Industry Guide Part 1: Legal

Why would you want to work in the Legal sector?

A career in the legal profession is not all about pacing up and down packed courtrooms, delivering dramatic speeches that would guarantee your place in the World’s Greatest Orators of all Time list and make even the great Sir Laurence Olivier in his heyday bow down to you in admiration. And then when you have finished banging the world to rights you slip off and enjoy your cognac and cigar. Alright this may happen on that rarest of occasions but in the main, a legal career is much more routine that that, even at the higher echelons of the legal tree.

For some people a legal career means choosing between being a Solicitor and a Barrister –or ‘lawyer’, a blanket term used to describe both roles. But there are numerous occupations within the legal system and all are geared toward upholding the law of the land and dealing with those who contravene it.

At one end of the scale are Court Administrative Officers, Barrister’s/Advocate’s Clerks, Paralegal’s and Legal Executives, while towards the top of the industry sit Solicitor’s, Barrister’s/Advocate’s, and Judges.

As varied are the types of roles you can choose from are the number of areas you work in. Opportunities can be found in corporate, family, personal injury, human rights, public sector, employment, mergers and acquisitions, and many other areas. And the area in which you practice will have an influence on how much you are paid. For instance, commercial law tends to offer higher salaries than family or employment law.  

Although Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legal system that are separate to England & Wales, starting salaries for trainee Solicitors, for example, will range from £16,000-18,000 with some city firms paying as much as £25,000-35,000. Upon qualification the average salary for newly qualified solicitors can be £35,000-£45,000.

At the other end of the scale, a Clerk Court could be starting on anything between £12,000-15,000, whereas a Barrister’s/Advocate’s Clerk will usually start on a lower salary of around £10,000 but can quickly move up to £18,000 after a couple of years before going up to £28,000 with considerable experience.

Although the notion of being a hot shot lawyer with a rather attractive salary continues to lure new entrants into the legal profession year in year out, Solicitor’s and Barrister’s in particular will be expected burn the candle at both ends, sometimes even at weekends especially during the early stages of your career.

What are the common career paths?

Perhaps you have aspirations to become a Partner in a law firm or picture yourself as the next Judge John Deed. But before you start practising your soliloquies and trying out a range of wigs and gowns, you need to start your career somewhere. And that means gaining invaluable experience from the ground upwards.

No one enters the legal sector at the top of their profession, if they did we’d all be doing it. So whether you are starting your new career as a newly qualified graduate or someone armed with a handful of GCSEs and ‘A’ Levels, here’s a quick look at the path your career could take in some of the most popular jobs within the legal profession.

Solicitors undergo an initial training period and upon qualification trainees become known as associates or assistants, depending on which title the employer uses. As they take on a greater degree of solicitors can then choose to continue dealing with a variety of legal issues or opt to specialise in certain areas such as employment law, tax or litigation, for instance. Thereafter the path is open to partnership which usually follows after around six years of so after qualification.

Barristers, à la Rumpole, are the chaps who don their wigs and gowns whilst presenting cases in court under instruction from a solicitor. Upon completion of your pupillage you must then apply for tenancy in an existing set of chambers where you assume the title of Junior Barrister. After that the path your career takes is down to you. For many barristers the ultimate ambition is to ‘take silk’ by becoming a Queen’s Counsel (QC) entering the judiciary as an assistant recorder prior to becoming a judge.

Legal Executives have to go through a minimal five-year qualifying period and having gained experience, many executives could end up running their own departments, supervising other legal executives and acting as support for solicitors. Some opt to undertake further study and become qualified as solicitors themselves.

Regardless of what role you take it is likely that you will start your career working for a large commercial law firm – many of which have operations throughout the UK and some overseas –  as they are the one with the highest intake of new entrants each year. Smaller high street practices tend to recruit in response to the needs of the business whiles the Government Legal Service and local authorities also offer training contracts to newbies.  

Where can I find out about Legal employers?

A career in the law is not something you simply fall into. It is likely you’ve been thinking about it for some time. So whether you are a fresh-faced graduate or considering a career change, it is important to learn as much as you can about your new vocation as possible.

Aside from knowing what qualifications or experience you need to get your foot in the door, you must familiarise yourself with what it is actually like to work within the legal profession doing the role you want to do on a day-to-day basis.

If you are a recent graduate you are in the fortunate position of having a ready-made bank of key contacts that you can call upon who can give you an insight into your chosen area. Think about your university or college tutors who may have worked in the sector or at least know someone who does who they can put you in touch with. And if you still have access to your university careers library read through the array of publications that provide information on some of the biggest graduate recruiters in your field.

Once you have identified some of the companies who you would like to work for, find out who is doing the job you want to do and simply call or email them, asking if they would mind sparing a few moments of their time relaying their experiences in their field – you’ll be surprised at how receptive most people are. And if you strike up a rapport with them they may even give you the heads-up when a new vacancy comes up in their organisation.

Failing that, ask your friends, family members, former colleagues or club mates if they know anyone who they can put you in touch with. When you finally get to speak with someone about the role ask them about the nature of the job, how they got their job in the first place, what skills and attributes employers look for, and what challenges they face. And don’t forget to ask about any jobs going where they work.

Elsewhere there are a number of trade publications which serve the legal profession. These can provide an invaluable insight into what’s happening in your field and who the biggest players are. As do the professional associations including the Law Society, Bar Council, and Institute of Legal Executives.

Next articles in the Legal series will be: 

What qualifications are important in Legal?

What skills are important?

What makes a good Legal CV?

What should I expect during the interview process?

What career goals should I set myself?

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About yourcareermatters
CareerMatters was founded as part of MacKenzie-Cummins Communications in 2006 by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins MICG (Member Institute of Careers Guidance), regarded as one of the UK's leading career's advice and guidance writers and specialist PR consultant for the UK recruitment industry. Since 2006 Paul has been the leading advice writer for Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com - the two biggest careers website in the world -tackling all aspects of workplace and management issues, job seeking, career change and hiring trends. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 his writing contributed to Monster winning the Best Employment Advice on the Internet Award for an unprecedented three times beating the likes of The Guardian, Learn Direct and Personnel Today on each occasion. And his work was a runner-up for the same award in 2009. In 2009 Paul was a nominee in the prestigious HR Journalist of the Year Award and Recruitment, Retention & Motivation Journalist of the Year Award. Paul has been commissioned to write more than 500 careers advice and guidance articles for a number of lpublications, from regional and national newspapers to industry publications and various career-specific websites in the UK and USA. Recently, Paul was the Technical Editor for career psychologist Dr Rob Yeung's Job Hunting & Career Change for Dummies (John Wiley & Son, 2007). Dr Yeung is better known as the TV psychologist for Channel 4's Big Brother and the BBC's Who Would Hire You? series. Clients include: Monster.com CareerBuilder.com MSN Careers (Europe) TheLadders TotalJobs SalesTarget.co.uk IntaPeople Recruitment Lifetracks/YouthNET MediaSalesJobs The Press Gazette

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