Are you ready for a career in Law?
Could you see yourself building a legal career but not sure of which route to take? Nicola Newton explains the different ways you can qualify as a legal professional.
So after a lot of thought you have decided that a career in the legal profession is the one for you. However, have you considered what you want to be within the legal profession? There are numerous possibilities so it is important that you undertake plenty of research to help you decide. Some of the options are considered in this article.
Qualifying as a solicitor is a popular choice. The Law Society suggests some of the personal skills and attributes of a solicitor include dedication, commitment, capacity for hard work and also commitment to continuous personal development. The Society are definitely not wrong here. The path to a legal career is long and can take 8 years or more to qualify as a solicitor after achieving GCSEs. It is therefore important to understand the commitment required from the start. After leaving school you would need to complete your A Levels and then spend 3, or possibly 4, years at University. If you complete a non-law degree you would need to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law which is sort of like a crash course in Law and allows you to convert your degree in a year of intense study and examinations. If you complete a Law degree (or have completed the GDL) then next you would need to complete the Legal Practice Course. This is also a year long post graduate course which is yet more intense study and examinations. You learn foundation subjects and optional subjects and also practical skills such as researching the law, interview techniques and advocacy skills. Then finally you think all of your exams are over and you can give a huge sigh of relief. I am afraid you are mistaken. The next crucial step is to secure a Training Contract. This is a 2 year period of recognised training working as a trainee solicitor within a law firm or other authorised organisation, such as a Local Authority’s legal department. Training contracts can be very hard to secure. In 2015 a survey showed 42 applications were received for each advertised vacancy. In 2014 there were over 16,000 law graduates but only 5,000 registered training contracts up for grabs. Competition is fierce so if you are successful in your application then be sure to prepare for the assessment day. During the Training Contract you will also need to pass the Professional Skills Course. This is equivalent to 12 days worth of attendance building on the training already provided in the LPC in three subject areas; financial and business, advocacy and communication and also client care and professional standards. Once you have successfully completed your training contract, some 8 years after leaving school, you can finally seek admission to the Roll of Solicitors and look forward to receiving your first Practicing Certificate to put up on your new office wall.
Chartered Legal Executive
A Legal Executive is similar to a Solicitor. They specialise in an area of law, such as private client, civil litigation, family law or conveyancing and provide professional advice on legal matters. The route to becoming a Legal Executive could be seen as cost effective and accessible to a variety of people, whether they are school leavers, graduates, mature students or those who already have family commitments. An important reason for this is because its an ‘earn and learn’ career. Typically you would work in a law firm or in-house legal department and either complete the learning aspect by way of distance learning or attending classes and quite often your employer will pay or contribute to the costs of the qualification. Once you have successfully completed the learning stages the next step is to complete 3 years of ‘qualifying employment’. If like me you have embarked on a different route then there are also exemptions, for example I completed a law degree and the LPC which means I do not need to complete any further study or sit through any examinations on the Legal Executive route. The qualifying employment involves undertaking work of a legal nature under the supervision of a qualified solicitor or legal executive. Following this stage you are then able to apply to become a Fellow of CILEx in which you have to demonstrate you have worked the required period of qualifying employment and you are also assessed on your competence through the completion of a work based learning logbook. Once you have successfully become a Fellow there is also the option of becoming a solicitor after a couple of years without the need to complete a Training Contract. However, Fellows are very much respected and are almost on a similar par to solicitors so some may be happy and content with what they have already achieved.
This route to qualification has been termed the new kid on the block. Although apprenticeships have been around for a number of years, it has only been quite recently that they have been boosted by the Government and have become more well known and understood. If you are at least 16 years old and live in England then you can apply. You will work at least 30 hours a week and will be paid a salary which can vary depending on your employer. It is mostly on the job training and can benefit your employer as they are able to tailor the training to suit their requirements. It can also give the apprentice better long term career prospects with the employer. Apprenticeships are available in over 170 industries including the legal sector. It is certainly an option to consider if you wish to become a legal professional and avoid the costs of going to university. There are three different levels of legal apprenticeships; intermediate, advanced and higher, and your starting point depends on your academic background and the type of job you will be doing.
The above are just a number of the ways to qualify as a legal professional. There are various types of legal roles across the sector that can be very specialist, such as a Costs Draftsmen, Paralegal, Patent Attorney or Barrister, some of which do not require qualification as a solicitor or legal executive. A career in law can be tough and involve a lot of learning not only at the start but continuously throughout the career. If your dream job is in the legal profession and you have the determination and drive then you could be on the road to a very rewarding career.
You will have to forgive the cheesy ending but; someone you might know once said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them” – spoken by the creator of Mickey Mouse, who himself helped to develop copyright law in America. One day you could be acting on behalf of someone like Walt Disney.