Alternative careers in and around the law

Law-related career options


There are many opportunities to work in a solicitors’ firm other than as a trainee, and the role of paralegal is increasingly recognised as a separate profession. The standing of paralegals is rising, especially as many firms are favouring paralegals over trainees or even some junior solicitors for some types of work. This is particularly true in alternative business structures (ABS), which are permitted to have paralegal partners. Paralegals with sufficient experience can now also apply for junior judicial office.

In July 2014 the SRA announced changes to the training regulations that allow LPC graduates to qualify as solicitors without doing a training contract, provided that they can show to the SRA that they have achieved equivalent training elsewhere. In April 2015 the first paralegal qualified in this way.

Most paralegals specialise in one type of law – commonly personal injury, family, criminal, conveyancing, debt recovery, probate or commercial law – so most vacancies are in these practice areas. Unless you have previous practice experience, you will be applying for entry-level positions, even as a law graduate. As entry-level positions tend not to be advertised, you should apply direct to the firms you would like to work for.

Competition is fierce and preference tends to be given to those who have some experience or practical legal training. Optional training valued by employers is available from a variety of providers, including the IoP, which also offers detailed paralegal careers advice, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). CILEx is currently conducting a paralegal enquiry, which is investigating the role of paralegals in meeting the needs of the legal market from 2020.

For more on being a paralegal, see our Paralegal page, or contact the IoP or the National Association of Licensed Paralegals.

Outdoor clerk

An outdoor clerk is employed by a solicitors' firm to assist with court-related matters. Tasks may include taking witness statements, attending hearings, taking notes in court, filing documents at court, prison visits, legal research and 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 LPC or BPTC 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 is also usual for a clerk to be used by a number of 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 are often employed where there is 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.

Go to the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) website for more detail on becoming a costs lawyer. Read also these LCN Says guest blogs: the first, written by Francis Kendall, costs lawyer and ACL council member, and the second, by Harriet Wilby, entitled "Post-Jackson, why are more graduates specialising in legal costs?".

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 over 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.

CILEx legal executives are qualified lawyers who have at least five 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 is able to 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, family, crime, personal injury, civil litigation, and company and business law. 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 on becoming a legal executive, see our CILEx page and the CILEx website.

Court clerk

Her Majesty's 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 need not 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, he or she will 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

A chartered secretary works as a company secretary and in other senior positions in companies, charities, local government, educational institutions and trade bodies. They are qualified in company law, accounting, corporate governance, administration, company secretarial practice and management. They are trained to deal with regulation, legislation and best practice, and to ensure effective operations. For more detail, 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 a legal secretary varies greatly, depending on the area of law. They will often have important responsibilities, liaising with clients and working on important documents. Career prospects are good and, through experience, it is 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, 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.