When studying law at university, most undergraduates are looking to pursue a career practising law as either a barrister or a solicitor. However, competition for these jobs is increasing considerably, as law graduates are not only having to compete with others studying the subject, but are also up against people who have studied the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). In 2009, 17,433 students had qualifying law degrees; however, only 4,874 training contracts were on offer. Similarly, in 2009, 1,852 students were called to the Bar, but only 467 new tenancies were available to be taken up. With competition this vast, law graduates may wish to pursue other careers within the legal sector. Below, are a few alternatives.
A paralegal is an individual with the relevant education to assist with substantive legal work on a daily basis. A career as a paralegal is a real alternative to working as a solicitor or barrister because there are no formal qualifications required for the job. You do not even have to be a graduate – to become a paralegal, you simply get a job as a paralegal. However, law graduates are likely to have the upper hand when applying for paralegal positions.
Paralegals are commonly found in solicitor firms. Although they are not qualified, they carry out much of the work a solicitor does. The exact work done on a daily basis will depend on the type of firm and the paralegal’s position. Junior paralegals are usually involved in preparing and typing legal documents, filing and legal research. As experience is gained, they are usually given more responsibilities, including interviewing clients, attending court, and presenting applications to district judges.
Mediation and other forms of dispute resolution are becoming more and more popular, as the cost of legal representation rises.
Even though no formal qualifications are required to become a paralegal, firms will be looking for several personal qualities. Paralegals must be able to work under pressure and meet deadlines; they must be meticulous and organised and they should possess good computer literacy. It is also important for paralegals to be good at working with a variety of clients and to have excellent communication skills, both written and oral. Paralegals can be employed on either a full or part time basis and can expect starting salaries ranging from £10,000 to £25,000. With experience, salaries can rise to £40,000, or even in excess of £70,000 in top firms. A career as a paralegal is ideal for those who would like to be a solicitor but do not wish to take any further courses.
Legal secretaries are a vital part of firms, as they assist with the day-to-day running of the firm. As with paralegals, there are no specific qualifications required to become a legal secretary. However, legal secretary training diplomas are available to give you the edge over other applicants. The daily work of a legal secretary will, again, depend on experience, with jobs ranging from typing legal documents to attending court. However, a typical day as a legal secretary can also include regular correspondence with clients and other professionals, organising meetings and/or transport, and administrative tasks.
Legal secretaries require similar personal skills to paralegals, including good time management and organisation skills and good computer literacy. It is also essential for legal secretaries to have a professional telephone manner and to be good with email programmes. As a legal secretary, the hours of work would typically be Monday to Friday; however, this will depend on the needs of the firm. Legal secretaries may also be hired on a part time or temporary basis. Expected salaries for legal secretaries would depend on an individual’s level of experience and the type of firm, but can range from £12,000 to £35,000.
The daily work of a legal executive will be very much the same as that of a solicitor.
The daily work of a legal executive will be very much the same as that of a solicitor. This could include advising clients, preparing documents for court, researching legal information and preparing contracts and other legal documents. As with many jobs in law firms, the exact nature of the work will depend on the type of firm and an individual’s level of experience. Most positions are full time, with usual working hours between Monday and Friday. The salary will, again, depend on experience, and can be expected to range from £15,000 to £25,000 during training, and between £35,000 and £55,000 once fully qualified.
Mediators are individuals trained to help resolve disputes without the issue having to go to court. Mediation and other forms of dispute resolution are becoming more and more popular as the cost of legal representation rises. Family mediation is especially popular, with some members of solicitor firms choosing to practice as a family mediator.
Legal qualifications are not a prerequisite for a career as a family mediator. Instead, personal qualities are much more important in such a role. A mediator must be able to deal with upset and/or angry people and must remain calm whilst doing so. They must also be non-judgemental and have good communication skills. As a mediator, you would be expected to meet with clients and discuss the issues they would like to resolve – suggesting solutions to the problem, summarising agreements in writing, and liaising with solicitors and courts, if required. Full time mediator salaries typically range between £25,000 and £35,000.
As well as the careers mentioned above, there are many other possible jobs within the legal sector that do not require any further study. If when graduating you feel as though you no longer want to be a barrister or a solicitor, there any many alternative careers you could consider.