Careers with a law degree

What can I do with a law degree?

Most people assume that if you have a Law degree your career objective is to become a barrister or solicitor but there is a lot more you can do with a law degree. In fact, only 1 in 20 newly qualified masters students are recruited each year by the main UK law firms. However, this means there are lots of alternative careers with a law degree you can seek.

Careers when you are part of a Law firm

For those students who are determined to become a barrister or solicitor the salary rewards can be very attractive. The annual survey by High Fliers shows that:

  • Salaries for trainee solicitors at the country’s top law firms have increased to £46,000
  • The highest published graduate starting salaries for 2021 include law firms White & Case (£50,000), Clifford Chance (£48,000), Baker McKenzie (£48,000) and Linklaters (£47,000).

What is the role of a solicitor?

If you want to buy a house, start a company, make a will, end a marriage, get out of police custody or seek compensation then you will probably need to contact a solicitor. The legal training they have means they are in the best position to represent you and offer you legal advice.

This is always provided to you in the strictest confidence -  anything you discuss or agree to is done with your permission. Depending upon who you consult with the cost of that advice can vary a lot.

Training to become a solicitor usually starts with the completion of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). This is combined with two years’ work experience on a training contract, building up knowledge and experience over time to manage a caseload.

What’s the difference between a solicitor and a barrister?

If you need legal support for a matter that is going to be tried in court, then you will be represented by a barrister. A barrister is a qualified legal professional who offers specialist advice representing and defending clients in court or at a tribunal. Your solicitor will also be involved in preparing the legal documentation leading up to the court case, but they generally do not present the legal arguments in front of a judge.

Training to become a solicitor or barrister is based on the pathway you choose when you are qualified.

If you have taken a different undergraduate degree you would study a law conversion course such as the GDL. For both options once you have completed your studies you would then decide which pathway to take (solicitor or barrister). If you have completed an undergraduate law degree (LLB) to practice as a solicitor you would usually take the Legal Practice Course (LPC), followed by a training contract with a law firm lasting 2 years.

With the GDL the same period of training still applies. From 2021 the new SQE training exam has been introduced, and this will gradually replace the LPC and the GDL.

To become a barrister the focus is on the practical work-based component of bar training, leading to a similar work experience period called a pupillage. This usually takes place in a legal chambers – a specialist law firm concerned with criminal trials. Pupillage involves shadowing a barrister before getting involved in the practical work of chambers.

Chartered Legal Executive

Another qualified expert found in law firms is a legal executive. This is a type of lawyer that is a specialist in an area of law, such as private client work. The advantage of the legal executive route is that the academic part of the training is funded by the employer, so you can learn as you earn. The CiLEX qualification is designed for legal executives who do not have a degree. This means that your qualification takes less time to achieve overall than if you studied a degree then LLM and LPC exam.

Legal secretary

Law firms need a lot of staff if they provide a wide range of legal services. A lot of the important administration related to client files is managed by legal secretaries. With the introduction of back office IT systems its now possible for legal teams to manage their workload efficiently. However, the fee earning staff have a responsibility to win new business and retain existing clients. They can’t do that and manage cases without the support of legal secretaries.

As most office staff have degree qualifications now taking the next step to acquire professional training in the workplace is common. Experienced legal secretaries are encouraged to up-skill, so the qualifications mentioned here can provide a stepping stone to promotion and high salaries.

Careers with a law degree in related services

Seeking legal advice can be very expensive. Some services often have a fixed price, such as conveyancing for a house purchase. Other services are always paid by the hour, and disputes between individuals can run up very high legal costs. Many people need legal support when they are in distress, either financially or emotionally, so community law centres can offer a valuable lifeline.

These are local services supported by the community and through funding. They can be a valuable source of information to signpost visitors to the legal services they may need. Issues related to trading standards, housing and benefits are often supported by law centres.

Some universities support their local law centres, by providing work experience for law students. Similarly, if you have studied law some time before then gone on to specialise in business then volunteering in a law centre or Citizens Advice can be really worthwhile.

The law centre can direct you to a mediator if you are seeking resolution in family matters. Mediators are qualified individuals who enable individuals with conflicting issues to agree a settlement of their issues. This is a highly cost effective and less confrontational route to solving disputes. Mediators will generally have a legal background, but they may also be experienced counsellors who are skilled in listening and negotiation.

The UK Courts Service has been through a substantial overhaul in recent years to save costs. Many local law courts have been consolidated into larger regional courts, so they no longer offer regular recruitment opportunities they once did. However, on occasion there are roles for court ushers and administrators concerned with court procedures.

Legal work in industry

Business need support with legal issues as much as they do with accountancy services. In many cases the two functions are closely linked, especially if an organisation has trading partners overseas.

A company secretary is a role that is required as part of company registration. If the organisation is a large one then this person makes sure the business complies with standard financial and legal practice and maintains high standards of corporate governance.

Any business involved in new product developments or trademarks will need the services of a patent lawyer. As the name suggests, this is a specialised legal area that focuses on filing trademark and patent applications. Depending on the customer the lawyer can even be involved in dispute resolution should the client require it.

Exporters have faced a number of changes to licensing and shipping of goods brought about by Brexit. From 2022 the role of the compliance officer is going to feature more prominently in business recruitment as the UK adjusts to the requirements that are enforced by HMRC and the Home Office.

Many businesses will only need to ‘buy-in’ the specific legal services they require on an ad-hoc basis. This means of course that roles exist in the many service providers that cater for these needs, from paralegal services for personal injury to tax consultancy.

All of these organisations recruit skilled executives who have the advantage of a legal education.

The advantages of completing a legal education

  • Studying a law degree, and particularly a masters in law is that it is so flexible
  • The mental agility that the student experiences through the academic challenges is greatly valued by employers.
  • All the skills that the student develops are transferrable into many business and social situations.
  • The effort invested in studying a masters level law qualification will pay significant dividends for those who seek careers with a law degree.