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The Beginner's Guide to a Career in Law
Transcript of The Beginner's Guide to a Career in Law
Why should I choose law over other professions?
Do law firms prefer candidates to have a law degree?
Branches of the legal profession
One of the key questions to address when considering a legal career is what type of lawyer you want to be. For many, that will mean deciding between becoming a solicitor or a barrister. For some, the option to ‘earn while you learn’ as a chartered legal executive will appeal.
Legal career paths
What lawyers do?
The first thing to know is that traditionally, the profession has had two main branches – solicitors and barristers.
The Beginner's Guide to a Career in Law
A changing legal profession
Big changes are sweeping the legal profession - not least to the ways in which you can become part of it and how you will be trained once you get there.
Key law career deadlines
During your time at university, there are several key events and deadlines that you need to diarise or risk missing out!
Generally speaking, solicitors provide advice and assistance on matters of law. They are the first point of contact for people and organisations (eg, companies and charities) seeking legal advice and representation.
On the other side of the profession, barristers advise on specific legal issues and represent clients in court. They receive their information and instructions through a solicitor and are essentially self-employed.
Chartered legal executives
Alternative business structures
Legal Education and Training Review
Winter vacation schemes (at some firms only)
Spring & summer vacation schemes
Law school open days
Firm open days
Pupillage applications deadline
Training contract applications deadlines
What skills and strengths do you need to be a good lawyer?
More key law career questions...
3 years' qualifying
Why are work placement schemes so important?
Getting legal work experience at law firms (to understand what lawyers do) is essential. Work placement schemes (run by many law firms during university holidays) are a good place to start; they provide an opportunity for you to find out about not only law, but also individual firms. Firms increasingly rely on extended work placements to figure out which candidates they really want to take on as trainees.
How important are grades at A level and uni?
Law is an intellectually rigorous career, which is why firms and 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 absolutely vital that you get the best grades you possibly can.
What is commercial awareness?
Law firms often stress that their lawyers need to be ‘commercially aware’. This phrase can cause confusion, as it means different things to different people. However, in essence, it means that commercial lawyers deal with more than just the law. They must understand the client’s business and the environment in which it operates. Commercial awareness does not the mean the same thing to a student as it will to an experienced businessperson. Nobody expects you to be a veteran of the boardroom or the shop floor; what firms are looking for is a combination of basic knowledge, interest and enthusiasm for commercial matters, and, most importantly, the ability and willingness to ‘think business’.
Don’t pursue a legal career for the sake of it; you need to have a strong desire to be a lawyer if you are to succeed. Do you find law interesting? Is there a particular practice area 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 quality work experience within and outside of the legal profession.
A number of core skills are needed to be a good lawyer - many of them you can hone during your academic studies and by doing work experience. The core strengths sought by legal recruiters are intellectual ability, 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!
Are postgraduate law courses expensive? Do I have to pay for them myself?
What use is my careers service?
How can I find out more?
Most firms are looking to recruit a balance of law and non-law graduates - in fact, these days roughly half of all solicitors are from non-law backgrounds. That 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 convert to law by doing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). This postgraduate course squeezes the seven foundations of legal knowledge into one year. You then join the traditional law graduates and do either the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), 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).
The total cost of qualifying as a solicitor or barrister is not to be underestimated. Over and above the potential £9,000 per year that you may have to pay for your undergraduate degree, you will fork out between £5,000 and £16,000 (plus living costs) for each of the GDL, LPC and BPTC. Not exactly small change! For this reason, it’s best to have a training contract or pupillage before embarking on any of the courses – some 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; note, however, that some banks have withdrawn the preferential loan products that they used to offer to postgraduate law students. For more detailed funding advice, look at the “Finances” section on LawCareers.Net.
Your school or university careers service is a key resource. Some advisers specialise in the legal sector and are great for checking 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.
There’s lots of info out there about careers in law. Pick up a copy of
The Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook
(updated every year) from your careers service or a law fair (held at universities in autumn). Law fairs are also a great place to speak to recruiters and current trainees/pupils. In addition, check out websites such as LawCareers.Net for news, advice, features and interviews.
Nothing but the best will do in this competitive market. You need to be getting excellent grades from your first year of university onwards – arguably, your A-level grades are just as important when it comes to applying for training contracts and pupillages, as anything less than As and Bs may prevent you from getting past the first application hurdle . Most recruiters we speak to say that excellent academics are a given, so make sure you tick this very first box. Study and study hard; even those with an Oxbridge first have no job guarantees…
The numbers are stacked against you – there are many fewer training contract and pupillage places than there are people with the necessary qualifications. You have to 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.
An awareness of the pressures of time is crucial if you are to succeed; you must give the requisite amount of time (ie, lots of it) to your future career. You must spend time researching firms/chambers you like; planning how to get work experience; and filling out, refining, checking (and having someone else check) your application forms. Start early, have a schedule and be strict with yourself. Last-minute, rushed efforts are almost worse than no effort at all.
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 is what will help you demonstrate, in a quantifiable way, that you are a complete human being and worth the firm investing in you as a future employee.
The legal world is part of the business world. If you harbour any 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
from time to time, and try to appreciate the appropriate legal issues thrown up by your studies from a commercial perspective.
We cannot stress this enough – with £9,000 per year undergrad fees, plus postgrad study in 2014-15 costing up to £14,765 for the LPC and up to £18,175 for the BPTC, the road to qualification is not cheap and there are no guarantees of a job at the end of it. In addition, the minimum trainee salary has recently been abolished, so some firms may be paying 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.
Definitely - it’s something a lot of students do, especially if they don’t have a training contract or pupillage by the time they leave uni. A year out gives you the opportunity to spend time making and enhancing your applications. Along with gaining experience (both legal and commercial), travel and/or charity work are great gap-year favourites - and provided that you end up with more to talk about than the beach, they can really enhance your applications.
Can I take a year out after uni?