in Legal Profession, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

Areas of Law to avoid getting work experience or a training contract in unless you are a sado-masochist

Areas of Law to Avoid unless you are a sado-masochist

The title of this article speaks for itself.  These are the areas of law  to avoid getting work experience in, finding paralegal work or applying for training contracts in 2013.

  • Crime
  • LSC funded Immigration
  • Personal injury
  • LSC funded Family Law
  • Social Welfare and
  • Mental Health.

Please read this article very carefully as it may save you and your legal career a lot of problems in future years.

Unless you are a sado-masochist or have a particular vocation to do one of these fields you should not touch them with a barge pole at any time whilst starting out in your legal career. These areas of law are toxic.

Courtesy of a number of governments – I first wrote this article in June 2013 – there is no future at all in crime, immigration, family, mental health and any other legally aided types of law.

The future in these areas lies in call centres, the use of non-qualified staff, contract work for existing practitioners in these fields, and a gradual decline in the numbers of lawyers employed to deal with these matters.

You may not believe me and think that this is scaremongering.  Similarly you may read this article in 10 years time and wonder what all the fuss was about.

If a Labour government win the next election, the Shadow Minister for Justice has already said that the current Governments proposals are wrong and that he would not have implemented them.  He is a politician and needs to say the opposite of the Government. Voters with a longer memory may recall that this was not what he said when he was in Government together with all the other Labour Party MPs.

The plans to get rid of the Legal Aid system have been in place for many years and started with a Conservative Government, carried on by a Labour Government and are now being put into by place by a Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government.

This is why we are able to say there is absolutely no future in these fields of law and if you spend your time getting work experience or working as a paralegal in these areas you are not only potentially damaging your future career prospects but also you are limiting your opportunities.

Even if the Legal Aid system survives without the whole thing being outsourced to Sodexxo, Serco or Capita, let’s look at the wages that are likely to be in place when you qualify in 2 to 3 years’ time.

At the moment a newly qualified solicitor undertaking crime work in and around London will earn approximately £23,000 per year.  In 1997 the average wage of a newly qualified solicitor undertaking crime in and around London was about £26,000, possibly slightly higher.  The level of inflation that has been in place since 1997 means that in real terms salaries have probably decreased by about £10,000, if not more.

The salary of a Duty Solicitor in crime in 1997 was about £40,000 to £45,000 in London, excluding central London firms where it was slightly higher.  A salary in 2013 of a duty solicitor in London is around the £30,000 mark and almost certainly looking likely to drop to about £27,000 once the competitive tendering proposals come in.

This means that in real terms salaries have probably fallen for duty solicitors by about 60%.  Putting this into perspective, if you wanted to purchase a house after qualification within 5 years then it is unlikely that you would find one within 100 miles of central London.

Considering that newly qualified police officers in London get paid £6,000 or £7,000 more than this, newly qualified firemen slightly less, a newly qualified teacher £3,000 or £4,000 more, you can see that spending money with the University of Law or BPP or any of the other providers on a course that costs well over £10,000 is just absolutely and complete waste of money.

You may as well go and work in Tescos on night shifts stacking shelves than enter a legal career in these fields of law.  You will earn more money and have less stress and possibly have more certainty of a job in 2 to 3 years plus a pension.

So far I have not mentioned personal injury, which is in my recommended areas of law to avoid in 2013.  Personal injury has been decimated by the reforms foisted upon it by the somewhat close links this current government has with the insurance industry.  This has meant that the maximum costs recoverable in an insurance claim had been set at a fixed rate, and one that very few companies can make very much money out of.

Furthermore, solicitors’ firms have been banned from paying referral fees in personal injury cases, which is almost certainly going to see certain types of work drying up.  Whilst all of this is definitely the industry’s own fault, and a tendency for solicitors to produce advertising that makes them sound like ambulance chasers, behave in unscrupulous ways to attract customers and generally fail to regulate themselves, it leaves the personal injury legal job markets in a terrible state of decline.

There have been redundancies right across the board and now there are very few opportunities for qualified solicitors to work in personal injury.  The vast majority of work is being swept up by insurance companies who now have their own stakes in solicitors’ firms in order to create even more profit than they were beforehand.  Paralegal work is the future here and it is almost always on a fairly casual and temporary basis as costs are being driven down.  Getting work once you have finished your training contract is close to impossible in the current market and there are plenty of newly qualified personal injury solicitors who have little chance of getting work in the future because there are no opportunities for qualified staff.

So where should you be looking for training contracts, work experience and paralegal work etc ?  The answer has to be in commercial law, if you have good A Levels of more than 3 Bs and a 2:1 Law Degree or the chance of getting one.  If you do not have these then you should be considering a training contract and experience that exposes you to non-contentious law on the high street (ie conveyancing, wills & probate and company/commercial) as these are likely to be the remaining areas that anyone can make any money out of undertaking law work on the high street.

Do not for a second think that the new entrants to the legal market are going to give you opportunities to qualify.  It is very unlikely that the likes of the Cooperative Legal Services and similar new entrants are going to be offering many training contracts as they simply do not need solicitors to undertake the type of work they do.

The new entrants to the market will automate the vast majority of processes wherever possible, use non-qualified staff wherever possible to keep the costs down and be concerned solely with increasing their own profits for either their members or their shareholders at the expense of having qualified staff rather than non-qualified.

Salaries have traditionally been good with new entrants, but career prospects tend to be fairly poor.
Clearly if someone like the Cooperative Legal Services wishes to comment on this article please feel free and we will post your response here, particularly if you have any statistics to the contrary regarding salary and staff retention levels.

In summary there are toxic areas of law that only a sado-masochist would want to go into or practice in.  Think carefully before you take work experience offered to you as it can affect your career prospects for the rest of your legal career.

Jonathan Fagan is a solicitor (non-practising), a recruitment consultant and a Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. He has an optimistic outlook on life generally, but this does not assist when looking at the current state of the legal job market from the Legal Aid perspective!

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk