How to Work as a Lawyer in the UK – top tips
in Careers Advice, Legal Profession, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

How to Work as a Lawyer in the UK – top tips

Here are the Ten Percent Legal Recruitment top tips for becoming a lawyer in the UK.

Firstly, bear in mind that there are quite a few different types of lawyer working in the UK, including barristers, solicitors, “non-qualified fee earners”, legal executive, licensed conveyancer, will writers and paralegals. In case it assists, a “non-qualified fee earner” is someone who works in the capacity of a lawyer in a law firm doing work that generates fees for the law firm. So an unqualified conveyancing executive buying and selling houses would be a fee earner, because they are producing fee income for the solicitors firm in question.

This guide is a list of 5 tips on how to become any one of these in as easiest way as possible.

  1. Ensure that you are born into a family where one of your close relatives is a lawyer. This is a sure-fire way of qualifying or working as a lawyer, especially if you want to be a barrister. Most barristers are linked to other barristers by birth or relation, and it is exceedingly difficult to become a barrister without having family in the profession already. Even if you do get in without having a member of your family already working as a barrister, it is highly likely that you will struggle to get work unless you are supremely gifted in some way. Nepotism rules in the legal profession? Definitely..
  2. Work very hard at university, get A grade A-level and A* GCSEs (now 9’s), do lots of extracurricular activities, go to university and get a first class or very high 2:1 degree, and make sure you have plenty of work experience via vacation placements in large London city firms. This is the key to having a career as a solicitor in the city of London or a large regional law firm where you will be guaranteed six figure salaries and lots of hours working very hard for the rest of your career.
  3. Work in a non-regulated legal industry. This is all the rage and is set to be one of the biggest expanding areas in the next 10 years thanks to the SRA deciding that solicitors can work in these companies as well. De-regulated work is any work that is not reserved to be done specifically by a solicitor, barrister or qualified lawyer such as a legal executive or licensed conveyancer. This includes most court actions (litigation), conveyancing, probate and a number of other fields. It does not include will writing, contract drafting and most non-contentious commercial work. As a result it is much easier by way of example, to become a will writer working for a firm of will writers or financial advisers selling associated products than it is to become a solicitor working in will drafting and undertaking probate, because the work is not regulated and essentially anyone can do it.
  4. Do as much work experience in any type of law firm or chambers as you possibly can, as this is the future for your career. Anyone who completes a law degree or legal qualification and has no legal experience must be utterly insane or badly advised because this is the key to getting ahead in law, and if you have gone into a legal qualification planning to get ahead in law there is little chance of you ever achieving this without you getting extensive work experience under your belt. See it as an investment for the future and not as a hassle, and you will come to appreciate work experience a lot more.
  5. Buy a law firm or get someone you know to buy a law firm.Not as crazy as it sounds and something that is becoming increasingly popular for potential trainee solicitors. If your parents have some equity in their house or savings, it does not actually cost as much as you would think to purchase an existing law firm. By way of example, a small high street practise with a turnover of about £250,000 to £300,000 in leasehold premises and a few staff is likely to cost you between £100,000 and £150,000 to purchase. The firm is then able to offer you a training contract, which you can complete and then go into that practise as a partner at some point in the future. Your parents would have an asset they can take an income from, and you would have a career to be forever thankful to your parents for. We know of solicitors who have started their career by doing this and it is potentially an option where you have fairly well off parents, or parents with equity you can tap into. A reasonable return for your parents would be about 7 to 8% on their investment once you had taken over the practice. This level of return is not bad at all, particularly because they will have guaranteed your qualification as a lawyer.

Alternatively to these top tips, you could follow the conventional route of going to law school, getting a few good grades, some bad grades, carrying on to do your post-graduate qualification to move forward, and then spend 2 to 5 years scraping round for paralegal work or internships, and getting further and further into debt. If you do go down this route, rest assured that the vast majority of graduates and entrants to the profession are in a similar situation, and you are not alone.

You do not need to struggle too hard if you go about your career in a structured way and don’t just leave things to chance….

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