Careers Service Occupations

Legal Professions

Legal Professions

About

Graduates entering law are likely to experience challenging work, responsibility, and a fast-paced environment.

They may work outside normal office hours to meet workload or client demands. They face tough competition, especially if looking for a pupillage or training contract.

The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) is implementing changes in legal training. More emphasis will be on ethics, management skills and work-based learning before qualifying. 

Customer service skills are vital as legal services markets become more diverse and competitive.

Increasing and promoting diversity has become a huge issue in law.  More women than men are qualifying as solicitors and at least 18% are from ethnic minorities.  

All About Law – Diversity  and The BLD have further information.

Employers

Law firms

Many types of law firm recruit graduates, including national, regional, 'Silver Circle', 'Magic Circle' and US and Transatlantic firms

High street law firms may also offer training opportunities.  Solicitors working in high street law firms may deal with a range of areas of law including employment, crime, debt, family work and compensation claims.

Law Careers Net - Training contract search covers nearly 1,000 organisations that offer training contracts. 

Chambers

About 80% of barristers are self-employed and most belong to barristers’ chambers. All about law explains who the various barristers' chambers are. 

Practising barristers who are not self-employed work for public and private sector organisations.  These are mentioned below.

More legal sector employers

Careers advice

Industry news

Good sources of legal profession news include Legal WeekLaw Society Gazette and The Times – Law

Lexology is a free legal newsfeed service providing articles and analysis. Registration is required. 

Roll on Friday provides news, views and gossip on the legal profession, produced by a group of former city lawyers. 

Darlington Solicitors Blog is written by professionals working in the field.

Student specific resources

Chambers Student Guide's Facebook page has news and application deadlines. 

How to research a firm properly offers additional advice. 

The Student Lawyer provides news and career information, written by and for law students.

ScotsLaw Studentzone is for law students and trainees in Scotland and The Job Crowd - Top law firms to work for provides details of the best law practices as voted for by graduate employees.

Professional bodies

These represent people working in the sector, providing training and networking opportunities. 

They often provide careers support for students and graduates. They also provide development for people already working in the sector. 

Follow them on LinkedIn or visit their websites for news, contacts, work experience and vacancies.

The main professional associations for this sector include:

Barristers 

Barristers clerks

Cost lawyers  

Legal aid 

Legal executives 

Licensed conveyancers 

Local government

 Paralegals

Solicitors

The Solicitors Regulation Authority regulates solicitors in England and Wales. You need to enroll as a student with the SRA before starting the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, solicitors are catered for by the Law Society of Scotland and Law Society of Northern Ireland respectively.

Specialist professional associations include:

Making contacts

Making contacts is essential for success in this sector. Many jobs in this field come through networking and speculative applications. You could start with:

Social media, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter, can also be useful for making contacts, finding employers and opportunities. Subscribe to our legal professions Twitter list. 

Events

Recruitment fairs, open days, talks and other events give insight and opportunities to make contacts. 

Regular events for this sector include Newcastle Law Fair. This is in November each year and attracts law firms, course providers and professional bodies.

Law firms and schools regularly visit the university to talk about their selection criteria and recruitment practices. See Employers on campus.

For more events for this sector see Careers events.

More resources

Reference books in the Careers Service

Takeaway resources in the Careers service

Digital magazines include It’s your call: a career at the Bar.

Related sectors

You may also be interested in Government, Politics and PolicyArmed Forces, Law Enforcement and Public Protection and Development.

See our other occupational pages for more options.

 

Roles & Skills

Most students consider becoming a practicing solicitor or barrister when exploring legal careers.

Chambers Student Guide: What kind of lawyer do you want to be? outlines the differences in these roles.  

Roles in the legal sector are however more diverse and frequently changing. The resources below highlight the range of professions within law.

You may also look at TARGETjobs – Twelve jobs you can do with a law degree

See About for information on the range of employers within the legal sector.

The following job profiles include descriptions of typical duties, entry requirements and case studies.

Barrister

About 12,000 barristers work in England and Wales. Most are self-employed and work in Chambers. Others work for organisations including the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Government Legal Service (GLS), financial services, industry and the armed forces. 

To train as a barrister you must join one of the four ‘Inns of Court’. These provide educational activities, scholarships and support for students, barristers and judges. 

Chambers Student Guide: The Inns of Court and Law Careers.Net give more details about the Inns and differences between them.

Barrister’s clerk

Chartered legal executive

Company secretary

Costs lawyer

Crown prosecutor

Court legal adviser/Court clerk

Legal executive

Legal officer (Armed forces)

Legal secretary

In-house lawyer

Licensed conveyancer

Paralegal

There are about 300,000 paralegals in England and Wales, responsible for legal support work and clerical duties. This is a career in its own right rather than an alternative to a training contract.

Paralegals can work in solicitors' practices, in government, for charities or in new paralegal law firms.

