The reality of working in law

Author
Sabrina Pervez, associate solicitor
Posted
August, 2020

Sabrina Pervez, associate solicitor within Linklaters pensions department, debunks myths and stereotypes surrounding careers in law and offers an insight into what it's like to work as a solicitor

Salary

A career within law may appeal to you because of its reputation of being a relatively well-paid and lucrative sector. However, how much you earn depends on several factors, including the type of law you practise, where you are in your career, the size of the law firm you work for and the location.

Whether you choose to pursue a career as a barrister or a solicitor will also affect how your salary is paid. As a barrister, you are self-employed, which may mean that your income is less regular and that you do not receive holiday or sick pay. As a solicitor, you're usually employed by a law firm and receive a monthly salary.

A newly-qualified solicitor working in a smaller commercial or regional firm may earn anywhere between £25,000 and £40,000, which could rise to £65,000 in in the City, £100,000 in 'Magic Circle' firms (such as Linklaters), or even £130,000 in a top US firm in London.

To find out more, see how much do lawyers earn?

Culture

Within law firms cultures vary widely and it's important to think about what type of culture might best suit you. Some firms are more traditional and hierarchical, whereas others strive to be less traditional and have in place relaxed policies on things such as dress code and working from home.

It's also a good idea to check firm policies on matters such as diversity and the environment to ensure that the firms attitudes align with your own.

One of the main reasons I applied to Linklaters was because of its culture. I completed a vacation scheme at the firm and gained an insight into the way people at the organisation like to work, as well as a general feel for the overall firm culture. After experiencing the friendliness of the 'trainee buddies' and principals on the vacation scheme, I felt comfortable in the environment and confident that pursuing a career with the firm was an excellent opportunity. Linklaters has several diversity and inclusion networks, including the BAME Network, Gender Equality Network, With Pride, Family and Carers Network and Social Mobility Network, which are important to me and I appreciated the firm’s 'one team' approach.

Vacation schemes and internships are a great way to help establish whether you think a firm might be a good fit for you. They also provide essential information that's hard to gather from online searches. Linklaters also offers a virtual internship, open to all, which may be a good place to start if you're thinking of applying to the firm. Learn more about virtual work experience. The legal sector is continuously evolving as firms look to innovate. Many organisations are investigating how they can use technology to run their business in the most efficient ways, for example incorporating artificial intelligence into their working practices. Technology, and how it can be best utilised within the legal sector, is likely to become more important than ever in the coming years.

Competitiveness

After you graduate it can be very competitive to get a job in the legal industry. Larger firms tend to have more training contracts on offer, but they often receive many applicants. Linklaters currently offers the largest number of training contracts annually of any firm in the UK. Find out more about top UK law firms.

You need to be organised in your job search. Think about which firms you might like to apply to well in advance to stand the best chance of making a successful application.

Linklaters changed their application process last year. We wanted to make the most of candidates' time, give tailored feedback and base assessments on our agile mindset framework. The framework sets out the skills and attributes that we are looking for in candidates; motivated and resilient but also capable and collaborative.

Applications to the firm start with a short online form and the Capp online assessment (working through a series of untimed modules). Once submitted, candidates are then asked to complete the Watson Glaser critical thinking test. I would strongly advise practicing the Watson Glaser test, whereas no preparation for the Capp assessment is required. It can be very difficult to secure a training contract initially, but once you've qualified there are likely to be more job opportunities for newly qualified solicitors, even if the firm you trained with are not able to retain you.

Discover how to write a legal CV and cover letter.

Typical working day

A likely starting point is 9am to 5pm, but evening and weekend work isn't uncommon. The hours you work can be unpredictable, with flexibility around client needs necessary in many roles.

Some firms and practice areas may be more predictable than others so it's worth considering this before choosing an area to specialise in. For example, working on corporate transactions is fast moving, with peaks and troughs in general busyness. However, advisory legal work is more predictable and steady.

You won't always be tied to a desk, typical daily tasks for a lawyer range from meetings and calls with clients, drafting and circulating legal advice via email, researching specific points of law, presenting in court and liaising with colleagues as to the best way to manage cases and transactions.

Depending on the firm they work for solicitors often have financial and billable hours targets. These are monitored through recording how your time is spent every day in time sheets.

Find out more about the responsibilities of a solicitor or barrister.

Opportunities for promotion

Once you've completed either the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) then the LPC for non-law graduates (necessary to become a solicitor), or a Bar course, previously the BPTC (necessary to become a barrister) you'll then spend a period of approximately two years training in practice, either as a trainee solicitor or pupil barrister. Once you have qualified, you will then be an associate solicitor or barrister.

Promotion from associate level to senior or managing associate will take a minimum of four years, but this could be longer. The time it takes varies depending on the firm and its internal promotion structure.

As for being appointed as Queen's Counsel, this can be a 20 to 25-year process. Appointments are made on merit, as well as level of experience.

Due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, many businesses have been confronted with serious commercial consequences and the legal sector is no different. COVID-19 has placed a strain on both law firms and their clients. However, some innovation has also arisen during the crisis. Linklaters recently worked on the first virtual trial and the industry is expected to work in a much more agile way in the future, now that many lawyers have proved they can work just as efficiently from home as they did in the office.

The route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales is set to change in the autumn of 2021. The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will become the compulsory assessment for all future solicitors, effectively replacing the GDL and LPC, although transitional arrangements are in place. It consists of two parts - SQE 1, which tests legal knowledge through multiple choice questions and SQE 2, which tests core technical legal skills.

Find out more

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