Thinking of becoming a lawyer? It’s not quite as glamorous as it seems on Suits, but it’s still a fascinating and highly rewarding industry to pursue a career in. Here’s everything you need to know…


What is Law?

Law is a huge sector and figuring out some of the jargon can feel intimidating. What’s the difference between a solicitor and a barrister? And what on earth is an LPC? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry: we’re here to bust some myths and tell you everything you need to know about a career in Law.

We’ve all seen Law & Order. Intense courtroom drama, power suits and witty comebacks, that’s what law is all about. But is it? The reality is very different and if it’s not quite as glamorous, it’s definitely just as rewarding and challenging.

First of all you’ll have to get to grips with the multitude of roles on offer, as well as the different types of law out there. And it’s a seriously competitive industry, meaning you need to have the skills and qualifications if you’re going to compete. But don’t worry, sit back, relax and let us tell do some of the hard work for you.

Intense courtroom drama, power suits and witty comebacks, that’s what law is all about. But is it?


Roles in Law

Lawyer, solicitor, barrister? What kind of roles can you do in law and what do they all mean? Here are some of the main roles in the Law industry and what they all involve:

    • First things first, lawyer is a catch-all term used to describe anyone qualified to give legal advice, including solicitors and barristers.

    • They provide legal advice and support to clients, ranging from individuals to private companies and public sector organisations. You can work for yourself or as part of an organisation or the government. There is also the potential to specialise in certain areas of the law.

    • They represent people in court, advising their clients on relevant areas of the law and the strength of their case. They also examine witnesses, aim to persuade the jury and negotiate a favourable settlement or charge. Many are self-employed, but you can also work for the government or Crown Prosecution Service. This is your classic Law & Order stuff.

    • This role is very similar to that of a solicitor, the only difference being you must complete the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives training programme, and you are more likely to specialise in one or two specific areas of law, unlike a solicitor who will have a broader knowledge.

    • As a paralegal you will have the knowledge and training to provide legal services, but you won’t be a qualified lawyer. You will need some solid work experience and a good understanding of a specific sector, but you don’t need the same qualifications as a barrister or solicitor.

    • You’ll be providing secretarial support to solicitors, barristers and the law courts, such as writing up wills, divorce petitions and other documents.

    • In this role you will be running the administration of the barristers’ chambers, such as organising meetings and sending messages.

    • You’ll be specifically trained in tax law, advising clients on how to benefit from tax exemptions, and how to pay their taxes efficiently and legally.

    • As a judge you’ll be controlling trials and hearings in court. It’ll be up to you to take into consideration all the presented evidence and make an impartial decision, interpreting the law effectively to do so.

These are just a handful of the roles available in the law sector. There are many more minor, specialist and niche roles, but the above will give you a good idea of the general differences between various areas of the industry, and may help you make an initial decision about what you want to do.

Top law firms Herbert Smith Freehills, Shearman & Sterling and Gowling WLG, offer a variety of graduate roles and vacation schemes on Debut, so keep checking the app to make sure you’re first to apply!



Do I need a law degree?

Simple answer: No. It’s a common myth that you need a Law degree to become a lawyer but it simply isn’t true. In fact, having a degree in another subject can actually work to your advantage. Many law firms are looking for candidates with other areas of expertise, such as STEM and Language students, and you can easily get the qualifications you need after graduation. Here’s how it works:

If you’ve got an undergraduate Law degree, great! If not, you can take the one-year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course. This will place you on an equal footing with those who have a law related degree.

It’s a common myth that you need a Law degree to become a lawyer but it simply isn’t true.

To become a solicitor:

You must take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) before, in most cases, completing a training contract with a law firm. However, if you don’t manage to secure a training contract, it can be possible to qualify as a solicitor with extensive paralegal work instead. You must also pass the Professional Skills Course, before you can apply for a place on the roll of solicitors and become officially qualified.

To become a barrister:

You must take the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) followed by a pupillage, which is a period of work shadowing and practical experience in a barristers’ chambers. In order to do this, you must join one of the four ‘Inns of Court’. You would then usually aim to secure a tenancy at a chambers, working alongside other barristers.

Didn’t go to uni?

You can still qualify for a role in Law through routes such as a solicitor apprenticeship or by taking the Chartered Legal Executive qualification.

So how long does it take?

Perhaps not as long as you’d think. Taking into consideration the qualifications outlined above and including your undergraduate degree, it takes six years to qualify as a solicitor (seven if you don’t have a law degree) or five years to qualify as a barrister (six if you don’t have a law degree). Not as bad as you were expecting, eh?

Do I need a first to be a lawyer?

You don’t necessarily need a first, but Law is a very competitive industry so without either a first or 2:1 you might struggle. If you do have a 2:2 or a 3rd, extensive work experience and some pro bono work (more on this to come), might help make your application stand out from the crowd.

Top tip:

Make sure your undergraduate Law degree is approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board, or else you’ll still have to complete the GDL after graduation.


