Dreaming of becoming a barrister or just interested in the law? Whether you’re just starting your degree, about to begin your Legal Practice Course (LPC) or preparing for a year out, career planning is vital. A career in the legal profession can be challenging and rewarding but competition is high for newly qualified positions; good grades are essential, training contracts are hard to come by, a law degree is not a passport to the profession and the market is super-competitive – doom and gloom or the reality of 2014?
The UK legal services market is worth £26.8bn and employs 320,000 people in England and Wales alone (The Law Society, 2013). Typical roles include: Barrister, barrister’s clerk, chartered legal executive, licensed conveyancer, solicitor. The list goes on…paralegal, legal secretary, researcher, legal publishing, teaching law, inhouse legal roles, local government and the Crown Prosecution Service but where do you start your legal career?
Get to know the industry and get work experience – look for opportunities to develop and put into practice the qualities recruiters will be looking for. Problem solving, teamwork, sound judgement and commercial awareness are just some of the skills frequently cited in legal job applications; law firms’ expectations of the trainees they want to attract are high. Graduate employers range from international firms to high street firms and charities; all looking for commitment, an interest and understanding of the law in practice and the sector in which they operate. The five leading law firms with headquarters in the UK are commonly referred to as the ‘Magic Circle’ and in the words of Clifford Chance: ‘You don’t need a law degree to become a lawyer. It’s much more about your potential and aptitude than your knowledge’ so how do you give yourself a competitive edge? International firm Baker & McKenzie look for ‘creativity’ and a ‘desire to learn’ – no mention of degree subject. So how do you give yourself the best chance of getting the job you want? Recruiters do want to see good academics, but there’s more to securing your first legal job than just doing well in your exams!As with most careers in 2014, being innovative in terms of creating networks and CV boosting work experience are very important. Keep up to date with what is happening in the legal profession The Law Society, Junior Lawyers and Solicitors Regulation Authority are all worth a browse.
So what counts as work experience and what do you expect from it? Work experience within a legal firm during holidays is great as are mini-pupillages where you will get the opportunity to read papers, discuss cases, attend court visits and sit in on client meetings. Work shadowing and observation are great ways to gain experience – organise visits to chambers/firms, volunteer to ‘clerk’ for small firms of solicitors (recording what happens in their court cases). Court marshalling (sitting with a judge for a few days) also provides another view of judicial processes. Don’t forget the value that can be obtained from carrying out an internship or temporary work not necessarily within a legal environment (think transferable skills – you will be able to demonstrate reliability, time management etc. and gather valuable skills/experience). You may also be undertaking part-time work whilst studying and although not work experience, don’t forget the value in participating in extra-curricular activities such as sport.
Whilst on the subject of studying, don’t assume your study days will finish with your degree, to become a solicitoryou will need to do the LPC after your undergraduate law degree before embarking on a two-year, full-time training contract. During your training contract, you will undertake the Professional Skills Course and once this is successfully completed you will be a qualified solicitor. To become a barrister, with a law undergraduate degree you need to do the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). You then need to do a pupillage before obtaining tenancy in a chambers or the employed Bar.
But where to look for a job? Some firms will advertise vacancies on their websites, so it’s useful to be aware of firms you would like to work for and keep an eye on them. Attending legal graduate recruitment fairs give you the chance to meet representatives from firms, find out more about what they’re looking for and ask questions. Create a wish list – be flexible but realistic – can you get there every day? Do your research, familiarise yourself with firms you are interested in, sign up to email job alerts, have a browse through websites such as Prospects, LawCareers.net, Studying Law and Graduate-jobs.com. Be prepared! Update your CV and start thinking about what recruiters will be looking for in terms of your application. Use your university careers service – do you know how they can help you? GSM Careers offers careers advice, practice interviews, employability seminars, skills development, information resources CV & application checking etc.
The delivery of legal services is a complex process that requires a team of skilled professionals to provide a quality and cost-effective service. As a result, the legal field holds lots of career options encompassing a diverse range of skills, experience and education; opportunities will arise for those who are willing to persevere, show enthusiasm and work hard.
And so to finish, I will repeat myself – experience within the legal sector, general work experience, enthusiasm, commitment, determination, patience and lots of hard work. Hopefully food for thought and good luck entering the legal profession!