updated on 24 August 2020
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…
We cannot stress this enough – with up to £9,250 per year undergrad fees, plus postgrad study in 2020-21 costing up to £17,300 for the LPC and up to £16,000 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.
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, as anything less than As and Bs may stop an employer 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.
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, 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 (both legal and otherwise) 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.
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. Remember when you apply, recruiters may Google your name, so don’t have anything too crazy available to view publicly on Facebook. Meanwhile, legal Twitter is a great place to learn about the profession and start building your knowledge.
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.
Historically, the legal profession was overwhelmingly white, male and privately educated, and more still needs to be done to improve equal representation, particularly at the senior end of the profession. This is not to say that if you don’t meet those outdated, narrow criteria, you should be put off – quite the opposite. What it does mean is that you should have your eyes open to the opportunities available. The legal profession is much more diverse than it used to be. There are also organisations which work to help students from less-privileged backgrounds access the career opportunities that law has to offer. Organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors, Rare and Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) work for free with students to provide one-to-one advice on CVs, application forms and interview practice, while also working with employers to provide work experience opportunities and improve openness.