updated on 31 January 2023
Reading time: six minutes
Switching from one career to another can be a daunting prospect – there’s no denying it. It’s likely you’ve spent a long time working hard to get to the position you’re in but having got there, you’ve realised there’s something missing, or something else you’d like to do. In this case, a solicitor or barrister qualification.
As a career changer, you’re certainly not on your own. Plenty of people change their mind about the direction their careers are heading and, while you’ll inevitably feel at times overwhelmed by the journey ahead, your position can and should be used to your advantage.
If you’re serious about moving into the legal profession, read our five tips to help you get started.
First things first, it’s important to assess your finances. The journey to either side of the profession, solicitor or barrister, isn’t cheap.
Read our advice on funding your legal studies as a career changer in this Oracle.
It’s important that you check your funding options before you commit to pursuing this career.
There are four requirements to qualify as a solicitor via the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), the new, centralised route to qualifying. You must:
The SQE is a system of exams and not a course – SQE1 costs £1,622 and SQE2 costs £2,493. These fees cover the cost of sitting the exams with potential additional fees on top given that the SRA is encouraging all aspiring lawyers to complete an SQE preparation course ahead of taking the assessments to give themselves the best chance of passing. Various education providers have developed their own preparation courses that differ in cost. Some are combined with a master’s so can be funded using a postgraduate student loan, but this isn’t always the case and some may have to be funded by yourself. Check the government’s website for information on what funding is available to you.
Read LCN’s guide to SQE preparation courses for information on the courses on offer.
If it’s the Bar you’re interested in, you’ll need to complete a Bar course. The fees for Bar courses vary depending on the education provider. If you don’t have a law degree, you’ll also need to factor in the costs associated with the law conversion course, the Graduate Diploma in Law.
Aside from the two routes above, it might also be worth looking into The Chartered Institute for Legal Executives (CILEX). It recently launched the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ), which involves on-the-job training and provides three levels of qualification: CILEX Lawyer, CILEX Advanced Paralegal, CILEX Paralegal. It’s a flexible pathway with fees starting at £3,700.
2. Identify your motivations for becoming a lawyer
If you’re coming to law having already started a career in another industry, recruiters will understandably want to know why you’re making the change, and why now. It’s likely that you have your reason(s) stored away but it’s worth setting some time aside to make sure your motivations are clear and logical – and that you can express them in an enthusiastic and convincing way.
Recruiters will want to know you’re committed to the profession, so think about how you can demonstrate this to them:
These are all questions worth thinking about ahead of making any applications.
Read our Meet the Recruiter profiles for insights into what recruiters want to see from applicants.
3. Attend open days/evenings
Put yourself out there. For those unable to attend in-person open days, presentations or insight evenings (due to caring responsibilities or work), you should make the most of any virtual events on offer. Firms continue to recognise the accessibility benefits of virtual events so there are still plenty of opportunities for you to get to meet law firms/employers and their representatives.
Not only are virtual events a great way to find out more about the firm and whether you’re suited to one another, they’re also a fantastic chance for you to impress them by fully engaging in the sessions and asking relevant questions. You should always make sure you’re as prepared as possible for these events. Don’t go in blind; have a list of questions ready for any networking opportunities, and showcase your interest in the profession and its people.
Read LawCareers.Net’s guide to networking.
It’s also important to note here that while many firms recruit trainees directly from their vacation schemes, not all firms do. As such, you should research which firms recruit outside of their vacation schemes, as applying directly for a training contract (or QWE placement) could be a viable option for career changers.
Speaking of QWE, with a training contract no longer the only route to qualification, you’re also able to build up your two years’ QWE as a paralegal between your studies. One of the aims of the SQE is to introduce more flexibility to qualifying. There are multiple avenues to choose from, so it’s important you find the right route for you.
In terms of the Bar, barrister chambers also host open days, so find out which chambers you’re interested in and see whether they have events you can attend. In addition, some chambers host mini-pupillages for specific career changer intakes – for example, Landmark Chambers holds one that’s also open to “existing professionals with a non-legal background who are considering undertaking a LLB or GDL”. So, make the most of these opportunities where you can.
Once you’ve had a look at the funding options and fees associated with a career in the legal profession and attended some events, it’s time to get stuck into research. This includes researching the firms/chambers you’re interested in and the various routes into the profession.
LawCareers.Net has lots of advice on conducting research, including:
You should also take a more in-depth look at the SQE (as well as the options for QWE), GDL and Bar courses to find what suits you, your circumstances and motivations best.
5. Review skills developed via current or previous role
While it might feel like you’re at a disadvantage to the young, energetic graduates who’ve had their hearts set on a career in the legal profession since before university, it’s vital for you to reframe your thinking because this simply isn’t the case. Yes, you may face unique barriers, given that you’re likely coming to law later in life, but there are so many factors that you can use to your advantage that’ll set you apart from other candidates.
Take some time to review and analyse the skills you’ve developed during your time at work. The real-life experience you have of working within a particular industry can be used as evidence for any skills you list. For example, this could be working with tricky clients, building and maintaining client relationships, communicating, leading a team in a project or collaborating within a team, developing and using commercial acumen, and creative problem solving. These are just some of the skills that are crucial to a successful career as a solicitor or barrister, so our advice to you is to set some time aside to think about the way your current work can set you up for a career in the profession. Identify your skills and build the evidence up around them, as your applications will be futile without this. And remember that you’ll have a lot more work experience to talk about than students or graduates!
The above are just five steps to help you get started on your journey into law – it’s not an exhaustive list. There are lots of additional ways you can support yourself, including accepting support when you need it – whether it’s in the form of childcare, careers advice or just a friend offering to cook dinner – so you can spend more time studying or attending open days, for example.
Getting into the legal profession isn’t an easy option, which you likely knew before making the decision, but if you’re genuinely keen on a career in the law, the grind will be worth it.