCareers.Net for answers to a huge range of questions from students about careers in law.
There are a few things worth mentioning as a reminder that starting a legal career is competitive and expensive. So without wanting to detract from the exciting and challenging career on offer, here follows some food for thought…
Academics There is real competition for training contracts and pupillages. You must be
Finances We cannot stress this enough – with up to £9,250 per year undergrad fees, plus
getting strong grades from your first year of university onwards. Your A-level grades are also important, as anything less than As and Bs may stop an employer considering your application. Most recruiters we speak to say that excellent academics are a given, so make sure that you put in the time when studying.
postgrad study in 2020-21 costing up to £17,300 for the LPC and up to £16,000 for the Bar course, the road to qualification is not cheap and there are no guarantees of a job at the end of it. In addition, some firms at the smaller end of the market may pay trainees no more than the national minimum wage. Your ability to afford the courses and a potentially low starting wage must be a factor in deciding whether to pursue law as a career.
Time You must spend time
researching firms/ chambers you like; planning how to get work
Competition The numbers are stacked against you – there are many fewer training contract and pupillage places than
experience; and filling out, refining, checking (and having someone else check) your application forms. In every case, start early, have a schedule and be strict with yourself. Last-minute, rushed efforts are almost worse than no effort at all.
there are people with the necessary qualifications. You must find a way to stand out among thousands angling for the same job, so make sure you shine through by being resourceful, determined and committed to the profession and a career in law.
Commerciality The legal world is part of the business world. If you have ambitions to work for a commercial
law firm, it is essential to develop a good understanding of the issues and events affecting businesses. Read the Financial Times and The Economist from time to time, and try to appreciate the appropriate legal issues thrown up by your studies from a commercial perspective.
Experience You need a combination of work experience (both legal and otherwise) and extracurricular activities
to become the all-rounder that firms/ chambers want to hire. One without the other isn’t enough; having both strings to your bow will help you demonstrate that you have the skills the employer is looking for.
Diversity Historically, the
legal profession was overwhelmingly white, male and privately
educated, and more still needs to be done to improve equal representation, particularly at the senior end of the profession. This is not to say that if you don’t meet those outdated, narrow criteria, you should be put off – quite the opposite. What it does mean is that you should have your eyes open to the opportunities available. The legal profession is much more diverse than it used to be. There are also organisations which work to help students from less- privileged backgrounds access the career opportunities that law has to offer. Organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors, Rare and Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) work for free with students to provide one-to-one advice on CVs, application forms and interview practice, while also working with employers to provide work experience opportunities and improve openness.
Online Make sure you set up a LinkedIn profile to connect with employers and other contacts you
will be making, and start to build up the ‘professional’ side of your social media presence. Remember when you apply, recruiters may Google your name, so don’t have anything too crazy available to view publicly on Facebook. Meanwhile, legal Twitter is a great place to learn about the profession and start building your knowledge.
The law is an incredibly competitive profession and it’s never too early to start trying to boost your chances of success. One of the best ways to do that is to visit LawCareers.Net (LCN) to begin your online research. It’s your one-stop shop for all things law-related.
On LawCareers.Net you’ll find:
A directory of over 1,000 law firms, barristers’ chambers and legal educators
A range of videos
Blog posts from law students
Features providing information and advice about pursuing a legal career
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Keep up with the business sections on newspapers’ websites to improve your commercial awareness, but also read the more specific legal press – a couple of the more reputable broadsheet newspapers also have great law sections. Work with your university careers adviser on your application and interview technique, and start to think about where you might like to apply for a vac scheme/mini-pupillage next year. Sign up to a free LawCareers.Net account. You will receive our weekly email newsletter with news and information about the profession, and gain access to MyLCN. Get some practical work experience at a law firm, barristers’ chambers or legal advice centre. Explore the range of diversity organisations that help future lawyers. Go to virtual and any in-person law fairs, firm presentations and open days to meet people. Think about how to stand out by asking good questions (eg, about a recent deal, case or merger). Your first-year university checklist: You’re at university (studying a law or non-law degree) and you want to know what you should be doing. Here is a brief checklist to get you started:
Continue to work hard at your academic studies. Recruiters want to see exemplary grades and yes, your first-year grades do count!
Join your university’s student law society who will be able to support you with events, presentations, information sessions and more. Plus, you will be able to meet other students in the same position as you.
Engage with some of the extracurricular options at university (eg, sport, debating, mooting or music) to make yourself into a well-rounded candidate. Sign up to online platform Vantage (vantageapp.io) to be contacted directly by top law firms about opportunities for first years.
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