updated on 17 August 2022
Don’t pursue a legal career for the sake of it or because you’ve heard that it pays well; you must have a passion to be a lawyer in order to succeed. Do you find law interesting? Is there a particular area of law that has already caught your attention? Are you the kind of person who would thrive in a legal environment? The only way to really find out whether law is for you is by doing some work experience, both legal and non-legal.
What skills and strengths do you need to be a good lawyer?
Several core skills are needed to be a good lawyer – many of them you can hone through your academic studies and work experience. The strengths that legal recruiters look for include:
If you have the majority of these, law could be a good choice for you!
Law firms want their lawyers to be ‘commercially aware’, but what does this mean? In essence, lawyers deal with more than just the law. They must understand their clients’ business/personal circumstances and the market/environment in which they operate. Commercially aware lawyers are proactive in spotting and suggesting solutions to potential problems for the client. As a student, you’re not expected to be an expert – commercial awareness at this level isn’t the same as for an experienced lawyer. What firms are looking for is a combination of basic knowledge, common sense, interest and enthusiasm for commercial matters, and, most importantly, the ability and willingness to ‘think business’.
For more information, take a look at the commercial awareness hub.
Law is an intellectually rigorous career, which is why some firms and chambers require excellent academics. It’s therefore important that you get the best grades you possibly can. That said, many firms are adopting contextual recruitment to look beyond grades to assess academic potential and identify candidates they may otherwise miss.
Some lawyers begin their careers immediately after leaving school by taking the apprenticeship route, which enables an aspiring lawyer to learn ‘on the job’ in a paid role, with some time each week allocated for study. Solicitor apprenticeships also allow those with A levels to qualify as a solicitor without going to university, while there are various other kinds of apprenticeship for candidates at different stages, including paralegal and chartered legal executive apprenticeships. See The Law Apprenticeships Guide for more information.
Getting work experience at law firms is often an essential aspect of securing a training contract. Work placements/vacation schemes (usually run during university holidays) provide an opportunity for you to find out about not only the law, but also individual firms. Firms increasingly rely on vacation schemes to figure out which candidates they want to take on as trainees, so getting on a scheme is a great chance to impress and earn the offer of a training contract.
As above, vacation schemes are a great way to learn more about the profession, with many firms now also running schemes specifically for first years. You can see a comprehensive list of firm schemes on LawCareers.Net’s vacation scheme deadlines page. But you’re not restricted to these structured programmes – you could get a day or two shadowing a trainee or lawyer simply by writing speculatively to firms/chambers you’re interested in or which are local to you. You should also get involved with university pro bono schemes or legal advice centres. All these experiences provide a valuable introduction to the types of work and client relationships that lawyers are involved with every day.
Most firms are looking to recruit a balance of law and non-law graduates – in fact, roughly half of all solicitors are from non-law backgrounds. Studying another subject at university may also help to make you a more well-rounded individual. So if you have a burning desire to study English literature, but think you might want a career as a lawyer, it’s fine to do English at university and complete a law conversion. The postgraduate course squeezes the essential elements of a qualifying law degree into one year. While a law conversion is no longer a requirement via the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), it is still recommended. There are several new non-law-specific courses for those taking the SQE. You can then complete SQE preparation before sitting SQE1 and SQE2. For aspiring barristers, after taking the law conversion, you’ll join the law graduates on the Bar course, followed by a pupillage in a set of chambers. But note: traditional academic subjects (eg, history or sciences) are favoured over more modern options (eg, media studies or drama).
It only takes one year longer to qualify if you choose a degree other than law (if studying full time). After graduating, you’ll need to complete a law conversion that covers the key parts of a law degree, before progressing onto the SQE or Bar course.
In brief, this is the compulsory vocational stage that must be completed before you do either the training contract/qualifying work experience (solicitor) or pupillage (barrister). The Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Bar course are usually one-year courses, but each can be done two years part time, or by distance learning. Many providers around the country offer the courses. Several providers have revealed details about their new non-law-specific SQE preparation courses, designed to get candidates ready to take and pass the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. These vary depending on the provider. Find out more about the SQE below. Alternatively, CILEX offers a Graduate Fast Track Diploma.
The SRA introduced the SQE in 2021 to replace the LPC as the assessments that all solicitors must pass in order to qualify. The SQE is designed to ensure that all qualified solicitors are of the same high standard, regardless of the route (eg, university or apprenticeship) they take to get there. Unlike the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and LPC, the SQE is not a course but a series of exams that are divided into two stages. As above, universities and law schools have released details about their new courses to prepare students for the SQE. Anyone who started a law degree, GDL or LPC before September 2021 can continue to qualify through the old system. Check LawCareers.Net’s dedicated SQE hub, sponsored by The University of Law, for the latest information.
The total cost of qualifying as a solicitor or barrister shouldn’t be underestimated. Over and above the £9,250 per year that you’re likely to pay for your undergraduate degree, you’ll have to pay up to £17,950, £11,300 or £18,500 (plus living costs) for, respectively, the LPC, SQE and Bar course in 2022-23. And unlike undergraduate and master’s degrees, postgraduate loans are unavailable for the LPC, SQE and Bar course (unless they include a master’s on top of the core qualification). SQE prep courses with an LLM can cost around £16,950. If you’re not doing an LLM, it’s best to have a training contract or pupillage before embarking on any of the courses – many large firms/chambers offer sponsorship (usually covering course fees and maintenance grant) to their future trainees/pupils. Bank loans are usually the preferred option for those who self-fund. In addition, the cost of taking the SQE can be broken down into two parts, with SQE1 costing £1,558 and SQE2 costing £2,422.
For more detailed funding advice, look at the ‘Finances’ section on LawCareers.Net.
No. Most firms and chambers fully understand the benefits of a representative workforce, which means recruiting the best candidates regardless of background. These days, most go further by establishing their own diversity policies to ensure that they provide a welcoming and supportive environment for people whatever their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, disability, socioeconomic background and so on. That said, different firms and chambers do have different personalities and it’s important to find one that suits you – a compelling reason to attend law fairs, open days and get work experience.
No. Take solicitors’ firms – the work and lifestyle that you would experience in a large City firm and a small high-street practice are completely different. And it’s the same with a London-based commercial barristers’ chambers and a small regional crime chambers. It’s therefore important that you find out which type and size of practice would suit you by doing work experience and speaking to people in the profession. Only by getting first-hand experience and speaking to those in the know can you really get a feel for the kind of work you think would appeal and you’d be good at.
Your school or university careers service is a key resource. Some advisers specialise in the legal sector and can help you to check through work placement and training contract/pupillage applications (or speculative CVs and letters, if you’re trying to secure informal work experience). Some also have contacts at local law firms and chambers, so might be able to help you set up some work shadowing.
Pick up a copy of this year’s The LawCareers.Net Handbook or our companion publication, The Law Apprenticeships Guide, from your careers service or read it online via LawCareers.Net. Attend both virtual and in-person law fairs. These are a great place to speak to recruiters and current trainees/pupils. In addition, check out LawCareers.Net for news, advice, features and interviews.
See The Oracle on LawCareers.Net for answers to a huge range of questions from students about careers in law.