Back to overview

Beginner's Guide

Reality check

updated on 19 August 2021

Reality check

There are a few things worth mentioning as a reminder that starting a legal career is competitive and expensive. So, without wanting to detract from the exciting and challenging career on offer, here follows some food for thought…

Finances

We cannot stress this enough – with up to £9,250 per year undergrad fees, plus postgrad study in 2021-2022 costing up to £17,500 for the LPC and up to £18,500 for the Bar course, the road to qualification is not cheap and there are no guarantees of a job at the end of it.

In addition, some firms at the smaller end of the market may pay trainees no more than the national minimum wage.

Your ability to afford the courses and a potentially low starting wage must be a factor in deciding whether to pursue law as a career. That said, the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) can cost around £10,000 in total (the costs of SQE1 and SQE2 exams amount to £3,000-£4,000, while prices for the SQE1 and SQE2 preparation courses vary depending on the provider) but the more extensive SQE preparation courses are closer to the cost of the LPC.

Academics

There is real competition for training contracts and pupillages.

You must be getting strong grades from your first year of university onwards. Your A-level grades are also important even though some firms have recently dropped A-level requirements for training contract applications. Anything less than As and Bs may stop some employers considering your application.

Most recruiters we speak to say that excellent academics are a given, so make sure that you put in the time when studying.

Competition

The numbers are stacked against you – there are many fewer training contract and pupillage places than there are people with the necessary qualifications.

You must find a way to stand out among thousands angling for the same job, so make sure you shine through by being resourceful, authentic, determined and committed to the profession and a career in law.

Time

You must spend time researching firms/chambers you like; planning how to get work experience; and filling out, refining, checking (and having someone else check) your application forms. In every case, start early, have a schedule and be strict with yourself.

Last-minute, rushed efforts are almost worse than no effort at all.

Experience

You need a combination of work experience (this can include legal and non-legal experiences) and extracurricular activities to become the all-rounder that firms/chambers want to hire. One without the other isn’t enough; having both strings to your bow will help you demonstrate that you have the skills the employer is looking for.

Online

Make sure you set up a LinkedIn profile to connect with employers and other contacts you will be making, and start to build up the ‘professional’ side of your social media presence.

Legal Twitter is a great place to learn about the profession and start building your knowledge.

Commerciality

The legal world is part of the business world. If you have ambitions to work for a commercial law firm, it is essential to develop a good understanding of the issues and events affecting businesses.

Read the Financial Times and The Economist from time to time, and try to appreciate the appropriate legal issues thrown up by your studies from a commercial perspective.

Diversity

In recent years, great strides are being made by diversity and social mobility initiatives to level the playing field and improve equal representation at all levels of the legal profession. Organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors, RARE and Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) work for free with students to provide advice on CVs, application forms and interview practice, while also working with employers to provide work experience opportunities and improve openness.

Increasing diversity in the legal profession is also one of the main aims of the incoming SQE. However, there is no getting away from the fact that the legal profession was historically overwhelmingly white, male and privately educated, and more needs to be done to address the imbalance.

Head to LawCareers.Net’s Diversity Hub for information and updates on what’s going on in the industry.