The law sector demands a high level of commitment and perseverance, but has the potential to be immensely rewarding...
What areas of law can I work in?
There are currently 133,000 solicitors eligible to practice; of these, about 90,074 are solicitors working in private practice in England and Wales. Around 16,837 of these eligible to practice are employed in-house by commercial and industrial organisations.
In addition, around 6,791 solicitors work in local government, 2,000 in the Government Legal Service (GLS) and approximately 2,226 work for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). There are around 15,700 barristers most of who are self-employed and work in chambers. Others are employed and work for a range of organisations such as the CPS and the GLS. Barristers can also work in financial services, industry and the armed forces.
There are now estimated to be over 300,000 paralegals in England and Wales which is more than the number of solicitors and barristers combined. They may work in solicitors’ practices, government, charities or in new paralegal law firms.
You could also work in the Courts Service or with trademarks and patents.
For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in law.
Who are the main graduate employers?
At the top of the pile are those firms commonly referred to as the 'Magic Circle'. They are generally considered the five leading law firms with headquarters in the UK. These are:
- Allen & Overy;
- Clifford Chance;
- Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer;
- Slaughter and May.
There are numerous other law firms that recruit graduates. You could use The Law Society - Find a solicitor tool to search for firms in your area.
What's it like working in the sector?
Graduates entering the law sector can expect:
- starting salaries for solicitors to vary widely because the training contract minimum salary has been abolished. However, according to The Graduate Market in 2015 report from High Fliers, law firms in the UK's top 100 employers are offering an average starting salary of £40,000.
- during pupillage year, to earn a minimum of £12,000. This starting salary is likely to be significantly higher in commercial and civil practice areas;
- with experience to earn on average around £50,000 in private practice depending on the size of the firm;
- to work outside of normal office hours to meet the workload demands of a particular case;
- to face tough competition to secure a pupillage or training contract;
- intellectually challenging work and a high level of responsibility in a fast-paced environment.
To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see job profiles.
What are the key issues in the law sector?
The number of people completing the Legal Practice Course (LPC) far outweighs the number of training contracts available across the UK. As a result, there is tough competition for available training contracts. While for would-be barristers there can be hundreds of applications for a single pupillage.
Training as a solicitor or barrister can be expensive. Taking into account studying a degree, followed by a possible conversion course and then the LPC or Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students can be faced with a debt of £25,000 to £50,000 at the beginning of their training contract.
The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) is on-going and proposes to change the current means of qualifying as a solicitor by using centralised national testing of knowledge and skills, with or without a period of work-based learning equivalent to the current training contract.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is also consulting on redeveloping its training regime to change the current BPTC. In both proposed reforms, the emphasis is to develop the skills as well as the legal knowledge of the future lawyer. In addition, customer service skills are becoming more important to law firms as legal services markets become more diverse and competitive.
The role of a paralegal has become more prominent in the UK. It is now a career in its own right rather than simply an alternative to a training contract.
The legal sector is constantly striving to become more diverse. In recent years more women than men have been qualifying as solicitors and at least 18% of these have been from ethnic minority groups.
The essential guide to studying law
Discover how to become a solicitor or barrister, read about life at some of the UK's top firms and take a look at the A-Z of training opportunities.