Skills you need

Law can be seriously competitive, so if you’re set on securing that role of your dreams, you’re going to need the skills to ensure you stand out from the crowd. Here are the kind of things you want to be developing and showing off in your CV:

    • This is the most sought after skill firms are looking for in graduate lawyers, but also something candidates fall down on time and time again. Essentially all law firms are businesses, so you need to be aware of what this entails – how to liaise with and build strong relationships with clients, budget and meet deadlines. You’ll also likely be working with a number of businesses in your work, representing their rights and interests, so having strong commercial acumen will help you to do this effectively.

      Don’t forget to keep informed about the industry using sites such as RollOnFriday, Legal Futures and The Lawyer, as well as developing your general commercial awareness with publications such as The Financial Times or The Economist.

    • It sounds obvious but this is absolutely essential as a lawyer. Whether it’s through confident public speaking or concisely written legal documents, you need to be able to take complex technical concepts and convey them to others in an understandable way.

    • As well as informing and answering questions, a good lawyer knows the right questions to ask and isn’t afraid to ask them. To be able to get all the information you need, make informed decisions and represent your clients to the best of your ability, you need to have a curious, inquisitive mind and be able to spot any weaknesses in a case and flag them up accordingly.

    • Lawyers tend to have heavy work loads, and are expected to juggle multiple cases and projects at the same time, so it’s important to have the time management skills necessary to deal with this. You’ll also be expected to be dedicated to the task in hand, and that often means working longer hours.

    • While Law isn’t as cut-throat as it’s often portrayed on TV dramas, you still need to have that resilient drive to overcome obstacles and pick yourself up after a setback. At its core it’s a sector all about conflicts of interest and competition, and you need to have the tenacity to come out on top.

    • Law is all about the detail. You need to be precise in all aspects of your work, from the letters and documents you write to the strategies you create when approaching a new case. The smallest slip-ups can have big consequences, so someone with a sharp mind and an attention to detail is essential.


Industry Insights

As in all sectors, technology is starting to have a major impact on the jobs of lawyers. New initiatives like LegalZoom offer services such as divorce settlements, trademarks and wills at a fraction of the price of a traditional solicitor, all from the comfort of your laptop. There is a growing demand for legal advice quicker and cheaper than ever before, and lawyers will have to adapt to keep up with new trends, and there’s no doubt this will involve utilising technology more effectively. This, along with the recession, has led law firms to look into ways of cutting costs and carrying out work using more efficient methods.

There is a growing demand for legal advice quicker and cheaper than ever before

Another issue to be aware of is government cuts to legal aid in recent years, which has reportedly left many people from disadvantaged backgrounds without the access to legal advice and representation that they need. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act drastically reduced access to legal aid, and some claim has created a “two-tier” legal system. There is pressure for the government to review the Act, and this is likely to happen in the next few years.


Work experience

Securing work experience in Law is fiercely competitive but one of the best ways of getting your foot in the door is with a law firm. Most of the bigger law firms will have formal schemes, and applications open early on in term, so keep your eyes peeled to make sure you don’t miss out. Here are some examples of the kinds of work experience you should be aiming for:

    • These are usually month-long placements for second and final year students, where you’ll be based in a law firm shadowing staff, working on projects and gaining a really in-depth insight into the company. Don’t be fooled by the name, they take place in Spring, Summer and Winter, and the non-Summer ones are typically shorter and less competitive if you apply early.

    • These are shorter than vacation schemes, usually lasting 1-2 weeks, and are specifically based in a set of chambers, giving you an insight into life as a barrister.

    • These give you a short taste of what it’s like at a particular firm, and normally involve networking, guided tours and group activities. We went along to a Shearman & Sterling open day to find out more.

    • These are normally more informal and are secured through speculative applications, rather than official schemes. They’re particularly useful for trying out a certain area of law to see if it’s right for you.

    • Joining your university Law society will help you develop experience, and mooting competitions (essentially mock trials) are a great way of building your skills and confidence.

    • This involves providing free legal advice to those who would otherwise be unable to afford it, and is a great way of using your law expertise to give something back to the community.

    • Watching court trials, visiting law fairs, marshalling a judge, part-time work, student journalism & politics.


Pros and Cons

Law is a great industry to work in, with high salaries and rewarding work, but like all sectors it has its drawbacks. We’ve put together some pros and cons to help you decide whether this is the career for you.

Typically high salaries compared to other industries.It’s a very competitive industry, and it’s difficult to get your foot in the door.
The opportunity to work with high-profile clients on big cases.The extra costs of completing the qualifications will add to your student debt.
The prestige of the sector.You’ll be expected to work long hours.
It’s a dynamic and exciting work environment, with varied projects.The high pressure environment often leads to high stress levels.
It is often intellectually challenging and will push you to your limits. You’re often given little responsibility at the start of your career, and have to work up.
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