Introduction to Law
Careers within the legal sector can generally be split into two branches: solicitors and barristers. That said, there are an increasing number of different opportunities within the field, including apprenticeships and executive roles.
The sector encompasses many different areas including criminal law, financial law, human rights law and the ever-expanding field of intellectual property law, and you’ll have the opportunity to specialise in the sector(s) that most interest you. You’ll also have the chance to work across a range of industries and with a variety of clients. If you think you might be interested in a career in law, you can find out more below.
What roles are open to me?
The legal profession is becoming more diverse in terms of careers and the range of opportunities on offer. Common career paths include:
- Solicitor. Provides clients with legal advice and assistance, and represents them in and out of the lower courts (tribunals, magistrates' courts and county courts).
- Barrister. Specialises in advocacy and presents client cases in court. In contrast to solicitors, barristers are rarely instructed directly by the client. Instead, they are instructed by solicitors to advise on specific legal issues, provide advocacy or prepare legal documents.
- Chartered Legal Executive. Fulfils many of the same roles as a solicitor. The main difference is that a Chartered Legal Executive specialises in only one area of the law.
- Paralegal. Also known as a legal assistant, a paralegal has completed certain legal training but has not qualified as a Chartered Legal Executive or Solicitor. Tasks range from administrative and secretarial tasks to taking witness statements.
In the UK, there are five major law firms known as the Magic Circle: Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Slaughter and May. Every country has its own version of the Magic Circle, while major companies worldwide include Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper, Latham & Watkins and Norton Rose Fulbright (four out of the five Magic Circle companies also rank in the top 10 worldwide, according to The Wall Street Journal).
What qualifications and skills do I need?
Graduate applicants will need a legal qualification and good academic record to gain entry into a graduate scheme or job. To be a solicitor you’ll require an LPC (Legal Practitioner Course); to become a barrister you’ll need a BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course). These qualifications are obtained by studying a law degree, so if you studied another subject you’ll need to complete a conversion course. Read also about the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT).
To pursue a career in law, non-graduates will generally need a specific degree. That said, there are some apprenticeships and entry-level positions that are open to those without a degree. They will also give you the experience you need to gain a place on a law degree course (which is vital for a long-term career in law).
All training is completed before you qualify as a solicitor or barrister.
The application process varies depending on the role in question, but will generally follow the steps below:
- Application form
- Psychometric tests
- Assessment centre aptitude tests (may include a competency-based interview and various numerical, verbal and analytical exercises)
- Partner interview
The average salary varies depending on role and location. The below is a rough guide (all figures shown are per annum):
Trainees: there is no minimum salary for trainee solicitors (beyond satisfying the national minimum wage), however many firms pay competitively and salaries at these firms generally range from £20,000 to £40,000.
Newly qualified solicitors: once qualified, you can expect to earn £25,000 to £40,000, although salaries vary depending on the firm. Some larger commercial firms offer salaries of £58,000 to £65,000, while large City firms may pay in excess of £80,000. Partners: if you progress to partner, you can expect to earn £80,000 to £100,000, although salaries in larger City firms can be up to seven figures. Salaries at US firms will often be even higher.
Pupil Barristers (pupillage year): the minimum salary is set at £12,000, but salaries can be as high as £50,000 (although criminal law may pay significantly less).
Newly qualified barristers: once qualified, you can expect a starting salary of around £25,000, although salaries vary greatly, with some newly qualified barristers earning as much as £90,000 in their first year.
Experienced barristers: your salary increases according to experience. Those with five years’ experience can earn £50,000 to £200,000, while barristers with 10 years’ experience can earn £65,000 to £1 million.
Employed barristers: barristers who work directly for one employer (as opposed to working freelance) can expect a salary of £25,000 to £130,000, depending on experience.
Are there any downsides?
A career in law can be high-pressure and, in some cases, emotionally draining. Long hours, late nights and being on call at weekends or bank holidays are common, and it can be difficult to strike a healthy work-life balance. That said, it can also be an immensely rewarding, diverse and exciting career, with excellent financial rewards.
Is it right for me?
To excel in law you’ll not only need good academic qualifications, you’ll also need excellent communication skills and be able to understand, empathise and communicate well with your clients, witnesses and other members of the law profession. In addition, you’ll need to be capable of presenting information to a wide range of people, have strong analytical skills, and be comfortable working in a (sometimes very) high-pressure environment. To find out more about careers in law, visit our forum.