This article is aimed at anybody who is or has contemplated a career as a lawyer, and is going to be a brief outline of the various things you need to be thinking about when it comes to planning a potential career in law.
Everything will depend very much on your age and the time in your life when you are thinking about going into law, and this specific article is really aimed at someone who is about 15 to 17 years old and contemplating what to do and how to do it in order to become a lawyer.
First things first, you need to have a think about your academic studies. What GCSE grades are you going to be getting and where do you see your strengths in terms of those GCSEs? Firstly, probably best to ignore the teacher at school who tells you that in order to become a lawyer you need to study A level law. A lot of qualified lawyers do not have an A level in law, partly because they will have been to schools where A levels in law are not taught..
It is more likely to find qualified lawyers with A levels in English, history, politics, economics, maths, science subjects or any of the similar humanities including geography and classics. Traditionally some schools recommended getting an A level in Latin or in classical studies of some sort because of the obvious connections in law to the use of Latin, but as the years have gone on this has become less relevant because less Latin is used in court or legal studies.
Find your passion
When it comes to A levels our advice would be to choose the A levels that you want to do, which will make you interested and keep you stimulated throughout your two years of study. Studying for an A level that you really don’t like, or you have a strong dislike for the subject teacher is not really going to mean that you come out the other end with a decent set of grades.
Studying for your A levels is going to have to be something that takes over your life for a period of two years. Getting into law is one of the hardest professions to break into, and getting onto an academic course is the easy bit of the whole process. If you haven’t got it in you to sit down and study hard in order to be aiming at the top grades, then probably law is not for you.
Yes you can get into some law schools now with very low grades, particularly as some universities get increasingly desperate for students and the fees that they bring with them, but it’s not going to help you get out the other end and into a qualified position.
The whole ethos of being a lawyer is the ability to study – quite a lot of a lawyer’s work involves studying text and thinking through consequences and giving advice on those consequences, and if you do not have the ability in yourself to sit and concentrate on doing this when it comes to A levels then you probably need to be thinking about something else in terms of a career.
So set yourself a target right at the start of your A levels and think about what grades you can get if you really put your mind to it. When your friends are going out in the evenings and just fitting in a bit of homework here or there, make sure you are not one of these people. You need to be sat at home studying, and studying hard. Your reward will come later if you want to go and become a lawyer.
So, you pick your A levels, you make a decision that you are going to study as hard as you possibly can, but what next?
Find out about legal careers
The most important thing that you could be doing in order to think about a career in law is to make sure that you understand what a career in law entails. There are so many different jobs that you can go into as a lawyer that you need to be aware of what these are. The next paragraph is a very brief summary of the different strands, so if you already know this then skip over it and move on to the next bit of advice.
Lawyers in the UK break into different types, which are: barristers, solicitors, legal executives, licensed conveyancers, paralegals and will writers. There are other things such as notary public and commissioners of oaths, but these are the main types of lawyer. The most common type of lawyer is a solicitor, who is a type of lawyer regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and will have a practising certificate entitling them to give advice. There are over 120,000 solicitors in the UK, and this is by far the usual route into the profession. Barristers are regulated by the Bar Council and there are a significantly lower number of these. It is incredibly hard to firstly get qualified as a barrister, and secondly to get the experience necessary in order to launch your career. The age-old advice when it comes to barristers is that you should only consider this as a route if you have family connections at the bar, or you have a lot of money behind you in order to back you. Legal executives are very similar to solicitors except the level of qualification tends to be slightly lower, and it is a more practical way of becoming a lawyer in the UK than going down the route of solicitor or barrister. Paralegals are non-qualified lawyers, will writers are non-qualified will writers, and that is probably as much as you need to know. If you are at the early stage of looking at a career in law then you probably need to be looking at either a solicitor, barrister or legal executive as a route in.
Level of study
The next think you need to be aware of is the level of study that you are going to need to do. Most undergraduate law degrees are three years long with some being four years if you spend an additional year overseas studying, and it is important to look at law degrees that are exempting degrees for the purposes of qualification. These are usually LLB degrees rather than BA Hons or BSc Hons or combined studies. There are certain subjects you need to have covered in your law degree in order to progress to the next level.
Once you have finished your law degree you will then move on to the next qualification, which is the solicitors qualifying exam, which is a new concept brought out in 2021 which basically involves an exam plus a quantity of work experience, which then means you can become a solicitor. Barristers have to complete a Bar course (which seems to change its name every few years but is currently the BPC), and this involves 12 months of study at some extortionate price from one of the universities who provide it. This is then followed up with pupillage with a set of chambers and this is by far the hardest bit of the whole process other than spending all the money on doing the Bar course.
To become a legal executive you have to complete a number of exams and get some appropriate experience behind you. You can go on after qualifying as a legal executive to qualify as a solicitor, but this is usually the route taken if your grades are not as strong or there is another reason why you haven’t been able to go down the solicitor qualification route.
NB: there is also the apprentice route into law now as well, although it does not yet seem to have rolled out generally across the country.
So that’s the academic side, and to start the ball rolling it is not exactly the easiest thing to go and do, but compared with getting on with your legal career is probably considerably easier.
This is by far the hardest thing that you will find when it comes to breaking into the legal profession. There is no such thing as bad work experience, and there is no time other than the present in order to get it. Thinking about getting a job in a shop earning £6 an hour at the weekend? Forget it. You’re much better spending your time trying to get some work experience and writing round to local law firms or phoning them up and just seeing if someone will take you on in order to get some experience of how the legal profession works.
Anything legally related is better than nothing, and so many students get to the end of their law degree without actually knowing what it is a solicitor or barrister does. This has to be the priority for you above everything else, and you’ve simply got to see it as an investment in your future career. The more effort you get into finding out about law now, the more chance you have of succeeding later on. The more time you spend doing non-legally related things, the harder it is going to be in the future to actually get ahead in your legal career.
You need to be aware that there are lots of different types of lawyers doing lots of different fields of law, but when you start your career the best thing to do is to go and get as much experience as you can in as many different areas of law as you possibly can. So going to see what a crime solicitor does at the Magistrates Court will give you an idea as to the sorts of things you’ll be doing if you went down that route, but similarly it means that you can discount it if it’s something you definitely don’t want to do.
Attending the Crown Court to see what a barrister does in a Crown Court trial (more serious crimes) is another thing that you can do without much effort at all, and again it simply gives you a flavour as to what the type of work is going to be. At the same time as this, there are lots of other types of lawyers including in-house lawyers working for companies in legal departments, lawyers working for local authorities, lawyers working in lots of different fields of law within private practice which can range from shipping through to family law, and any experience you can get in any of these is going to make a huge difference to your future chances of success in law.
So in summary, work very, very hard at your A levels, get the highest grades that you possibly can and start looking around for as much work experience as you possibly can as well. Getting into law has never been easy; getting on in law is even harder.