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Legal Careers Explained

Solicitor or Barrister?

A law degree is one that will be attractive to prospective employers; demonstrating academic commitment and capability, and so opening up numerous opportunities for many candidates in a variety of employment sectors. Many students though, will probably want to practice law as a career. To this end, there are two main career routes post law degree: solicitor or barrister. In this article I will explore both options and hope to provide a comprehensive analysis of what to expect in each role.

Training

The time at which you are required to make a decision as to your preferred career path is at a relatively early stage. While a law degree (or non law degree and GDL conversion) tends to be a prerequisite for both, the similarities culminate there.

Upon finishing university, the routes differ. If you decide a career as a solicitor is the one you wish to pursue, you will be required to undertake the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for the next year. This is effectively the vocational stage of the training. The LPC is a costly course and the full time option starts at £10,965. The final requirement for qualification is to secure and complete a two year training contract.

For those wishing to go to the Bar, the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is the equivalent vocational training stage. Again, it isn’t cheap with full time course fees starting at £13,155. The final stage of the training is to secure and complete Pupillage, which will last for 12 months.

Day to day work

The work carried out by solicitors or barristers differs a great deal from one to the other. This part of the article is dedicated to outlining the sort of work each career route is exposed to. You ought to think about your strengths and weaknesses as you read this next section and try to establish if and where they would fit in to the typical types of work.

The quality and nature of the work carried out by a solicitor will vary depending upon the firm and the area of law in which they tend to specialise. Typically, you can expect a solicitor to spend time advising clients on a point of law or any related legal issues to their query, or interviewing clients to establish the main aspects of their query. As the process moves forward, a solicitor is likely to prepare and produce documents such as letters or contracts on the client’s behalf. A solicitor may be required to negotiate for their client with the other client’s solicitor to reach a mutual arrangement or agreement. There will often be research required on a particular legal issue or the analysis of case law for a client.

Solicitors will spend time preparing case files and bundles for court and they may correspond frequently with the barrister who they have instructed to represent the client at court. Solicitors can represent their own clients in court, particularly if they have higher rights of audience. However this role tends to be left to a barrister, especially if it is a particularly complex issue or point of law.

The work of a solicitor tends to be largely office based due to the nature of drafting documents, writing letters and corresponding with clients. They will usually work in an office with other solicitors doing a similar type of work.

The work carried out by a barrister will vary again, depending on the area of law in which they specialise. However some of the general day to day tasks and underlying responsibilities are similar.

A barrister will spend a lot of the time representing clients in court, having been instructed by a solicitor or a client directly. Representation will often involve the presentation of an argument to help their client’s case, or to negate the credibility of the other side’s case. The process may also involve the examination-in-chief and cross-examination of witnesses, either to support their own case or disprove that of the opposition.

Despite the time spent in court, a barrister will have to do a lot of work in preparation to ensure a sound understanding of their client’s case and the legal aspects of the issue. While it may be in their area of specialism, a barrister can often be required to undertake a considerable amount of research on a point of law prior to attendance at court to ensure they are able to interpret it effectively. Moreover, a barrister will often prepare a legal argument and hold conferences with a client as part of the typical tasks prior to attendance at court.

Outside of court, a barrister will also spend time drafting legal documents and writing legal opinions. They will often give advice to clients as to the likely outcome of a case based on the merits of the case and strength of the evidence being heard in court.

Barristers work in chambers, which allows a number of independent barristers to work under the same roof and to share their costs. Unlike solicitors, they are self-employed and paid based on the work they carry out rather than on a billable hourly rate. This means that their salary may not always be regularly consistent like the salary of a solicitor.

Making the Decision

It can be seen that there are some similarities between the roles of a solicitor and a barrister, but largely the day to day work they carry out requires different skills set. While solicitors must work well in a team to organise, establish and prepare a case, barristers must be able to work independently and be strong advocates to present a case in court.

