You may have just started your degree but preparation for your departure into the real world of work will be underway almost immediately. Some will revel in the planning and research. Some will be daunted by the prospect of finally leaving education and entering a profession.
The top law firms and chambers will want recruits with a 2:1 or a First; that is not to say that a 2:2 will leave you nowhere, but options will be severely limited. Ultimately, your degree classification should be a top priority for the time being.
However, in an attempt to calm some nerves, here is some basic information to help you get a head start with your future career.
Becoming a Solicitor
- Solicitors provide legal advice to clients, take instructions from clients and advise on suitable legal action. Clients can include individuals, groups, public sector organisations or private companies. Most solicitors work for law firms.
- To become a solicitor, graduates must undertake a Legal Practice Course (commonly known as the LPC), which is a one year course offered by some universities. After the LPC, graduates must undertake practice-based training, known as a training contract with a law firm, which usually lasts two years. The Professional Skills Course (PSC) is taken during the training contract and must be completed in order to qualify as a solicitor.
- To secure a much sought-after training contract and become a solicitor, completion of a couple of vacation schemes is unofficially necessary. Vacation schemes are essentially work experience at a law firm for a week or two and law students apply directly to law firms. Most law firms have a good vacation scheme programme in place and entry is very competitive. Ideally you will have completed a vacation scheme at the law firm with whom you seek a training contract. Vacation schemes can be very hard to secure, but some law firms interview following the vacation scheme for training contracts
Becoming a Barrister
- Barristers are advocacy specialists and represent clients in court. They are independent sources of legal advice and are generally hired by solicitors to represent in court – although some solicitors can represent clients. Most barristers are self-employed and work in offices called chambers.
- To become a barrister, there are three steps. Initially, a qualifying law degree (a 2:1 is almost essential) is required. Then the vocational part: completion of the Bar Professional Training Course (the BPTC), which takes one year. Finally, the coveted pupillage. Pupillage is a year of practical training under the supervision of an experiences barrister.
- To become a barrister, you must secure a pupillage which is notoriously difficult. As a precursor to pupillage, students should complete some mini-pupillages. These are often a week long, but sometimes just a few days. Students shadow a barrister in chambers and in court, experiencing the practical side of the job. To secure mini-pupillages, chambers should be contacted directly. It is often a less formal process than securing a vacation scheme, and some may say easier. However, once a mini-pupillage is completed it is much less common for pupillage to be considered directly.
But you don’t have to be a lawyer!
As radical as it may seem, you do not have to become a solicitor or a barrister with your law degree. Many come to university with a somewhat idealised version of what being a lawyer would be like, or perhaps about how easy it might be to get there. Practical experience and research is important in deciding whether or not to pursue a specific career.
A degree in law is widely respected, cultivates valuable cross-disciplinary skills and can lead to many varied and fulfilling careers. Alternate careers and employers include:
- Law-related: paralegal, outdoor clerk, legal executive, company secretary, patent attorney, recruitment consultant, law firm support services, or work for the Crown Prosecution Service, Government Legal Service, Home Office, Law Commission, European Parliament or European Court of Justice
- Non-law-related: civil servant, police officer, bank manager, business, author, charity sector, events planning, PR, advertising, communications, recruitment, postgraduate studies, lecturer, academic, psychologist (requiring conversion masters and PhD)