Key questions

How do I know if law is the right career for me?

At this early stage, it can be hard to be sure, but you can ask yourself some key questions as a start. Do you find legal issues interesting? Are you intrigued by the ways in which the law is part of everyday life? Is there a particular practice area (eg, crime, the environment or human rights) that has caught your attention? Are you the kind of person who would thrive in a fast-paced legal environment? The best way to really find out whether law is for you is by talking to lawyers and doing some quality work experience within the legal profession.

What skills and strengths do you need to be a good lawyer?

There are a number of important skills that are needed if you are to be a good lawyer. Many of them are developed during your academic studies, while others become apparent in your working life – the advantage of developing them as an apprentice is that you will be doing both simultaneously. The attributes that most recruiters look for include: intellectual ability; motivation; resilience; accuracy; teamwork; leadership; commercial awareness; and communication skills. If you have the majority of these, law could be a good option for you!

Haven’t all lawyers been to private schools and Oxbridge?

No. Most firms understand the benefits of a representative workforce, which means recruiting the best candidates regardless of background. These days, most have their own diversity policies to ensure that they provide a welcoming and supportive environment for people whatever their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age or socioeconomic background. In fact, legal apprentice schemes are one of the ways that firms are trying to attract and recruit a more diverse group of employees.

Who can become an apprentice?

Legal apprenticeships are aimed at students who leave education after completing their GCSEs or A levels, wanting to go straight into a career rather than progress on to university. Most legal apprentices are young people who have recently finished secondary education, but it is also open to mature candidates (eg, those who have had a previous career). Apprenticeships are not open to university graduates.

Do I have to study A-level law to be an apprentice?

In short, no. People do much better in subjects that they are actually interested in, so pursue A levels (and GCSEs) which you think you will enjoy. A level is about studying interesting subjects and developing key skills – specialist legal training comes later. Also, very few universities list A-level law as a requirement, even for those wanting to start a law degree, so it is by no means essential. In fact, you can become a lawyer without ever having done a law degree, choosing a non-law undergraduate degree subject and then doing the one-year conversion course (the Graduate Diploma in Law).

Another point here is the importance of achieving good grades. Try to opt for subjects that you enjoy and excel in to give yourself the best possible chance of passing with flying colours. It is far preferable to get As and Bs in three subjects than it is to get Bs and Cs in four, so don't give yourself too much to handle.

What do I need to know about my first day in an office?

Your first day in any job can be intimidating; doubly so in a law firm environment, where you may feel totally out of your depth. But don’t worry – most firms will have comprehensive induction programmes for new joiners, introducing you to some of the basics of office life (eg, the IT system and how to work the photocopier!). You may also find yourself starting on the same day as other apprentices, so you can share your concerns and questions within the group. Some firms will also give you a trainee buddy or mentor to help you adjust. Be yourself, ask questions, demonstrate enthusiasm, and pretty soon, you’ll feel right at home.

One note on dress code: lawyers are business people and their clients expect them to look the part. While some firms are more relaxed than others, your best bet is to arrive looking very well presented. That doesn’t mean spending a fortune on tailor-made suits, but it does mean arriving on your first day dressed smartly and ready to do the job.

Where can I find details of apprenticeship vacancies?

There is more information out there about legal apprenticeships than ever before. LawCareers.Net should be your first stop – there is a comprehensive list of vacancies at a variety of firms and organisations. This is updated often, so it is worth making regular visits to the site to see if new vacancies have been added. In terms of more general information about apprenticeships, again, LawCareers.Net is a great first stop, but both the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and the government apprenticeship pages are valuable resources.

What if I might prefer the traditional route?

If you’re reading this guide, you obviously have more than a passing interest in becoming a legal apprentice. However, it may be that you’re also considering the more traditional pathway into the profession. If so, The Beginner’s Guide to a Career in Law – the companion guide to this one – is your first stop for information about the university route to becoming a solicitor or barrister. In addition, LawCareers.Net is also a great place for information about this career path, including news, advice, features and interviews.

Should I go to my careers service?

Your school careers service is a brilliant resource and should be utilised. They will be able to help you with application and interview techniques, suggest places to look for information, and maybe even help you to secure informal work experience or shadowing with a law firm.