If you are still unsure about which route you would like to pursue, there is nothing more valuable than seeing how they work in practice. Get in touch with a high street solicitors firm for some work experience or see if you can shadow a barrister at your local chambers. If you are in your penultimate year of university, try applying for some vacation schemes or mini-pupillages to get a real taste for what life would be like as a solicitor or barrister. That should help to make up your mind!

Alternative Legal Careers

Paralegals

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.

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

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.

Legal Executives

Legal executives are lawyers who specialise in one area of law only. They do similar work to solicitors and are trained to the same level; however, it is only in their chosen area. For example, a criminal legal executive will not be able to take part in work in a contract law dispute, whereas a solicitor could. A law degree is not required to become a legal executive; instead you must take a course recognised by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). However, if you do have a law degree, you would be eligble for the CiLEx fast-track route.

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

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.

In-House Lawyers

An in-house lawyer essentially works for a business or organisation; therefore, they are responsible for the needs of one client. Training can be done in-house or within a private firm. Working as a lawyer in this capacity requires a higher level of commercial awareness and an understanding of how a business runs. So, if corporate law is a big point of interest for you, this could be the route to take.

There are also careers based entirely around the legal profession which require less commitment if the lengthy training period is not for you.

The Justice System

There are a diverse range of careers based entirely around our justice system.

Her Majesty’s Court And Tribunals Service

A number of people with qualifying law degrees may go on to work within their local court. Roles within the Court and Tribunals Service include legal advisers, ushers and court clerks. To become a legal adviser, unlike a paralegal, you must be a qualified lawyer. However, this is not the case for clerks or ushers. A court clerk is responsible mostly for assisting the judge, mainly taking on an administrative role. An usher is responsible for preparing the courtroom and taking care of the witnesses and defendants of a case.

Her Majesty’s Prison Service

The justice system is an extremely important part of our society and there are a number of individuals working towards ensuring that it runs smoothly. There are a number of jobs you could pursue within the prison service, such as becoming a prison officer. Prison officers work directly with prisoners, supervising their behaviour and encouraging them to address their issues. There are also a vast range of opportunities to work with prisoners as a way of encouraging their rehabilitation, such as teaching new practical skills and educating them academically.

Academia

If the law in practice is not something that interests you, then continuing your academic study could be the way to go. Many students after completing their degree, legal or otherwise, choose to enroll to further their study through a master’s or otherwise. If academia is something that interests you, you could continue along this path in order to become a teacher or lecturer in your chosen subject. Many individuals choose to revert back to study or progress to teaching after qualifying as a lawyer, or having pursued an alternative career.

Other

Journalism (Legal Or Otherwise)

If a law degree is going to teach you anything, it is how to research and construct an argument.  As a law student you are constantly learning how to synthesize your ideas. These skills could be invaluable when it comes to providing you with a platform to progress into the field of journalism. This is another common career choice for those who have previously studied law. Having a legal background could help you to stand out when applying for such jobs, whether you wish to write for a legal publication or not.  Furthermore, once obtained, the depth of understanding and knowledge you will gain regarding important worldly issues will only assist you if you wish to pursue a legal career after all.

Accountancy, Banking And Finance

Working in the city for a bank or an accountancy firm could also be seen as a sensible career choice for someone who has obtained a degree in law. A lot of your academic study at University may tie into the knowledge required to work in this sector, as it will all be building and developing your awareness of the commercial world. Common skills such as the ability to advise people and communicate with others are ones which tend to overlap between the legal and financial professions. So, if you prefer dealing with money and do not wish to practice law in this sector, considering a career in the financial world could be a good option for you.

A law degree can be very useful in paving the way for you to fulfill any career aspirations you may have. These may be related to law, or perhaps you wish to delve into the business world by way of a career in human resources or similar. Other career options could include joining the police force or working within politics (just consider how many politicians have law degrees). The possibilities are almost certainly, endless.

 
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