Careers Service Occupations

Legal Professions

Legal Professions

About

The law sector is challenging and demands a high level of commitment and perseverance, but has the potential to be immensely rewarding. Graduates entering law face tough competition, especially if looking for a pupillage or training contract. They are likely to experience a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment. Some of these changes are highlighted below:

Developments in the UK legal profession

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam

A major change in the legal profession is the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), due in in 2021.

The SQE will be a common assessment that all solicitors will take before qualifying.

Anyone who starts their legal education before implementation of the SQE should have the choice whether to qualify through the existing route (see Study and Training).

Because so much SQE detail is still to be confirmed, advice for students interested in becoming a solicitor is to:

See also

Regional legal hubs

Many assume a career in law means being in London, working for a City Law firm but this isn't the case. You can have excellent training and opportunities working for a regional firm.

There are many law firms outside London, particularly in the ‘legal hub' regions: Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Norwich and Nottingham.

Brexit and the economy

Brexit could have a major impact on the legal profession. There could be changes to hundreds of UK laws, rules and regulations. Brexit may also affect the UK economy, which could have a big influence on law firms, particularly in areas such as property law. Legal recruiters want you to have knowledge of UK and global economies, and how changes to these economies impact on different sectors. They also want you to have some ideas how Brexit may affect their firm.

See Chambers Student: The effect of ‘Brexit’ on lawyers and How law firms are responding to Brexit 

Law firm mergers

Law firm mergers are increasingly common - meaning there are fewer law firms than in the past. Firms merge for various reasons, including expanding practice areas and national or international reach, improving referrals, and reducing spending on property rental, support staff, and technology trainee numbers.

Trainees' contracts are usually honoured when firms merge, but merged firms do often cut back trainee and newly qualified solicitor recruitment numbers over time.

Read Chambers Student - Law firm mergers: why do they happen?

Public spending cuts and Legal Aid

Austerity spending cuts across the UK have had impact on firms with clients in publically funded sectors like healthcare, housing, local government, transport, education, infrastructure and charities.

Public funding of litigation through legal aid has been cut. This has reduced lawyer fees in areas like crime, housing, family, employment and personal injury. Larger commercial firms, with private paying clients, have been less affected but cuts are impacting recruitment at smaller firms.

Since the introduction of the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, some areas of practice are no longer covered by legal aid. There have also been cuts to legal aid lawyers’ fees.

See Chambers Student - Legal aid cuts and reforms

Legal Services markets

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

For example, Legal technology, or Legal tech firms use technology and software to provide legal services. Clients have access to online software to reduce or sometimes end the need for a lawyer. Legal Tech companies also connect people with lawyers through online marketplaces and lawyer-matching websites.

The number of Legal Tech start-ups is increasing and there are now over 1,000 in the UK. This may have an impact on the number of paralegal roles available.

There has also been an expansion of legal ‘hybrid roles’ such as Legal Technology Associate Legal Engineer or Legal Business Analyst.

See The Guardian – Careers for the 21st Century Law student

Diversity

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.

Additional information

The key message for students is to keep on top of changes within the legal professions, using resources like the ones on these pages.

Chambers Student gives a comprehensive overview of these and other trends impacting on the law profession.

Prospects has an overview of the Law sector as a starting point.

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

Student specific resources

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 enrol 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:

Find professional bodies outside of the UK on GoinGlobal by selecting ‘Professional and Personal Networking’ on each of the individual country guides.

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:

  • NCL Spark – our online mentoring platform, with graduates happy to give you advice about the kind of work they do
  • Newcastle alumni on LinkedIn – find out what they did after graduation and contact them for advice

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

See also Law Careers.Net - How Twitter can boost your law career 

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 Newcastle University Library 

Takeaway resources in the Careers service

Related sectors

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

See our other Sector-specific 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 gives more details about the Inns and the differences between them. See also TARGETJobs - The Inns of Court: Essential help for your Bar career.

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:

See Researching Employers for more ways to source and research companies.

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

  • Pathways Plus was developed to widen access to the legal profession. Undergraduate law students who match certain criteria can gain one week work experience placement at a leading law firm as well as other professional experience and benefits
  • 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 

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 Graduate jobs 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

See Researching Employers for more ways to source and research companies.

Find jobs and additional vacancy source websites outside of the UK on GoinGlobal.

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)

Applications for Bar Professional Training Course places should be made directly to the university or law school. 

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. 

For more information on sources of funding see the following:

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