updated on 17 August 2022
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…
With up to £9,250 per year undergrad fees, plus postgrad study in 2022-2023 costing up to £17,950 for the Legal Practice Course (LPC), around £18,500 for the Bar course, and the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) assessments costing £3,980 (excluding the fees for preparation courses) the road to qualification isn’t cheap. 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, there are options to complete the new SQE for around £10,000 in total, depending on the SQE preparation course provider. However, prices for the SQE1 and SQE2 preparation courses vary, with the more extensive SQE preparation courses closer to the cost of the LPC.
There’s real competition for training contracts and pupillages. You must get 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. Many firms are adopting contextual recruitment to look beyond A-level grades to assess academic potential and identify candidates they may otherwise miss.
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.
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.
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 to demonstrate that you have the skills the employer is looking for.
Make sure you set up a LinkedIn profile to connect with employers and other contacts, 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 begin building your knowledge and you can even gain legal careers information through Instagram and TikTok!
The legal world is part of the business world. If you have ambitions to work for a commercial law firm, it’s 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.
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 upReach and RARE 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 SQE. However, there’s 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, sponsored by Gowling WLG (UK) LLP, for information and updates on what’s going on in the industry.