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Legal Graduate Jobs - Careers Guide

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The legal sector covers a huge area, from property to human rights to custody of children to copyright to banking. The law touches on and defines everything that we do, and is the foundation of any functioning society. Working in law means that you will have a level of responsibility that is hardly matched by any other profession.

This social responsibility means that a higher level of education than an undergraduate degree is needed if you are to forge a career in this sector. Graduate opportunities in law are highly popular and therefore competitive, and before you can begin working you will almost certainly have to complete further training. What your training is specifically will depend on which route and particular role you decide upon.

Jobs in law that graduates may wish to consider include:

  • Solicitor
  • Solicitor advocate
  • Patent attorney
  • Barrister
  • Barrister’s clerk

The word 'lawyer' is an umbrella term used to describe both solicitors and barristers.

Working in law could mean that you are employed by a private law firm, which will have a number of lawyers and solicitors on its books, available for hire by businesses or individuals. Alternatively you could work in a public firm such as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), or for an organisation such as Citizen's Advice.

Many of those in the legal profession for businesses or organisations, either in the private or public sector, advising on issues, ensuring the legality of actions and representing staff in legal situations.

What degree do I need? TOP ^

There is no requirement to have a law degree in order to work in the legal sector. Graduates with degrees such as history, English literature or even the sciences - essentially anything academic and challenging that makes you think deeply - are much sought out by employers. The law sector is extremely competitive, so to be successful you must have at least a 2.1, as well as a large amount of work experience and a clear commitment to the career path you have chosen.

If your degree is not in law you will need to take a one year law conversion course for most legal careers. There are two options for conversion courses: the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).

After completion of your undergraduate degree there are various options, depending on the legal career that you choose to pursue.

  • Solicitor: law conversion course if required, followed by a one year Legal Practice Course (LPC), which will provide the skills needed. You will then undertake a two year training contract within a legal practice, which will also include a Professional Skills Course (PSC). This will lead to qualified solicitor status.
  • Solicitor advocate: after qualification as a solicitor, a Higher Rights of Audience Course, regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), is taken.
  • Patent attorney: a technical degree, such as engineering, mathematics or any of the sciences, is desirable for a patent attorney. Although not required, postgraduate qualifications, such as an LLM in Intellectual Property Law, might give you the edge.
  • Barrister: law conversion course if required, followed by Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), a one year course focusing on skills and legal knowledge. This will be followed by a pupillage, which will allow you to practice, and which you should apply for before you begin the BPTC. You can apply for your pupillage at up to 12 chambers. Also in the period before you start your BPTC you should apply to become a member of one of the Inns of Court – the historic Inns in London that will provide support and advice from the established legal community.
  • Barrister’s clerk: a degree is not necessary for this role, although a strong skillset is required and work experience in the legal sector is important.

What skills do I need? TOP ^

Working in the legal sector requires as extremely strong skillset, which is why so much postgraduate training is required. Specific skills needed to work in law, which depending on your career choice you will gain through your training, include:

  • Court etiquette
  • Knowledge of the law
  • Accurate note-taking
  • Interpretation of the law
  • Managing legal briefs
  • Researching the law
  • Advice giving

More general skills that are seen as standard for work across the legal sector include:

What graduate legal job can I do? TOP ^

There are many legal jobs available for graduates who have the relevant qualifications. Although this list is not exhaustive, some popular jobs in law include:

  • Solicitor: advising clients on legal issues and providing support. They are the first point of contact for the client and may not be themselves involved in the court system.
  • Solicitor advocate: the same role as a solicitor, with the added responsibility of representing clients in court - known as having 'higher rights of audience.'
  • Patent attorney: researching and investigating inventions in order to determine whether they can be given patented status, and dealing with any infringements that arise.
  • Barrister: representing clients in court, providing advocacy, and liaising between the client and the judge. Queen’s Councils (QCs) are senior barristers with a number of years experience, appointed by the Queen because of their high ability.
  • Barrister's clerk: organisation, business and administration of a barrister's chambers, including being an expert in the type of law being practiced in that particular chamber.

Average law salaries TOP ^

Salaries in the legal profession vary greatly, depending on your role and the level of experience you have. A rough guide to what you could expect follows:

  • Solicitor: Starting salaries may be between £17,000 and £19,000, with very qualified solicitors earning up to £75,000. Partners in law firms could take home £100,000+.
  • Patent attorney: Starting salaries are between £25,000 and £32,500; those with 5 years experience could earn £60,000. Partners could earn as high as £400,000.
  • Barrister: Wages vary greatly, with those in the Crown Prosecution Service earning £29,000 - £80,000 and self-employed barristers up to £300,000. QCs may earn up to £1,000,000.
  • Barrister's clerk: depending on the size of your chamber, you could start on as little as £12,000 (whilst training) and earn in excess of £100,000.
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