Professional support lawyer

Patent attorney

Solicitor

There are more than 80,000 solicitors in private practice in England and Wales. The number of in-house solicitors is growing, with about 11,000 working in commerce and industry. 

About 4,000 solicitors work in local government, 1,000 in the Government Legal Service (GLS) and approximately 2,300 work for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Solicitor, Scotland

Tax adviser

Trade mark attorney

Skills employers look for 

Employers in this sector will be looking for evidence of the following skills:

  • communication, interpersonal and negotiation skills
  • commercial awareness
  • analytical capacity and attention to detail
  • flexibility and ability to plan and prioritise tasks
  • problem solving capability
  • commitment, professionalism and a respect for confidentiality

Gaining Experience

Excellent academic results are vital to having a legal career, but gaining relevant work experience is also essential.

Work experience helps you decide what area of law suits you and is necessary to show evidence of transferable skills and sector awareness.

The following give tips and highlight the importance of legal work experience:

Vacation schemes

Large firms often run vacation schemes. These give an insight into the field, and offer an opportunity to establish contacts. 

The hidden boxes all aspiring solicitors should tick explains what law firms want from a vacation scheme applicant.

Mini pupillages

A mini pupillage is a work placement within chambers that usually lasts up to two weeks. Search for mini pupillages at Law Careers.net or TARGETjobs: Law.

Finding legal firms

Not all work experience is advertised, so make speculative applications, particularly to smaller firms. Find firms that interest you and get in touch, always with a named contact. 

Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for. Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. 

Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.

Use the following resources to identify firms:

Also use the Finding Jobs tab above to help you identify recruiters across the sector.

Pro bono and voluntary work

Pro bono - offering free legal services, can help develop essential practical legal skills.

Some projects are only open to graduates, but students can still get involved in legal voluntary work such as advice and research work.

Some of the following opportunities are advertised but you will need to apply to others speculatively.  

More related experience

  • insight days - short ‘taster’ events with leading City and regional law firms. See TARGETjobs or External Events
  • write for student publications such as Keep Calm and Talk Law
  • get involved in student law society activities (for example the Eldon (Law) Society or Law4NonLaw)
  • work shadowing is a good way to gain an insight into different environments
  • The Student Initiative Fund – funding is available for social, community or cultural projects (up to £500). Contact the Careers Service for more details.

Finding Jobs

Read on for information on finding jobs in the sector.

Training contracts

A training contract is the paid experience between academic study and becoming a qualified solicitor. Most training contracts are full-time and last two years.

Application deadlines vary. City and national firms tend to have their deadlines on the 31 July. 

Others, especially smaller regional firms, will have deadlines throughout the year but most still end in the summer. Places tend to be filled ahead of advertised deadlines.

Law students usually apply for training contracts from their penultimate year. Most large firms recruit two or three years in advance, meaning second year law students can apply. 

Smaller, regional law firms sometimes recruit only a year in advance, meaning students can only apply in their final year

Non-law students should start applying in their final year (for training contracts starting in three years) or during their conversion course (for training contracts beginning in two years). Some firms have training contracts with different deadlines for non-law candidates so check websites.

For more advice on training contracts see:

For advertised training contracts see:

Pupillages

A pupillage is the final stage of barrister training. There are only about 500 pupillages offered every year. All About Law: The Realities of Gaining Pupillage gives insight into the level of competition.

Law Careers.net and Target Jobs: Law - Barristers advertise pupillages.

Advertised vacancies

Graduates can find jobs from the following sources:

Recruitment agencies

Sellick Partnership is a specialist recruiter for the legal sector.

See Finding a graduate job for more vacancy sources.

Speculative approaches

Not all jobs are advertised. You could also approach firms directly or find work through networking in the industry.

Find legal services that interest you and get in touch, always with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for. 

Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen. 

The following resources will help identify potential legal employers:

UK

International 

Worldwide

Study & Training

A career in law is open to graduates of any discipline.

Law conversion

Non-law graduates must take a one year (or two year part-time) conversion course. 

This is the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).

Find out more:

Legal training

Law graduates and non-law graduates who have completed the CPE/GDL must then complete a one year (two year part-time) vocational course. This is the Legal Practice Course (LPC), to become a solicitor, or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), to become a barrister. 

Legal Practice Course (LPC)

Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)

Training outside the UK

Europe

There are The European Court of Justice traineeships  and The European Ombudsman traineeships.

USA

Funding legal training

Legal training is expensive. After taking a degree, followed by a possible conversion course and then the LPC or BPTC, students can face a £25,000 to £50,000 debt at the beginning of their training contract.

The most common way of funding the GDL and/or the LPC is with a bank loan. The career development loan offered by some banks does not cover GDL (as it leads to another course rather than employment).

For more information on sources of funding see the following:

Becoming a Solicitor: Advice for non-law students and graduates