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Law Career Pathways For School Leavers

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Overview

Do you often find that winning over your challenger in a debate comes naturally to you? Do you like helping people? Have you got an analytical mind with a sharp eye for detail? If your answer was yes to any of these questions, and you can combine these traits with a passion for seeing justice being served, then a career in law sounds like a great fit for you.

The law industry takes a lot of hard work and a great deal of studying. However, the industry is known for paying its professionals exceptionally well (law professionals tend to be some of the highest earners in the UK!) and the work is extremely fulfilling.

The industry is primarily made up of lawyers and law administrators. Which route you take will depend upon your strengths, ambitions and interests.

What is a lawyer?



Lawyers can work on civil or criminal cases, and there are two types of lawyers in the industry - a solicitor and a barrister. Solicitors are responsible for supporting private or commercial clients with legal advice, carrying out legal research and where necessary, representing them in court. More often, however, they will be representing and carrying out their legal services in a law firm or office environment.

Barristers spend the majority of their time representing a client in court. They can be self-employed, yet affiliated with a chambers, or hired in-house by either a law firm or large commercial businesses.

A quick way to spot the difference between the two is the dress code. Barristers wear the traditional long back robe and wig whereas a Solicitor has no uniform, and so will likely be wearing a suit. Both roles are well-positioned to progress to a position as a Judge in the future, whose job it is to preside over matters that are brought to a court. A Judge will also make the final decision (otherwise known as a verdict) on a court case.

What jobs are there in legal administration?



Legal administration involves the work of legal administrators, paralegals, clerks and secretaries. They’ll be tasked with the important job of keeping records updated, preparing court forms, assisting in legal research, making appointments and attending court.

Skills

The skills in the law industry vary across each job type. For example, lawyers will need to be able to demonstrate your research skills and have a strong legal and commercial awareness. For a role within the legal administration sector, you’ll require excellent reading and writing skills as well as competent IT skills.

All professionals working in the law industry require a high attention to detail, communication skills and the ability to be able to concentrate over longer-than-average working hours. You should also look to demonstrate evidence of extracurricular activity, team working, strong oral and written communication skills, self-awareness and time management in your applications for legal roles or courses.

Progression opportunities

Sitting at the very top of the hierarchy is the Lord Chief Justice, followed by high court judges then a Judge. In order for a lawyer to become a judge, you’ll require at least seven years of full-time experience in the industry, working as a fully-qualified solicitor or barrister. However, bear in mind that becoming a solicitor or barrister takes years of time, studying and dedication in itself!

According to The Lawyer Portal, you can become a qualified lawyer through a couple of routes. An apprenticeship is likely to take six years to complete and upon completion of it, you will become a fully-qualified solicitor.

Alternatively, you can opt for applying to study a Law Degree at University or a non-law degree plus a law conversion course, such as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Either of these paths will take three to five years to complete, at which point you’ll be faced with making a decision between qualifying as a solicitor or a barrister.

From here, graduates would be required to carry out work experience and various professional training courses.You’ll then be required to complete one year of Pupillage if you’re a fledgling barrister or complete the Legal Practice Course (LPL) if you’re preparing to be a solicitor. Whichever route you take, these extra steps to becoming qualified can take a further four years to complete.

For administrative roles, many people can go straight into assistant level roles after completing school. Clerks can progress to senior clerks and secretaries can work up to being a PA or office manager. Another route into these roles is by starting out as a typist or paralegal.

There are also courses that you can do if you plan to specialise in a certain area of the law, including medical law.

Earning potential

The legal profession is known for paying its employees exceptionally well. Although this might not be true at the very beginning of your career, it will pay off in the long-term. The higher paying firms tend to reside within the City of London.

The average salary for a legal secretary is £18,921 per annum, with top earners making around £30,000 per annum.

Apprentices at law firms may earn considerably higher salaries than the National Minimum Wage (£12,000 to £20,000 being a typical range for an apprentice lawyer), matching the greater levels of responsibility and professionalism demanded by law firms. On completing your apprenticeship, you will typically earn the same as a trainee lawyer at your firm (£25,000 to £45,000 depending on the firm).

The salary of qualified solicitors can range from £25,000 to £100,000, depending on the type of employer. Qualified barristers will have a salary of anything between £25,000 to £300,000. Salaries in the private practice for those with more than ten years of experience can be up to £1,000,000 per annum!

Qualification requirements & subjects to study

If the route of going to University doesn’t appeal to you, law apprenticeships are a fairly new option for school leavers to take. However, you’d be naive to think that this route is the quick and easy option!

The solicitor apprenticeship is a Level 7 programme and still takes five to six years to complete, after which you will be fully-qualified. This is aimed at school leavers who have completed their A-levels, a Level 3 paralegal apprenticeship or a chartered legal executive apprenticeship. You will typically obtain the equivalent of an undergraduate law degree (LLB) before progressing onto the Legal Practice Course (LPC). There are also options to complete fewer years’ study, which will result in you becoming a part-qualified lawyer.

Professional organisations such as the The Law Society, as well as colleges, can provide these qualifications, or give you advice on what to pursue.

Industry Bodies

The Bar Council
The Law Society
The Institute of Paralegals

Further Reading

Legal Futures
All About Law
Chambers Student
The Lawyer