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Alternative careers in and around the law

Law-related career options

Outdoor clerk

An outdoor clerk is employed by a solicitors' firm to assist with court-related matters. Typical tasks may include:

  • taking witness statements;
  • attending hearings;
  • taking notes in court;
  • filing documents at court;
  • making prison visits;
  • conducting legal research; and
  • general administration.

They may work in a range of practice areas, including crime, immigration, family and personal injury.

Firms often look to hire people who are Legal Practice Course (LPC), Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) or Bar course qualified, and it can be a useful way for students or graduates keen on the Bar to get valuable experience.

The job is often done on a freelance basis, so may not necessarily provide full-time employment. However, it’s also usual for a clerk to be used by several different firms at any one time, so a decent wage is possible!

Costs lawyer

A costs lawyer is a specialist lawyer who deals with all aspects of legal costs. They’re often employed where there’s a need to recover costs between the parties in litigation, either by justifying the costs or seeking to reduce the costs claimed against a party.

In addition, courts must now exercise their powers to manage both the case and the costs of the litigation prospectively, and the preparation of costs budgets in litigation is recommended as being undertaken by costs lawyers. Costs lawyers are also instructed to assist in ensuring that clients are properly charged for their solicitor’s work and to prepare claims for costs where a party is receiving legal aid.

Law costs draftsmen do similar work to costs lawyers but are an unregulated section of the profession. Only costs lawyers are regulated, and thus authorised to undertake reserved legal activities (ie, conduct litigation, appear in court and swear oaths).

As a qualified costs lawyer, you have the right to conduct proceedings and advocate at all levels on costs issues, including at county courts, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Visit the Association of Costs Lawyers website for more detail on becoming a costs lawyer.

CILEX legal executive

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) was established in 1963 with the aim of recognising the skills offered by lawyers’ clerks in England and Wales. CILEX now represents around 20,000 individuals who are employed in various legal institutions in the United Kingdom, including private practice law firms, local government and commerce and industry. In 2021, CILEX launched the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ), a new approach to on-the-job training that marries legal knowledge with the practical skills, behaviours and commercial awareness needed by lawyers.

CILEX legal executives are qualified lawyers who have at least three years’ experience of working under the supervision of a solicitor and who have passed the CILEX exams.

A fully qualified and experienced chartered legal executive can undertake many of the legal activities that solicitors do. For example, chartered legal executives will have their own clients and can undertake representation in court where appropriate.

Some common areas of specialism are:

  • conveyancing – the legal side of buying and selling property;
  • family – advising on divorce and matters affecting children;
  • crime – defending and prosecuting people accused of crimes;
  • company and business law – advising on legislation that affects clients’ businesses such as tax, contract and employment law;
  • litigation – advising clients who are in dispute with someone else;
  • probate – dealing with wills, trusts and inheritance tax; and
  • personal injury – handling accident claims.

Chartered legal executives are recognised by the Ministry of Justice as qualified lawyers and are eligible for judicial appointments and partnerships in law firms and can also be advocates. 

CILEX is particularly attractive to those seeking a law qualification from a variety of groups, including recent school leavers, graduates, legal support staff, mature students and career-changers. For more information on becoming a legal executive and the CPQ, see LCN’s CILEX page and the CILEX website.

Court clerk

HM Courts & Tribunals Service employs many qualified solicitors and barristers as court clerks (or justices' clerks). Clerks advise lay magistrates on law and procedure, and are key figures in the daily running of the courts and in the administration of justice. They also play a vital role in the management and administration of the service, organising the arrangement of court time, payment of fines and other related matters.

Clerks who are interested in administration can work towards becoming a justices' chief executive, with responsibilities for increasingly large groupings of magistrates' courts.

Further information can be found on the HM Courts & Tribunals Service website.

Court reporter

Court reporters record verbatim court hearings for official transcripts of court proceedings. Increasingly, reporters use a computer-aided transcription system rather than traditional shorthand. Court reporters don’t need to be legally qualified to enter the profession, although it is an advantage.

Details of training and careers are available through the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters.

Barristers' clerk

Broadly speaking, a barristers' clerk is responsible for running the day-to-day business of chambers and organising barristers' caseloads. At the junior end of the job, a clerk will prepare papers, carry documents to and from court, and perform other administrative tasks. As the clerk becomes more senior, they’ll manage diaries, liaise between solicitors, clients and barristers, and bring new business into the chambers.

For more on being a clerk, see the Institute of Barristers' Clerks.

Chartered secretary

Chartered secretaries work as company secretaries and in other senior positions in companies, charities, local government, educational institutions and trade bodies.

They’re qualified in company law, accounting, corporate governance, administration, company secretarial practice and management. They’re also trained to deal with regulation, legislation and best practice, and to ensure effective operations.

For more detail about what being a chartered secretary entails, visit the website of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.

Legal secretary

Many different skills are needed for a legal secretary role, including secretarial, administrative, legal and IT, together with an excellent standard of spoken and written English. Legal secretaries can work in law firms, as well as other legal environments, such as in chambers, courts, the police service or local authorities.

The work of legal secretaries varies greatly, depending on the area of law. They’ll often have important responsibilities, liaising with clients and working on important documents.

Career prospects are good and, through experience, it’s possible to move up the ranks, being promoted to positions of greater responsibility or going on to become paralegals or legal executives.

For some, who have a law degree and/or the LPC/SQE, the valuable practical experience may also open a door to a training contract. For more details on the nature of the job, visit the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs website.