Careers in professional law are open to all graduates (via the Law Conversion Course), not just those who have studied for a Law degree. Whatever your degree background, as an aspiring lawyer you will have to be prepared for additional postgraduate study, a lengthy period of on-job training and the strong possibility of financial hardship as legal training can be costly. Law is also extremely competitive, with many more applicants than places for training contracts (for solicitors) and pupillage (for barristers).
VIDEO: Law and related careers
The most popular career areas open to graduates are:
- Chartered Legal Executive
- Licensed Conveyancer
In recent years there has been huge growth in the number of paralegals employed by law firms. A ‘paralegal’ is defined as any non-lawyer who does legal work. Law firms are delegating more work to paralegals because they are significantly cheaper than solicitors. The current trend for solicitors’ firms to prefer trainees who have had paralegal experience means that it’s worth considering paralegal work as a short term option even if your ultimate goal is to become a solicitor or barrister.
Training for the legal profession is changing. New SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) training regulations, introduced in July 2014 pave the way for intending solicitors to qualify via ‘equivalent means’ for instance by recognising relevant prior learning gained in the workplace which may result in exemption from all or part of the academic or vocational stages (degree, LPC, training contract). The first person to qualify in this way joined the roll of solicitors in April 2015.
The most recent SRA consultation (spring 2016) was a proposal to introduce a Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), under which all those wishing to qualify as a solicitor would have to sit the same professional exam. The proposal was met with significant criticism and a further period of consultation is now due. Keep an eye on the SRA website and LawCareers.net for updates.
Qualifying Law Degree OR Degree plus conversion course (GDL/CPE) +
Legal Practice Course – (1 year vocational training in an educational setting) +
2 year ‘Period of recognised training’ (formerly known as Training Contract) with a firm of solicitors (employed) = fully qualified Solicitor
Qualifying Law Degree OR Degree plus conversion course (GDL/CPE) +
Bar Professional Training Course – 1 year vocational training in an educational setting +
1 year Pupillage in a set of chambers (employed) = Barrister, usually self employed with a Tenancy in a set of chambers. Part-time and distance learning options apply. Full details of training and funding opportunities can be found below.
Chartered Legal Executive
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) offers an alternative route into the legal profession which avoids the cost of LPC/BPTC courses. A Chartered Legal Executive lawyer specialises in a particular area of law, and has trained to the same standard as a solicitor in that area.
LLB and LPC graduates can obtain exemptions from CILEx exams in order to start training as a Chartered Legal Executive. Candidates need to complete a three-year period of qualifying employment. Work completed as a paralegal, while studying (either at an academic institution or via distance learning), may be used towards part of this requirement; a minimum of one year of your qualifying employment needs to take place after you’ve completed your CILEx academic qualification.
A career as a chartered legal executive lawyer is a worthwhile, rewarding and fulfilling career in its own right, but CILEx recognises that there are those who have more traditional ambitions. CILEx qualifications can be used to count towards qualifying as a solicitor. As a fellow of the institute (having obtained 3 years qualifying experience), you may be exempt from the ‘period of recognised training’ (formerly training contract) usually required to become a qualified solicitor – but you will need to contact the SRA to get full details, as this exemption is wholly at its discretion.
Licensed Conveyancers are qualified, professional property lawyers who specialise in the legalities surrounding buying and selling property in England and Wales.
To become a licensed conveyancer in England and Wales, you must pass the Council for Licensed Conveyancers – CLC Qualification, which is usually taken while working. If you already have legal qualifications (from a Law Degree onwards) you may be exempt from part or all the academic requirements. The Council of Licensed Conveyancers offers a distance learning programme or you can study part time at an approved college. Students need to complete a minimum of at least one year full time conveyancing experience, submit written assignments and sit exams in all aspects of property law.
Timescales and deadlines
Conversion courses and LPC courses can be applied for from the November of your final year though there is no longer an official closing date. This is not the case for the BPTC which should be applied for by early January in final year. Training Contracts in the larger firms of solicitors are awarded as early as the summer vacation before the start of the final year, or during the final year for non-law applicants.
- Professional training in Law is expensive, particularly if you need to complete the GDL in addition to the LPC or BPTC.
- For intending solicitors, the bigger firms offer sponsored training contracts with LPC course fees (and sometimes a maintenance allowance) included.
- The Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme (DAS) offers assistance with Legal Practice Course (LPC) fees to exceptional individuals who face or have overcome exceptional obstacles to qualify as a solicitor.
- For would be barristers, approx. £4.5m of funding in the form of scholarships and awards from the four Inns of Court is available annually to students considering the GDL and BPTC courses. Closing dates for application are the first Friday in May for GDL scholarships, and the first Friday in November for BPTC scholarships. See the websites of the four Inns for further details. (see Useful Websites)
- Other funding options include: bank loans, professional and career development loans.
If you are considering a career in professional law, it is vital that you aim to arrange work experience within your chosen sector. This will help to confirm that the profession is right for you, will aid you in the recruitment process in future and will help you to make all important contacts.
VIDEO: Legal Work Experience from AllAboutLaw.co.uk
At this stage, you may not have a clear idea which branch of the legal profession you hope to enter. If this is the case, any legal work experience will be useful, and will help you to make an informed decision. Relevant work experience can take many forms including:
Work experience for intending solicitors
- High Street firms - lots of opportunities, but often hidden from view as smaller firms hardly ever advertise (having neither the budget nor the need, they are guaranteed to receive more applications than they can cope with)
- Start your search by checking whether any friends or family have connections in high street firms. If so try to arrange to speak to them about their work and about possible work experience opportunities.
- Failing that, a good starting point is the Law Society’s Directory of Solicitors. Here you can search for solicitors firms by location and also by area of practice eg Property Lawyers in Cardiff.
