How do I find a job?
- Vacancies are mostly advertised via professional body websites, firm websites, university and postgraduate provider careers services, law school noticeboards, online and printed legal recruitment publications.
- A formal training contract is usual, although some firms dealing with high volume work tend to recruit at paralegal level first. Competition for apprenticeships in Northern Ireland is high where a speculative approach to finding work is required.
- Law graduates are often recruited for training contracts before starting the final year of their undergraduate degree by large corporate and commercial firms. Non-law graduates are recruited in their final year. Applications are also received from students on their conversion year or during their Legal Practice Course (LPC). Training contracts within commercial firms and in-house opportunities are usually advertised two years in advance of commencement.
- Many smaller firms only recruit in response to business need and often in the year they want the training contract to begin. They advertise in the legal press, local press, careers services or on their websites. Many do not advertise at all, so speculative applications are a must.
- The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
recruits both trainee solicitors and pupil barristers one year in advance of the October start date.
- In Scotland, smaller law firms, local authorities, the Scottish Government
and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
generally recruit during the diploma year.
- The Government Legal Service (GLS)
recruits trainee solicitors and pupil barristers two years in advance.
- The majority of vacancies are in large national and international commercial firms. Annual recruitment deadlines tend to be 31 January and 31 July.
- The Pupillage Gateway
, operated by the The Bar Council
, invites first applications one to two years before the pupillage start date.
- A twelve-month pupillage is usual, which is split into two sixes. On successful completion, the pupil hopes to secure tenancy with the chambers.
- All available pupillages are advertised on the Pupillage Gateway, which operates one season which starts in March each year. The closing date for applications is the end of April.
- For chambers who don’t process their vacancies through the Pupillage Gateway, students need to undertake a pupillage search.
- A list of organisations offering pupillages at the employed bar is available from the Bar Standards Board (BSB)
- Chartered legal executive/paralegal jobs are advertised through university careers services, firm websites, local newspapers and recruitment agencies. See also Legal Executive Recruitment
What skills do I need?
Employers are looking for the following:
- interest, and preferably experience, in their kind of law;
- commercial awareness;
- evidence of teamwork abilities;
- good people skills;
- common sense;
- willingness to learn;
- attention to detail and analytical skills;
- work experience, such as pro bono or community work and mini-pupillages or marshalling;
- research and writing skills;
- debating/mooting/public speaking experience is useful if you want to be a barrister.
High academic performance is important, i.e. 2:1 or above (although medium-sized or high-street firms may accept a 2:2). For mature students, employers are interested in your previous career experience and what you could bring to the role.
Experience in a relevant industry may help, as may general business experience and evidence of client care skills.
Employers often have a corporate social responsibility profile so will be seeking candidates who have had experience in community or pro bono projects.
Commercial awareness gained through extra-curricular activities is valued by commercial law firms.
For paralegals, agencies often require six months’ relevant work experience in addition to experience in administration, document management and research.
Where can I find work experience?
Relevant work experience is increasingly important to succeed in entering the industry. Employers are aware of the competition to gain work experience so they accept commercial experience or customer service roles that have relevant transferrable skills.
Formal work experience can be difficult to obtain. A creative approach may be required. Shadowing legal professionals (to gain insight into day to day work) or marshalling a judge may be helpful. Use your networks to find contacts. Try a speculative approach with a good CV, or telephone or email.
Is postgraduate study useful?
Postgraduate study is usually necessary to enter the professions of barrister/advocate (Scotland) and solicitor. Routes differ due to the different legal systems in the UK. England and Wales have separate training requirements to Northern Ireland and Scotland.
For paralegal positions, many large commercial firms value the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or the vocational certificate (Northern Ireland). The Institute of Paralegals
has introduced a new route to qualification (RTQ). The aim is to provide a structured recognised route to qualification as a paralegal benefiting employers and employees.
England and Wales
Law graduates take a Legal Practice Course (LPC) or a Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Non-law graduates can take a one-year (two years part time) Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)/Common Professional Examination (CPE) and then the LPC. Some providers have recently introduced fast track courses completed in seven months. For more information, see the Law Central Admissions Board (LCAB)
For details of training for chartered legal executives and paralegals in England and Wales, see the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx)
and the National Association of Licensed Paralegals
Law graduates take a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (also known as Professional education and training stage 1 (PEAT 1)). This is a seven-month course which is offered on both part and full-time routes in seven universities in Scotland. Once this is completed a two-year traineeship is undertaken (also known as PEAT 2).
Non-law graduates are able to take an accelerated LLB which lasts two years and can then apply for the Diploma. Further details are available from the The Law Society of Scotland
For details of training for paralegals in Scotland, see the Scottish Paralegal Association
Law graduates wishing to practise in Northern Ireland should apply for the one-year vocational certificate course at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies
. Trainee barristers study the Certificate in Professional Legal Studies.
Non-law graduates study for the two-year law degree at Queen's University Belfast School of Law
and then follow the routes above.
How can my career develop?
- Over time, you take on increasing responsibilities, becoming a senior solicitor and then associate.
- Attaining partnership in large firms is becoming more difficult as they seek to preserve their profits. The smaller the firm, the fewer steps to partnership there may be.
- The Law Society of England and Wales
regulations require solicitors to maintain their continuing professional development (CPD). Training is provided either in-house or via external courses.
- Solicitors may qualify as solicitor-advocates by taking additional qualifications to appear in the higher courts. See the Society of Solicitor Advocates
- Career development for in-house and local and central government solicitors generally is structured to lead to a management position. Many Scottish solicitors move to in-house work.
- The Legal Services Act may enable other routes of progression in the future if solicitors practise within an alternative business structure.
- Career progression as a barrister/advocate is constrained by finance, time and self management. With time, you will take on more complex cases.
- For some, the aim is to 'take silk' and become a Queen's Counsel (QC) and then a judge.
- Barristers practising at the employed bar usually work for a company or public sector organisation as part of a legal team. Career progression may involve heading such a team or moving into the higher levels of general management.
Chartered legal executive
- Recent legislation has allowed chartered legal executives to progress to partners within law firms and can become advocates appearing in county and magistrates courts.
- The role of paralegal is becoming increasingly recognised as a professional fee earner within a law firm. Formal paralegal qualifications are now required through the RTQ. For more information, see the Institute of Paralegals