So you think you want to study law…
If you’re thinking about getting into a career in law then you're probably wondering which A-levels to choose, which university to select and what specific path you want to follow. In this article, I hope to answer these questions for you and offer some guidance.
Regarding A-levels there is no set guide on what subjects to pick to get into an LLB law course. You don’t necessarily have to study law and some universities even prefer it if yo
u don’t study law. The choice is essentially up to you. However, I would suggest picking subjects that help you think analytically and build up your essay writing skills. Subjects like sociology, history and government and politics are very useful to aid these skills. However, you don’t have to study law at university to become a lawyer, you can study any subject and then take a one-year conversion course, the Graduate Diploma in Law (more on that later).
After you’ve picked your A-levels it is important to study hard as the sort of law firm you want to work for and which university you want to go is often dependant upon your A level results. I suggest going to as many university open days as possible to get a sense of the campus and their degree programs. Which university is best for law is simply a matter of preference. Oxford and Cambridge are obviously famous for being the most prestigious, but there are many more to choose from. For example, the Universities of Kent and Hull also have respected law clinics. Looking outside the obvious choices can also lead to unique opportunities such as Canterbury Christ Church University’s mediation clinic. The list goes on, so the choice is up to you
UCAS applications can be frustrating. The best advice I have is to persevere through your long application. My advice on the matter of personal statements would be to be as concise as possible. Don’t be afraid to disagree with certain opinions. If you don’t think an ideology or decision is correct then say so, but always evidence your opinion.
University is not the only way to get into a career in the general legal profession, but it is the only route if your career goal is to become a solicitor or barrister. If you want to begin a career as a paralegal or legal executive there are many more options open to you. For example, you could start a legal apprenticeship. Some larger firms, such as Bond Dickinson, now offer apprenticeships to become paralegals. You could also take a course with the National Association of Licensed Paralegals or CILEx and train to be a legal executive. There are many paths into a legal career so if university is not an attractive option to you then don’t worry; there are still routes available for you.
Now we’ve gotten the academic bit out of the way, you should start considering which career path you want to follow, namely whether you want to be a solicitor or a barrister. It’s not uncommon to switch your preference between the two. Both have their disadvantages and advantages, which I will set out below;
Everyone likes the idea of becoming a barrister and strutting around with a wig and gown, but when you immerse yourself in the reality of the legal work you will find that is not really like that at all.
The main focus of barristers is advocacy, which is going to court and representing your client. Another aspect of their job that sets them apart from solicitors is that nearly all of them (80%) are self-employed. This means they have the freedom to work when they want, but on the flip side, they don’t get holiday pay, sick pay, or the security of a monthly wage. Salary is something that is very hard to predict when talking about barristers, some may earn £20,000 a year whereas top QC’s can earn over £1 million a year; it depends where they work and which area of law they practice. It is possible to work as an employed barrister; the most popular providers of training for these positions are the Crown Prosecution Service and the Government Legal Service.
I would suggest applying to chambers (this is a workplace for barristers) for mini-pupillages (work experience with a barrister). This can be very helpful in helping you decide whether a career at the Bar is right for you. You should start applying at the end of your first year through to the end of your second year.
If you decide that a career at the Bar is for you, then you should start applying for pupillages, a place on the BPTC, and to the Inns of Court scholarships. The BPTC is compulsory vocational training to become a barrister, and is a very expensive course. If you can't find an organization to fund you then your best hope is a scholarship from the Inns. Once you have completed your BPTC then you move on to pupillage (one-year practical training) at a barristers chambers. This is paid work and the salary will vary. When pupillage is complete, provided the chambers offers you tenancy, you are a fully-fledged barrister. However, it is important to remember that this is an extremely hard path to follow.
Solicitors, on the other hand, generally work in a firm with partners, other solicitors, fee earners, paralegals and legal secretaries. Their main focus is giving legal and commercial advice to clients; they can also manage a client's assets like the distribution of a client's estate upon death.
Once you have decided to qualify as a solicitor, your first job will be to research which firm you are interested in working for. There are many options; international firms, US firms, City firms, national firms, regional firms or high street firms. Applying for vacation schemes (work experience with solicitors firm) is your next job. This will usually be done in your second year. Applications open in October and most of them have a deadline of late January to early February. Some of these schemes are paid and the salary depends on the firm. Your training contract applications will also take place in your second year; entry requirements vary from firm to firm.
If you are lucky enough to get an offer of a training contract then you need to start applying for places on LPC courses. The LPC is the one-year vocational training you need to qualify as a solicitor. After completing your LPC course you then move on to the training contract. This consists of two years working in a law firm supervised by partners and associates. After those two years, you are then a qualified solicitor, and all that hard work has paid off!
As previously mentioned, if you want to become either a solicitor or barrister but did not study law at university there are still options available. You just make training contract applications in your third year of your chosen subject, or pupillage applications while taking the Graduate Diploma in Law. You then follow the same steps as everyone else.
Qualifying as a lawyer is likely to be a stimulating and rewarding experience. However, you need to be completely committed to your career goal as the path to qualifying is expensive, challenging (academically and mentally) and competitive.