- You will need to use a well-designed CV and speculative covering letter and to apply early on in the term prior to the period in which you are hoping to gain experience. Be persistent – you may make many applications and not receive as many positive replies as you would like. It is appropriate to ask for a week or two of experience or less if the firm is only willing to consider very short term requests. Any work experience will be useful.
- If you’re not having much success asking for ‘work experience’, consider asking instead about ‘work shadowing opportunities’ (which implies less effort on the part of the firm) or even for a possible meeting with a solicitor to carry out what careers advisers like to call an ‘information interview’ (in other words a chat during which you can ask questions about the day to day work, what the solicitor enjoys most/least about his work etc). This type of more modest request may be easier for a firm to accommodate.
- Vacation Schemes - many of the larger law firms (mainly commercial firms) offer structured (and paid) periods of work experience called vacation schemes
- Firms are predominantly interested in hearing from law students in their second year, although many will consider finalists and graduates
- Deadlines for many (but not all) summer vacation schemes is 31 January, but check individual firms’ websites for details and keep an eye on LawCareers.net which carries a useful listing of vacation scheme opportunities and deadlines
- In the last couple of years there has been a significant increase in the number of law firms offering insight programmes aimed specifically at first year students – these give students a taste of life as a commercial solicitor, and an opportunity to discover more about the skills needed for the job
- Non law students intending to convert to law can apply in the final year of their first degree and even in their second year for summer schemes with some firms and a number of firms run Christmas schemes for non-law final years. Other firms offer workshops for non-law students, which are the next best thing to a vacation scheme, as they can give a very good insight into life at a firm. Keep an eye on law firm websites for application details – some open on 1 October and close again in mid-November for winter placement schemes – and LawCareers.net
- Open Days - Some of the bigger firms run open days, a great way for you to find out more about the areas of law covered and about the opportunities available. Some open days are aimed at specific groups of students whilst others are open to all. Increasingly firms are offering open days specifically for first year students. You will often have to complete an application form or sometimes just register online. Either way, apply/register early to improve your chances of securing a place – a useful list of is provided each year by Chambers.
- Legal Departments in Local Government and in house - There are other places you can try as well as law firms when it comes to gaining relevant experience. Consider for example the legal department within your local town/county council, or a big organisation which has its own legal department. Many large companies have their own legal departments and work experience here is equally valid.
Work experience for intending barristers
- Mini pupillage This is the most useful type of work experience for students considering the bar profession.
- A Mini-Pupillage is the term used to describe any length of work experience alongside a barrister, usually 3-5 days.
- As with High Street firms, a speculative approach is necessary.
- Use Chambers Guide, The Training Contract and Pupillage Handbook or websites for ideas on who to write to – show some knowledge of the areas of work and the specialisms of your recipients. A useful online search is available on the LawCareers.Net website: lawcareers.net/Barristers/MiniPupillages
- Court based experience - Other useful experience for the bar includes visiting court and observing proceedings (you can learn a lot just by sitting in the public gallery). In some areas it is possible to organise a period of marshalling (shadowing a judge) by contacting the courts direct and asking about opportunities. In Cardiff opportunities to do this are limited, as a number of marshalling placements are reserved for Cardiff BPTC students as part of their course.
- Law firm experience - Would-be barristers are also advised to gain some experience in law firms so that they can be sure that they are pursuing the branch of the legal profession most suited to them.
- Mooting, debating, public speaking - For barristers in particular, mooting, debating and public speaking experience will help to develop relevant skills. The four Inns of Court run training and competitions in these areas – providing students with great experience.
Other relevant experience
If you are interested in commercial law, experience in a commercial environment eg bank, insurance, accountancy office etc will be useful, for property law consider estate agent work etc.
In the past, students with an interest in criminal law have been successful in organising placements with the Public Defender Service and the Crown Prosecution Service, whilst others have volunteered with organisations such as Victim Support. These and other opportunities with charities and voluntary groups are an excellent way to start building the interpersonal and communication skills, sensitivity and confidentiality needed when working with clients in the future.
Voluntary and extracurricular activities
Opportunities exist within the Law School for Law students to develop their practical legal skills. A number of pro bono schemes are available, as well as opportunities to take part in mooting competitions, public speaking, negotiation and client interviewing activities.Outside the Law School, volunteer opportunities exist with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, and with charities/organisations such as Shelter, Women’s Aid, Age Concern, Hafal and many more. Voluntary experience can help you gain a better understanding of issues facing particular client groups and can develop your interpersonal and communication skills.
Local links and events
Firms of solicitors and barristers visit Cardiff University to make presentations during the year. Check the Careers & Employability page on the Student Intranet and notice boards in the Law School to find out who has arranged forthcoming visits.
Hundreds of legal opportunities are publicised at the Cardiff Law Fair, held annually in City Hall in early November.
A second event has taken place in recent years: Alternative Career Routes into Law. This event includes a programme of careers talks and an exhibitor area with law related employers who recruit outside of the traditional solicitor and barrister routes.
Current Law students can join the local branch of the Junior Lawyers Division, which organises regular training and networking events which are an excellent opportunity to meet other legal professionals (student membership is free).
Employers and Vacancy Sources:
- Chambers Student Guide - pick up a copy from the Careers & Employability Centre
- Lawcareers.net - pick up a copy of the Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook and Best in Law from the Careers & Employability Centre
- Lex100 - pick up a copy from the Careers & Employability Centre
- Pupillage Gateway - lists all pupillages available in the UK – register to apply for these opportunities
- TARGETjobs Law - Solicitors/Barristers - pick up copies of TARGETjobs Law; Vacation Schemes & Mini-pupillages; and Pupillages from the Careers & Employability Centre