The legal services industry incorporates a range of services for clients requiring legal assistance. Opportunities are available in private practice, the public sector and in-house in industry and commerce.
Global recession and economic factors have resulted in law firms restructuring, downsizing and in some cases merging or closing. Further changes within the industry are emerging following the Legal Services Act 2007, enabling law and non-law firms to merge to form alternative business structures. Cuts within the Legal Services Budget have resulted in a reduction in firms offering publicly funded work being awarded contracts, putting greater pressure on the pro bono and voluntary legal advice sector.
Legal sector graduate vacancies in 2011 were predicted to rise by 4% compared to 2010 rates (High Fliers Graduate Market Survey, 2011). Law is the highest paid graduate job with salaries at an average of £36,000 (AGR Summer Survey, 2010). This makes law an attractive profession, and competition for training contract places is high; almost three times as many applicants for each available vacancy (Law Society Annual Statistical report, 2010).
Key areas of practice affected by the recession include banking, finance and property law. Legal practice growth areas include energy and environmental law, intellectual property law, international law, alternative dispute resolution, insolvency, shipping, insurance and employment law. There has been a rise in niche law firms and emergence of virtual law firms operating on a consultancy basis.
Many solicitors and barristers, particularly early in their career, frequently have to work long, unsocial hours involving evenings and weekends. Solicitors are usually employed and barristers are self-employed. Chartered legal executives are now able to become partners in law firms and solicitor advocates can represent clients in higher courts without instructing counsel in non-specialist cases.
Salaries for student legal executives just entering the profession range from £14,000 - £22,000 (CILEx, 2011), rising to an average of £35,000 for chartered legal executives, also known as Fellows of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) . Salary progression will vary depending on location, size and specialist area of the firm.
Paralegal jobs with higher salaries are usually offered to Legal Practice Course (LPC) graduates with at least six months' relevant experience. The average paralegal salary at the start of 2011 was £21,000, with a typical salary range of £15,000 - £50,000. Around 75% of paralegals tend to earn more than £20,000 and 10% of paralegals tend to earn more than £35,000 (SalaryTrack, 2011).
According to figures released by the relevant legal professional bodies, there are a total of just over 200,000 people employed in a professional or ancillary role in the UK legal industry. This is about 0.7% of the total UK working population (Office for National Statistics, 2009). Of these, 150,000 are solicitors with practising certificates and 12,700 practising barristers (Bar Council 2010).
UK-qualified solicitors who wish to practise elsewhere in the UK or in the EU can re-qualify in other jurisdictions by taking appropriate tests. Contact the relevant law society for assistance. To practise outside of the EU, check with the relevant law society for advice.
For information on working overseas, see opportunities abroad.
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