The Law is Diverse and Accessible: a Guide to Careers in Law
As a way to introduce myself, I’m Grace McConnell and I work for Pro-Law as General Practice Assistant. I have recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a qualifying law degree. The aim of this article is to outline all of the different careers in law and the different ways in which you can qualify. I am also trying to show that the law can be accessible to all when the information is available.
The most traditional route is to complete a qualifying law degree, like myself. However, this does not mean you are then a fully-fledged lawyer. The next step is to decide if you want to be qualified as a solicitor or barrister. A solicitor advises the client and prepares the case, whereas a barrister then represents a client, if required, at court.
To become a solicitor, a course called the LPC needs to be taken after completing a law degree. This is one further year of study at university that prepares you for training within a firm. After the LPC has been completed, aspiring solicitors need to compete for a training contract. This is a 2-year long training period within a firm, before final qualification as a solicitor. To make matters more complicated, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have recently approved a new method of qualification. This is known as the SQE. The SQE differs from the LPC as it requires two sets of exams which can be taken more flexibly around qualifying periods of work training. The aim of the SQE is to make the law more accessible and affordable, as the LPC is very expensive. However, it remains to be seen how law firms and businesses will respond to this new method, and whether it will truly be more accessible. This will be an interesting one to watch over the coming years!
The next most traditional route is to become a barrister. This is the route I am hoping to pursue. The next step here is to complete the bar course. This is commonly abbreviated to the BPC or BPTC. This is also a one-year course to be studied at university. After this has been completed, you must then compete for a coveted pupillage place within a barrister’s chambers. A pupillage is notoriously hard to gain, and the expense of this route can be a barrier to many. This is something I am having to seriously consider myself. There are the options of scholarships and other funding, but it is tough. A misconception about the bar is also that all barristers are very well paid. This could not be further from the truth for criminal pupil barristers. This is largely due to the amount of Legal Aid work they are given. (Legal Aid is provided by the government for those defendants who cannot afford legal representation themselves). However, Legal Aid has faced large cuts in recent years making the work often un-profitable. However, as with many professions, this can improve as you become a more accomplished practitioner.
Turning to the less traditional routes, there is the option to train as a Chartered Legal Executive (CILEx). Upon qualification legal executives have the same rights as their solicitor counterparts – however many firms don’t perceive the roles to be exactly the same yet. But, it is a growing route to qualification that an increasing number of firms are accepting and even actively promoting.
To qualify as a legal executive, a number of exams must be taken, and a portfolio of work has to be compiled. This is often completed whilst working at a firm, so study is required outside of work. This can be an attractive option for many people as it enables them to earn money whilst completing their legal training. Many firms will even cover the cost of your study as it will result in them gaining a legal executive (another fee earner) at their firm.
Another option is to train as a paralegal. A paralegal can handle cases themselves and is considered to be a more junior lawyer. Our paralegal here at Pro-Law, Koren Pitcher, did just that, which has enabled her to become a fee earner alongside our director, Ian Mason.
Koren became interested in the Mental Capacity Act whilst working in a local care home, she heard of the upcoming trainee paralegal post at Pro-Law through a family member and her initial thought was ‘I don’t think I have the grades to do that!’. How wrong! Training as a paralegal is difficult, it is challenging at times but you do not need to be an A* student!
There are different courses you can do such as CILEX, IOP and NALP. Koren chose the NALP route where she studied a Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies for 2 years (alongside working at Pro-Law) achieving an overall Merit grade. There were 10 units split into 2 categories; General Principles of Law and Procedural Law which needed to be completed and passed each time, a few of these being Criminal Law, Wills Intestacy and Family Provision and Matrimonial and Civil Partnership Disputes. By completing this course it now enables Koren to use A.NALP after her name as she is an ‘associate’ member of the NALP. Koren could technically now, as she has more than 3 years’ experience, and the relevant qualification, obtain a licence to practice. This would enable her to set up her own firm and practice as a Paralegal – although this is not something Koren is looking to do any time soon, it may be in your future goals!
There are also many support staff roles that offer a great career in law. This can include becoming a legal secretary, practice assistant (like me!) or a clerk in a barrister’s chambers. These can be great careers within themselves or serve as a great foundation and insight into a more senior role within law. These roles are pivotal to the successful running of a firm or chambers and should not be overlooked.
Which option to pick?
The reason I have personally chosen to try and pursue a career as a barrister is because I love advocacy. I like the idea of representing my clients in court and to come away with the desired aim for them. It is important to assess your strengths and weaknesses when considering a career in law. Not just for a particular area of law, but what you might want to qualify as, and how this can be achieved. My top tips would be to try and gain as much experience as you can. I appreciate that this can be quite hard locally, but a lot of experiences that you gain can be beneficial, not just specifically legal ones. For instance, I loved drama as a child – this helped me to realise I didn’t particularly have a problem with public speaking, and even enjoyed it. Even my part-time jobs in hospitality have been relevant. After all, a career in law is all about providing a top-notch service to clients. Another tip would be to do as much research as you can. Whether this is about university, legal apprenticeships, or something else, knowledge is the key to making informed decisions for your future.
Lastly, it is important to note that the law is supposed to reflect the society that we live in. Therefore, everyone that works within the law should be as diverse as our society. Don’t ever think that you don’t fit the stereotype, as I hope I have evidenced, there is not just one category of ‘lawyer.’ Not everyone needs the highest grades in their class to pursue a career in law. If you think it may be right for you – then do some more research.
I hope this has been helpful – if anyone has any further questions please don’t hesitate to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will endeavour to try and help or point you in the right direction at least.
Here are some helpful links to organisations I have discussed above and some other useful sites that make a great starting point for research on careers in law: