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Becoming a Lawyer

If you have designs on becoming a lawyer, we can offer a plethora of advice on chasing your desired career, whether you want to become a solicitor or a barrister. We also take a look at other law-related roles that may interest you.

If you wish to carve out a place for yourself in the legal profession, it is important to bear in mind that legal jobs are hotly contested and it is essential to take all possible measures to improve your chances of beating the competition.

Our free information features a detailed suggested career path for aspiring barristers and solicitors, which includes all the many things you can do during your law degree to give yourself the edge.

Breaking into the law

Every single legal professional, from barristers and solicitors to paralegals, worked long and hard to get where they are. If you want to join them, you will need to work hard too.

Your marks in education are crucial to you breaking into your chosen field of law. Prospective employers will want to see a consistent pattern of excellent grades throughout your time in education, from your GSCEs right through to your undergraduate degree and beyond. This means the younger you realise you want to work in law, the better - but of course, applying yourself to your studies will be greatly beneficial to you regardless of what career path you follow.

Good marks at school and university alone will not see you through, however. You will need to demonstrate a talent for legal work, and demonstrate how you have used every opportunity to learn more and gain any experience to get your foot in the door.

While it is always better to follow a career in law as early as possible, you aren't completely doomed if you have left it late - there are plenty of success stories of people who decided later in life that they wanted to change career and pursue a career in law. However, they still had to work hard and devote years of their lives to making it happen. If you want to join them, you will need to as well.

Finding your way

If you are determined to make your name in law, then there are plenty of paths to follow. Ultimately, the sort of work you end up doing will be dependent on what kind of legal professional you become, and which area of the law you choose to specialise in.

Barristers and solicitors are two of the most well known types of folk that work in the law. Working as a barrister will see you in court, advocating in cases and doing what you can to ensure the best possible outcome for your client in a courtroom setting. As the individual advising a client in a court case, a good barrister must be able to think fast, and be able to process new information quickly - for example, if you were questioning a witness to a case, you would need to be able to use any new information to your advantage.

Working as a solicitor is a quite different prospect. While solicitors can do their fair share of advocacy work in court, they tend to handle out-of-court legal matters - advising in conveyancing, the selling of housing and property, for example. There are many solicitors who rarely get involved in matters of litigation.

There are plenty of law careers and jobs beyond these two professions, of course, and many alternative legal careers you could pursue.

Becoming a barrister

Working as a barrister can be an extremely rewarding experience which will allow you to stretch your skills and talents to their absolute limits. However, it can also be tremendously challenging, meaning that only hard-working and diligent individuals need apply. Your reward will be job satisfaction and pride in your work, as well as knowing that you are assisting people in their hour of legal need.

Barristers sprout from all manner of backgrounds, so do not abandon your ambitions simply because you think you are not the type of person who is suited to become a barrister. It is a role suited to any sharp-minded and industrious individual who is willing to put in the effort, so if you think this may be the career for you it is almost certainly worth looking into.

The Bar has professed the goal of recruiting their barristers based exclusively on their skills, which means that practically anyone stands a chance if they are fit for the challenges that the training will throw your way. A keen intellect will be honed to a razor-sharp edge by the education required of barristers, and there are few vocations in which you will be able to put your mind to better use. If you feel that being a barrister could be for you, you owe it to yourself to make the effort and take your first step along the journey.

Barristers tackle legal issues in all sorts of scenarios - while their primary role is to deal with presenting and refuting arguments in the courtroom, they must also provide counsel to their clients outside of this setting, and may deal with topics of law in a variety of other situations. It is certainly a good career for those who are interested in the law and wish to gain an in-depth knowledge which they can manipulate to their own ends at will.

After training, barristers can follow a wide variety of paths leading to any one of a plethora of fascinating fields of practice, with the qualification also making them ideally suited to a variety of other, similarly exciting careers. Wherever the future may take you, your first step is here.

The barrister career path

First-year law and second-year non-law students

Winter holiday and spring

It is vital that you prepare and do your homework when looking to become a barrister. Improve your CV by performing relevant useful activities, read up on the subject and join an Inn of Court if you are a law student.

Make an effort to seek and apply for work placements in chambers (also known as mini pupillages) for the summer holiday. If you work in different chambers then you can get an appreciation about various areas and proceedings. When you eventually apply for a proper pupillage, it is very important that you have work experience as you will find it extremely hard to get taken on without it. Not only is it a prerequisite for becoming a barrister, you will want make sure that you definitely want to proceed along this career path.

Second-year law and final-year non-law students


Go to careers presentations, talks and general events.

Inquire about funding choices for postgraduate training like scholarship and local education authority grants.

Winter holiday and spring

Go to careers and pupillage fairs.

Continue to apply for mini-pupillages.

If you are taking a degree not involved with law then this is the time when you need to apply for the Graduate Diploma Law (GDL), also know as a conversion course. You need to apply by February through the Central Applications Board.


Acquire further experience at work.

Investigate BPTC providers.

Final-year law and GDL students


Finish choices about funding options and make sure you know the closing dates for funding applications. The Inns and various chambers have awards available so you should get in contact them for more information.

The application system for BPTC opens around in November and closes in January. A clearance round opens at the beginning of April and closes in July offers have been accepted or rejected.


Go to pupillage fairs like the National Pupillage Fair which tends to be held in March.

The pupillage portal opens in March and closes at the end of April. It is possible to apply to twelve OLPAS chambers and make one clearing application. You are free to apply to lots of non OLPAS chambers if you wish, but their deadlines will vary.


You should acquire the certificate for the successful finishing of the academic stage of legal training.

Offers for pupillage will be made at the end of July through the centralized system. Applications for clearing have to be received by August. Clearing offers must be made in September.

BPTC year

You can apply again this year the same way if you have not been successful in your application for pupillage.

When you have completed your BPTC you will be called to the Bar by your Inn.


This is a year in a pupilage training body, and it is normally divided into two half year periods. These two periods of time are often called ‘sixes’.

First six

You will share the supervisor’s daily professional life by observing and helping your supervisor and other barristers.

Second six

You will effectively be a practicing barrister in the second half of the year and could have cases and clients of your own you’ll represent in court.

The future

Barristers have to be on a programme of compulsory ongoing training called Continuing Professional Development (CPD). It teaches advocacy, case preparation and procedure, professional conduct and ethics, as well as accounting. The first three years of practice, will fall under the new practitioners’ programme in which you’ll have to complete forty five hours of CPD. After this you will have to complete twelve hours a year under the established practitioners’ programme.

Becoming a solicitor

A solicitor is not usually the man or woman who stands to speak on a client's behalf in a court of law - this is generally the job of the barrister. However, solicitors can perform in this role when necessary, and recent developments in the law have extended how far a solicitor can help in the courts.

Solicitor Advocacy

Solicitors can only act as an advocate (represent a client in court) on two different kinds of case; civil cases (breach of contract, malpractice, and probate disputes, for example) and criminal cases (such as assault or burglary).

The arena in which solicitors can act as advocate in these cases is also limited - typically, solicitors can only work in this capacity in certain types of court, such as county courts, magistrates' courts, and tribunals. This is because they only have 'rights of audience' in these certain types of court.

However, changes to solicitor regulations in recent years have made it possible for solicitors to expand their roles, further blurring the lines between solicitors and barristers.

Under the latest rules of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (currently the SRA Higher Rights of Audience Regulations 2011) a solicitor can apply for rights of audience in higher courts - crown courts and high courts, as well as the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.

Before these changes were introduced, a solicitor would not be able to continue with a client if their case moved up to one of these court. However, a solicitor can now continue to represent a client in one of the higher courts, provided that the client wishes it and that the solicitor has the sufficient rights of audience.

If the solicitor doesn't have the rights of audience, he or she will need to brief the barrister who takes over the case.

Other Solicitor Work

Despite this, the majority of work for a solicitor takes place outside the courtroom. Often, a solicitor will work to prepare a client for a trial, before a barrister steps in to represent the client in court.

Many solicitors will spend the bulk of their time doing legal work that doesn't require any litigation - at least, if all goes to plan. Conveyancing solicitors, for example, will spend far more time helping clients complete transactions involving homes and property than they will in court. These solicitors will work to help the process go smoothly, identifying any potential problems and making the process work in their favour - helping to reduce the amount of stamp duty they pay, for example.

Solicitors can provide aid with other matters that can use a legal eye, such as drawing up a Will, or an employment or business contract.

Finance and funding

The complete financial cost of becoming a solicitor should not be underestimated. Hopeful trainees should research potential avenues of funding at each level of qualification.

Undergraduate degree

These are usually set at around £3,000 per year. For this stage of a student’s education there are two different student loans:

  • Student loan for fees. These cover all of your tuition fees and the amount available is £3,225 a year.
  • Student loan for maintenance, which is mostly called ‘the living costs loan’. This depends on where the student is studying and if he or she lives alone or with parents.

The majority of students have to utilise both. The loan only has to be paid after graduation and even then, only if they are paid more than £15,000 a year. After this amount the fees are paid back at 9% of any surplus.

There are grants that are available from the institution when you’ve gone after the loans application process from the student’s local education authority. These grants are based on your family’s circumstances, can be up to almost £3000 and do not have to be repaid.

The organisation that manages financial support for students is Student Finance Direct. Its website is

Postgraduate courses

GDL fees

If the student is a graduate of a non law degree they have to study a GDL and pay a fee of up to £8,900. This is in addition to their living costs.

LPC fees

The student can pay up to £12,500 for the LPC in London and often between £5,000 and £10,000 for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) anywhere else. This is in addition to your legal costs.

Bank loans

The GDL and the LPC are not funded under a conventional grant and student finance as they are mostly not eligible for local education authority funding. On a small number of occasions there are funds, but these depend on the student's personal circumstances. The student will have to contact their local education authority.

The basic method of paying for the GDL and the LPC is with a bank loan. The majority of banks will view the student as a good investment as the student will be a professional and should be able to get a decent enough job to repay them. You will however be expected to pay your bank loan back immediately after the course has finished. This is different to the normal student funding arrangement which takes your earnings into account. The state does have a subsidised career development loan, which does not cover the GDL.


Often international, City or large law firms provide GDL and LPC sponsorship to students whom they have chosen for training contracts. Sponsorship can be available from other organisations that take on trainees. The Government Legal Service offers limited financial help for trainees who have secured a training contract with it, for example.

The student will be recommended a certain provider by a law firm if you are recruited by them. Some of the modules that you study will often be tailored to whatever the firm specialises in.

More Support

Lots of trusts and charities that offer grants can often give financial help to those wanting to become a barrister. More information about this can be gleaned from

The JLD (junior lawyers division) helpline can help the student with difficult decisions and information regarding money and funding.

The solicitor career path

First-year law /second-year non-law students

For people deciding whether or not they want to become a solicitor there are a lot of things to think about. Issues like practice area, location and whether or not the profession is for you can be answered by taking advantage of the law section of your university careers centre, as can arranging some non-term time work experience. It is however important to not lose sight of your degree, and make sure that you keep working hard academically and get the best degree result you can.

Second-year law/ final-year non-law students

Autumn, winter and spring

This is the time where you must decide if you wish to pursue a career in law. Make the most of the resources that your university has to offer by going to law firm visits, as well as talking to your careers advice advisor again. It's important to do some schemes to get a feel for the type and range of practice out there. University law fairs are vital and usually take place around November. By attending you can meet and chat to people who can give you a head start. At this time it is also important to start thinking about funding your legal training, so research local education authority grants as well as closing dates for applications.

Students who are taking degree course which isn’t law will need to apply for conversion course called the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). This must be done prior to 1st February (in 2010) to be considered in the first stage (February until mid April). Applications received after 2 February but during the initial stage will be looked at in April.

For a full-time place applications must be sent to the Central Applications Board. Though online applications are preferred, they can be phoned for a form. The website and phone number are and 01483 451080.

Spring holiday

Ask law firms for holiday work placements for the spring and the summer.

Summer holiday

The majority of law firms need training contract applications during from mid-July onwards. You should acquire more work experience, either on a work placement scheme or another way.

Final-year law/GDL students


Law firms can start interviewing jobseekers for training contracts from 1st September in the final year of a law degree, so you should be having lots of interviews now. It is vital that you must also apply for LPC courses at this time via the Central Applications Board. The deadline is 1st December. Applications received after 1st December are looked at by institutions near the end of March.


Before you begin your LPC you must enroll at the Solicitors Regulation Authority as a student member. If you have submitted your application for a full time LPC place they will send you sent the appropriate forms anyway. The completed forms must be returned by 1st August unless you have suitability issues. If this is the case then the deadline is 1st April. If you are a part time LPC applicant then you must contact the SRA at


The LPC acceptance deadline is during this academic term. If you haven’t been accepted for a training contract, then continue making applications. Acquire a certificate for the completion of the stage of legal training from the SRA.

LPC year

Keep making applications if you still haven’t found a training contract. Go to as many law fairs as you can and search for advertisements in law magazines.

Autumn term

You will attend an introduction course and then compulsory subject courses.

Spring term

You will attend compulsory subject courses.

Summer term

You will have optional subject courses.

Training contract

First year

Make sure that your training contract is properly registered with the SRA. How you are trained differs from firm to firm, but the majority have a series of departmental rotations. Training on the job is given throughout and is added to by courses and lectures.

Second year

The majority of law firms will make post-training job offers halfway through the second year, so you will know if you are going to be offered employment at the end of your contract. You will receive forms from the SRA six to eight weeks before the end of your training contract so you can make an application to be allowed into the roll of solicitors. You will then be a solicitor.

Training contracts

The training contract is the final stage on the path to becoming a solicitor. It is where the student puts into action all the skills and improved abilities that he has garnered so far, but develops them further in a practical environment. It is essentially composed of a two year period working at a law firm, and is usually divided into four blocks of six months, each in different apartments. In small firms the training is not quite so rigidly divided but will at least cover three different areas. A qualified solicitor will help the individual and contribute towards their training, thus easing them into the profession via the expertise and supervision of one who is more experienced in the field than they.

In 2008 the SRA started a two-year scheme looking at the changes to the old style of training contract that employs the idea of work while learning. The newer model tries to improve access to the profession. This is only a pilot, but it would be beneficial for the student to keep abreast of these developments as they could be commonplace soon.


The training contract can be seen as an apprenticeship in many ways. The time spent by the student gives a chance for the firm to develop what the student already knows by fusing it with experience in the job, thereby hopefully producing a completed solicitor by the end of the process.

Additionally it allows the firm the opportunity to see the student’s prospects for employment as a solicitor after the course is over. What the students gain during the training contract depends on the nature of the firm, and the solicitors who help them. In a large commercial firm, the student often spends seats in a series of different departments, giving them a comprehensive commercial experience. At a smaller niche firm that primarily aims on one or two areas, the students experience can be less in scope. A small firm can give the student a more diverse experience, as they will likely deal with a greater variety of duties than at a larger one which is likely to be more compartmentalised in nature.

The PSC was started in 1994 as a part of a new training scheme. The student needs to do this to qualify as a solicitor. This is a modular course which tries to make the student reach the correct level of skills and knowledge during the LPC and the training contract. The student will paid by the firm to do this.

The primary modules are:

  • advocacy and communication
  • financial and business
  • client care and professional standards.

There is an examination for the financial and business skills module but none for the other two. The student will be required to complete twenty four hours of elective modules. Each module can be taken on their own and will last up to twelve days if taken full time. A lot of the bigger firms operate their own PSC as a part of their training programmes.


Being a paralegal is another career path option, instead of going onto the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The job of a paralegal is to support solicitors, and it has become a recognised professional group in itself. Working as a paralegal is an increasingly popular option for keen graduates looking to steal a march on the opposition.

Working as a paralegal can be a useful way to earn money to fund your LPC or BPTC, or to gain legal experience while you are waiting for the right training contract opportunity to emerge.

The term paralegal is usually defined as someone who does legal work but is not yet qualified as a lawyer. There are no courses to take or organisations to join become a paralegal. They make up nearly half of all fee earners in solicitors firms because paralegals are being increasingly relied upon due to their relative cheapness.

Exact nature of paralegal work will vary from firm to firm according to their speciality. Some paralegals will be treated similarly to trainee solicitors while others will have to put up doing more menial tasks – to an extent it is the roll of the dice.

Legal deregulation over the past decade by the government has led to the growth of around 6,000 paralegal firms. These are business organisations that offer legal services without a lawyer being involved. This means that there are a great number of paralegal career possibilities within these firms but outside the traditional legal profession. There is a similar trend in in-house legal departments in local government and commerce. Therefore the student should definitely consider paralegal work, especially considering that solicitors firms like trainees to have had this experience. Decent paralegal work may also shorten your training contract by up to half a year.

If you are looking for work as a paralegal, the best strategy to employ is to write to firms that interest you, whilst also being on the lookout for adverts, although these may prove difficult to find. Any contacts you may have in the legal world should also be pursued.

Applying for training contracts

Gaining employment as a paralegal is not a guarantee that you will be able to secure a training contract, however. Lots of legal firms ask that their own paralegals enter the same application process as outside candidates for training contracts to keep it fair. These jobs can be flexible and have short contracts, though part time employment is unusual.

Pay & career prospects

Paralegals are paid a lot less than solicitors and have poorer career options, but paralegals can become eligible to become partners of solicitors’ firms, to hold junior judicial office as tribunal chair people, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is considering recognising approved paralegals instead of a training contract.

Overall, being a paralegal is a great way to gain experience in the legal world, and while not definitely ensuring you get a training contract, it will open many new opportunities for you. It will also make you far more productive when starting a training contract. It’s a good alternative for graduates if they cannot get on the LPC or BPTC.

Newly-qualified solicitors

When an individual has successfully finished their training contract they will be entered onto what is known in legal parlance as the roll of solicitors. They can then apply for what is known as a practicing certificate and join the organisation that is known as the Law Society as what is known as a proper member. This will have to be paid for, however, either by the individual or the law firm.

The practical consideration of getting a job as a solicitor is the most important priority for a newly qualified legal professional. Lots of newly qualified solicitors like to stay on with the firm at which they trained, because they know the staff and are familiar with the practice, and already have their foot in the door, so to speak. It is not altogether likely that a law firm will have invested the money and time into providing training for the individual if it had not thought that that a permanent place would be available at the end of the period. It is possible, however, that the trainee may suffer a misfortune, and the company’s staffing needs could develop in a way that was not projected and that there is no longer an employment opportunity for the individual.

Some newly qualified solicitors instead go to other firms after qualifying, because they are lured away by higher salaries, a practice specialization that is more up their street or a more convenient geographical location.

Whatever happens, the individual should ensure that they get a final decision from the firm where they have been trained a while in advance so that the individual can think about their options and give themselves an opportunity to search for another job in a different law firm if necessary.

Life as an assistant solicitor

Once qualified and subsequently employed by a firm, the individual should almost certainly hold the role of an assistant solicitor. This means that they are an employee of the firm, usually working under the supervision of a partner or senior assistant solicitor, and will have a fixed salary paid to them.

The responsibilities of an assistant solicitor vary a lot according to the sort of firm they are with, the partners supervising them, the areas of work in which they are practicing and the individual skills and abilities. Commonly, they will be expected to work very hard and take personal responsibility for their own clients without constant supervision.

The majority of newly qualified solicitors work hard towards increasing their seniority in the firm. Associates can become senior associates, and then salaried partners and finally full-equity partners. The individual does not always need to go through every one of these steps though. Sometimes it is possible that they can make the leap straight from assistant to equity partner.

Continuing professional development (CPD)

Newly qualified solicitors have a responsibility to undertake considerable extra training in order to keep their skills fresh. In their first year, new solicitors must complete one hour a month of formally assessed training.

Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX)

ILEX stands for Institute of Legal Executives and is a professional body that represents 24,000 legal executives and trainee legal executives. Effectively it offers a less expensive way of becoming a lawyer by giving accredited and recognised qualifications for individuals in employment across the legal profession. It is seen as one of the main regulators of the legal sector with the Law Society and the Bar Council.

ILEX may prove useful for school leavers, graduates, support staff, people changing careers and those with family commitments. You can earn while you learn to help avoid debt, in addition to getting a qualification and experience. Some 80% of these people have at least some of their study fees paid by their employers.

A course will usually take four years to complete but can be flexible for the person's needs. For the right to call yourself a legal executive and a Fellow of the Institute you need to complete a five year period of employment (your four year study counts towards this) with at least two years of this after your eventual qualification.

ILEX Requirements

You must have at least four GCSE grades C or above including English, or equivalent qualifications. It is recommended that you take the City & Guilds/ILEX Level 2 Certificate in Vocational Paralegal Studies if you have no formal qualifications.

Sections of the qualifications may be exempt if you already hold an A-Level in Law or have a recognised qualifying law degree course. People with Legal Practice Course (LPC) or the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) are fully exempt and so can join ILEX. Exemptions can also be granted for other appropriate qualifications and are at the discretion of the Institute.


The ILEX Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice is the first part of the ILEX Professional Qualification in Law, and gives you a wide-ranging introduction to law. The courses are aimed at a level of study equivalent to A-level and most students choose to study their Level 3 qualification over a year full-time or two years part-time. This qualification is needed to become a legal executive.

The ILEX Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice is the next part of training to become a legal executive and is set at degree level. It is divided into three separate qualifications of Professional Higher Diploma Law and Practice, Diploma in Legal Practice and the Single Subject Certificate. Usually it will take two years to finish.

Location of Study

ILEX possesses over a hundred centres that teach ILEX courses. Every ILEX Level 3 exam, and most of ILEX Level 6 exams, is staged twice a year in January and June. You may however choose a different location which may better suit your needs. ILEX also offer learning at a distance by providing the ILEX Tutorial College (ITC).


ILEX qualifications can contribute towards you becoming a solicitor if you wish. If you become a Fellow of the Institute prior to completing the LPC, you may be exempt from the SRA training contract.


As well as being free from debt, salaries for trainee legal executives may be around £14,000 to £18,000. Salaries once qualified can read over £50,000.

Job Description of a legal executive

Qualified legal executive lawyers may undertake lots of the legal activities that solicitors do. Though they are involved in lots areas of law, the most common areas of specialism are:

  • personal injury
  • crime
  • probate
  • litigation
  • family
  • conveyancing
  • company and business law

Like solicitors, legal executives are required to continue training (CPD) and abide by a professional code of conduct. They may also choose to continue their studies and use their training to get into the final stages of the qualification scheme to become a solicitor. Some legal executives get the chance to manage their own departments, and have junior solicitors and administrative staff working under them.

Areas of legal practice

The word lawyer can mean lots of different things, but the term will always be practically synonymous with one thing - an erudite professional with a vast repertoire of legal knowledge. However, it is also the case that the area of law upon which that knowledge is focused can cover almost any field of human endeavour, as the breadth of the law is truly breathtaking and deals with nearly every issue under the sun.

It is due to this that lawyers can be found in a veritable smorgasbord of environments, making their home within any one of a number of legal specialities. For example, a barrister will usually work for themselves in a set of chambers, but some instead find their calling in employment by government bodies or companies. Even taking this level of variance into account, the work performed can vary hugely from one job to another (job). On the other side of the legal professional coin, solicitors may find themselves working in private practice, whether for a government organisation or for a private company. Even with all of these categories, there is considerable range of variance in each category itself.

Areas of work of a barrister

Cases that a barrister deals with rarely fit into a certain category, and the duties of a barrister can therefore run the gamut in terms of the legal issues which must be dealt with or evaded. A case can often appear to be a simple banking problem but could quickly evolve into a company law or insurance issue, and it is a barrister's responsibility to wrangle this chaos into a manageable legal issue. As such, most of the chambers do varied work, so the practice of a barrister is far more diverse than that of a solicitor. The bar is commonly separated into normal categories like civil and chancery, and then further categorized into areas like intellectual property and the media - and yet, as previously mentioned, these classifications are merely a flimsy attempt to contain the mindboggling range of legal topics a barrister must strive to cope with.

Areas of work of a solicitor

At the simplest level, one could separate solicitors between those doing commercial work and those involved with separate individuals. However, this is an almost laughably rudimentary distinction, and the reality is far more complex and twisted. Many of those who know the truth about the legal world will explain that different practice areas are almost like completely different jobs. On the one hand, one could find employ as a banking lawyer looking at huge loan by a bank to a corporation, while on the other hand, one could be a personal injury practitioner giving advice to an individual who has suffered what is known in legal parlance as an accident and wishes to seek compensation from the perpetrator. It can be argued that there is not a lot of difference between the everyday working lives of a human rights solicitor with that of a business one.


Arbitration as a legal discipline can be put under the classification of dispute resolution and gives a way for parties to resolve their commercial disputes in private with the help of a third party whose role is come to a legally-binding decision which must be accepted by both parties. Arbitration can offer a different option to long litigious fights in the domestic courts.

Advantages of arbitration over traditional litigation are privacy, quickness and sometimes a certain amount of informality, which can lead the parties to avoiding the costs of an in depth disclosure exercise.

Some proficiency in a foreign language or two and a broad background covering other academic areas other than law can put a lawyer in a good position to gain employment in arbitration.

Juggling a variety of tasks is often a large part of the job description, but this is no job for a circus clown. Tasks for an arbitration lawyer can include supervision of other fee earners and a lot of conversations with clients.

The recent recession has had a big impact on the activities of an arbitration lawyer — before the recession, parties would often try to trade out of a dispute, whereas in a less favourable economic climate, court action is far more likely.

There also tends to be a lot of fraud work in arbitration, which leads to a lot of injunctions and litigation, so if that side of law is of interest to you, arbitration could be an attractive discipline to aspire to.

The job can unfortunately be quite demanding socially, however, and can lead to a lot of cancelled engagements with friends and family as your hours are eaten in to. Therefore this may not be the job for you if you are unwilling to make social sacrifices for the sake of your legal career.

Dispute resolution is a major feature of arbitration, as most cases do not get to court. Getting a client out of a situation and protecting them from incurring excessive costs while securing the biggest return possible for them are common job responsibilities. To be an effective dispute resolution lawyer, a certain skill set is required. You need to possess the skills that will allow to fight your clients corner effectively and present a cogent argument to the other arbitrator.

In litigation the lawyer needs to be analytical and able to see the bigger picture. It's important to determine the end goal at the start and always know that dispute resolution is just a means to an end. It's also very important that the lawyer makes the most out of the commercial angle and recognises exactly what the client wishes.

Competent litigators are always two steps ahead of the game, are able to see what is coming and drive the matter forward instead of being just reactive and responding to each letter when it arrives. Clients are usually sophisticated and frequent users of legal services and need to solve their problems as cheaply as possible and in an effective manner.

Banking and finance

Banking and finance is a worldwide industry that involves huge transactions and disputes covering multi-jurisdictional problems. Increasing globalisation and internationalisation, as well as big variety of financial products, means that modern banking is becoming more and more complicated. One result of this complicated affair is that the scope for banking litigation is getting bigger and bigger.

Disputes can involve insolvency and the enforcement of rights under financing agreements and money-laundering rules, as well as criminal affairs and Department of Trade and Industry investigations. The selection process is far more complex and competitive than years past, and trainees can expect a lot more competition and hard work.

What is banking and finance law?

When we think of banking and finance law, the mind might initially go to major financial transactions between large corporations, and how these must be regulated. Banking and finance law does account for these areas, with lawyers working with bankers and accountants to make sure everything goes through smoothly and by the book.

However, banking and finance law does not only cover this sort of high-stakes business. Laws surrounding common banking products such as bank accounts and loans are very tight, and they can come with very complicated contracts. Banking lawyers will have had to do extensive work to make sure that these contracts are airtight, and that they won't bring the wrath of the Financial Services Authority down upon them.

International banking and finance

English law is considered a founding and main governing law in international financial transactions. This international element leads to British lawyers getting involved in transactions that they wouldn’t usually be involved in. Its common for two parties in two distant countries to choose English law as the governing law of their contract, meaning they will want an English lawyer to give advice on that contract. In banking transactions, the lawyer’s role is as much being a facilitator as providing knowledge on law.

Naturally, as banking and finance issues frequently cross national borders, particularly at a higher level, a banking and finance lawyer needs to be adept in understanding and working within the laws of finance in other countries.

Role of lawyers

Essentially, it can be seen as making agreements involving money and trying to record accurately what the agreement is between the borrower and the lender. Often it will be a multiparty agreement, so there is the need for the ability to reflect accurately what has been agreed. The role is only partly based in law, however, as the lawyers job is to guard against the potential insolvency of the borrower and to maximise the profit of the lender.

There will be many points when the lenders wish to control the borrower and the borrower wants the liberty to run its business without interference. The lawyer’s job is to therefore help in the process of reaching a compromise between the two. In a way they are acting more like consultants than a lawyer.

Market knowledge is often vitally important but there are skills required to be an effective lawyer in banking. The ability to work long hours hard at times when you would normally be sleeping is important, as is being able to concentrate in these conditions. Social skills such as empathy are also invaluable. Being aware of international culture and politics are vital, especially considering the economic rise of the east and increasing globalization and international travel.

Civil law

Civil law is the area of law that involves the relations between organisations and individuals. It reaches over a very wide series of law issues, like those to do with tort, contract, probate and trusts. Civil law includes disputes that range from professional negligence to education.

To do well as a civil barrister the lawyer has to possess skills such as clear analytical skills to scan documents and pick out the important parts, as well as research skills and a good understanding of the law in question. Organisation is similarly vital but the primary difference between civil practice and something like criminal practice is that the week is well planned in advance.

This line of law is best suited to someone who doesn’t want to be in court every day, but wants a good mix of court work and paperwork. Despite the lack of weekends and frequent late nights, it is seen by many as a very rewarding and enjoyable job.

What falls under civil law?

Civil law encapsulates matters which happen between individual parties. Unlike criminal law, which accounts for more serious wrongs which are considered to be offences against society and the Crown, civil law is in place to ensure a duty of care between individual parties.

Civil cases are not initiated by the police - they are brought by a claimant who considers him or herself to have been wronged by another party.

One common example of a civil case is the personal injury claim. This sort of case can be brought when an individual is injured by what they perceive to be the negligence of another - the defendant could be an individual, an employer, or the local council. The claimant will bring a civil case against the defendant in order to claim compensation for the injury that they have sustained.

Another type of civil case can occur when an individual or organisation is defamed by another.

Civil Law Process

Civil law and criminal law are distinct in a number of other ways. Civil law cases only take place in county courts, and at higher levels, in the high court.

Civil cases can never result in jail time for the defendant, as the police and Crown Prosecution Service play no part - methods of restitution available will focus on compensating the claimant, rather than just punishing the defendant. Monetary damages are a common award from a civil case, although a court order or injunction can also be handed down against the defendant.

Criminal and civil courts also differ in the way they assess wrongdoing. A civil law court puts the burden of proof upon the claimant, but the claimant is only required to prove the defendant's guilt on the "balance of probabilities". This means a claimant can make a successful claim if the court is satisfied that the defendant was probably in the wrong.

By contrast, a criminal court can only convict someone if it can be proven "beyond reasonable doubt" that they were in the wrong. No one will ever be sent to jail on the grounds that they probably committed a crime.

Commercial litigation

Commercial litigation is the resolution of disputes falling in the corporate and commercial sectors, such as banking transactions, civil fraud, corporate governance, EU/competition, asset and venture capital projects, financial services regulation, mergers and acquisitions, share capital reorganisations and professional negligence. As you can see, commercial litigation covers a vast range of different issues within the private sector, thereby making it a tremendously important area of law dealing with legal disputes between mighty corporate titans with sky-high budgets, as well as addressing issues concerning smaller firms which have found themselves in whatever type of legal trouble.

Reforms to the commercial litigation legislation and guidelines in 1999 tried to make a quicker and cheaper system that encouraged companies towards early settlement through facilities like alternative dispute resolution (ADR), rather than seeing every case end up in an oft-protracted court battle or the like. Because of this, nowadays, fewer cases reach courts, though there are arguments as to how effective it really is in practice.

Tasks and responsibilities of commercial litigation lawyers

Responsibilities can include litigation and arbitration, but there is a lot of variance between companies and each can be very flexible. Where commercial litigation differs from other litigation is that the lawyer has to possess certain industry knowledge and be aware of the commercial practices of banks in great detail. The role therefore involves taking an interest in topics beyond the scope of many lawyers in order to understand the expectations and practices which are common to the particular corporate sector with which they are dealing, otherwise they will find themselves out of their depth with many of the issues they will be required to assist with.

The working day of a commercial litigator can be very varied, with cases sometimes lasting for long periods of time. The unpredictability of the job can be seen by many as one of its major attractions, along with the constant meeting of new people from a range of different industries and backgrounds, so reclusive lawyers seeking to sequester themselves from the world for the most part will find themselves inappropriate for such a career.

Skills and personal attributes

This area of law is not for everybody and requires particular attributes and abilities. To succeed as a competent commercial litigator one needs to have a good sense of commerciality and what the client is seeking as well as a very strong interest in the business world. The individual also needs to be able to cope well with pressure.

The potential commercial litigator needs to try and acquire as much experience as possible, with a vacation scheme being the best option. Litigation also requires the individual to have a genuine interest in the law. It is important to make sure that this is the case because if it isn’t then this line of work is definitely not going to work out for the individual, as companies who are seeking a legal professional to represent them will definitely be on the lookout for someone who seems invested in the case that they will be expected to handle.

Company law

Company, commercial and corporate lawyers are the range of monikers attributed to the legal professionals who give legal advice to companies and organisations. They provide essential guidance on complex transactions and closely work with other departments within companies, while specialising in acting for companies of varying sizes. Advice on company director’s rights and responsibilities, board meetings, shareholders rights and secretarial matters can be seen as primary responsibilities, but the whole gamut of business law issues needs to be covered.

Corporate transactional work is about mergers and acquisitions, demergers and restructurings, takeovers, joint ventures, privatizations, equity financings, initial public offerings and new issues of shares. Being a company lawyer, you have to be at hand for the company whenever one of the many potential legal issues in business is encountered.

A central role for a commercial or company lawyer is contracts, both their drafting and inspecting to secure legal peace of mind for the company they are working for. When dealing with contracts, company lawyers must use their skills of negotiation in conjunction with their drafting skills with the end goal of a satisfactory contract.

They also work to ensure that business are compliant with all the pieces of legislation which they are bound by, so they don’t have to worry about facing any repercussions. One example of a piece of legislation that companies need to be wary of is the Data Protection Act, particularly for those companies who hold a lot of information about their clients.

Commercial law is big business and attracts the brightest and most ambitious graduates. Most of the biggest commercial law jobs will be based where the majority of transactions take place, i.e. the largest commercial centres such as London. What are known in legal parlance as the magic circle of the top 5 law firms in London (Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May) primarily deal with commercial law, advising the biggest multi-national corporations on various points of the law. Some of the deals which these law firms work on can be valued in the millions, and are therefore very lucrative.

Knowledge and skills

Contrary to the common belief, corporate law actually involves a lot of law, which involves lots of meeting with people rather than being stuck in an office poring over documents. So a preference for dealing with important people is something a potential commercial lawyer would benefit greatly from having.

The infamous all-nighters that people assume these type of commercial and corporate lawyers are involved in are also not as prevalent as one might think, which you may be pleased to hear, though the last week before the closing of a deal can still be particularly manic, so be prepared to stretch yourself when necessary.

The gift of good communication is also key to being a good lawyer in this field, as well as being very commercially inclined. Project management is another vital ability that can put one in good stead for a successful career as a company lawyer.

Competition law

Usually competition and regulatory work involves merger control under the EC Merger Regulation or the Enterprise Act 2002, proceedings under the Competition Act 1998, issues from sector regulation, public sector, utility affairs and state aid.

As well as the primary UK legislation, UK companies must also abide with the relevant EU rules which apply to their conduct. There have been large reforms of both UK and EU competition law and practice in recent times, and more reforms are being considered at the moment. A development in the past few years in the UK has been the introduction of a cartel offence, giving rise to liability for people themselves, not just businesses. This creates a vital new criminal factor to competition law work. Private competition law actions are a interesting place to keep an eye on, with both the UK and EU authorities eager to encourage these actions.

What is competition law supposed to do?

Competition law is in place to ensure that healthy competition is maintained in business, and that no business or group of businesses in any sector can act in a manner which prevents other businesses in that sector from prospering or competing.

Most offences which fit this bill fall under one of two categories of anti-competitive behaviour.

  • Abuse of dominant market position: this would be when a major player in a sector strangles smaller businesses, in order to gain a monopoly in a market or prevent other business from getting close to their level.
  • Anti-competitive agreements: when two or more businesses in the same market agree not to compete with each other in that market. An example of this could be seen when two business agree not to compete so that they can set their prices at a certain level, without having to worry about their competitor lowering their price and luring their customers away. This would mean that both businesses could set their prices as high as they wanted, denying customers any sort of choice.

Ultimately, competition law is intended to give customers more choice. In a marketplace where many different businesses are allowed to flourish, customers have many different options, and businesses are forced to compete to persuade customers to choose their products. This is exactly the scenario that competition lawyer will work towards maintaining.

Competition Lawyers

Responsibilities can include a range of EC or UK competition cases, like persuading regulatory authorities that a merger should be allowed or advising compliance with competition law, such as anti competitive practices and potential monopolies. Client interaction is a constant feature, as is supervising trainees and talking to authorities. As a solicitor in this area becomes more senior there is often a shift in role and responsibilities. Trainees are involved more in the research of points of law and putting together documents where more people in more senior positions tend to be more to do with strategy and advice to the client.

There is a continuous variance to competition law work that always makes the job challenging. To give the client sound competition advice the solicitor has to learn and understand how the client’s profession or industry works. The managerial side of the work is often seen as satisfying but having the skills to juggle lots of different tasks is very important, as is knowing when to delegate.

To be successful in competition law one needs to have technical expertise and the relevant up-to-date knowledge of case law. Another vital ability is be able to give an explanation of complicated economic methodology and legal analysis in basic terms.

Construction law

Contentious construction is the solving of arguments over construction work and housing through litigation, mediation, adjudication or arbitration. It is all too common for unsuspecting to fall victim to unscrupulous cowboy builders and left unable to contact with these obstructive fellows, so people who can bring these treacherous traders to justice are in great demand.

Non-contentious work consists of the drafting and negotiating of construction contracts and giving advice on projects, health and safety, insurance, environmental matters, insolvency and all other considerations that crop up in construction. People and companies that are clients can be from industry associations, insurers, contractors, engineers, architects, public authorities and governmental bodies to major companies and partnerships.

Construction is considered a niche area in law, and as such trainee solicitors don’t have it as a selectable option during their LPC. Because of this, trainees don’t know much about this type of law and its intricacies, but firms realise this and come with the expectation of training the newly qualified to get them up to speed. People who work in this area can expect to work on many different development projects at one time and work closely with clients. One of the things that individuals from the sector enjoy the most is getting to interact with a wide range of different people, for example engineers, architects, banks and project managers, when starting work on a new development. The individual has to be organised as well as diplomatic, as dealing with these people while acting in the best interests of their client can be tricky. Getting their hands dirty and getting to know about the building industry is another part of being a construction lawyer as trips to the building site can occur relatively frequently. Construction law would therefore be an ideal area of law for a budding lawyer who doesn’t want to be confined to offices all day.


Deadlines and demanding work are some of the challenges to being a solicitor in the realm of construction, so someone who thrives in stressful situations and has good skills of prioritisation whilst working under pressure will be likely to succeed in this environment.


Being a barrister involved in construction has a greater emphasis on the cut and thrust of the court room with the thrill of advocacy and cross examination being one of its highlights. It has a greater degree of independence than other areas of law and access to exciting important commercial cases. The downside is the barrister having to run the whole operation by himself, and also trying not to take any losses in court personally.

The skills needed to be a barrister in construction law are similar to those in the bar generally. One needs intelligence and the ability to appreciate the greater picture even when it can be very complicated. It’s also vital to be able to articulate your argument well in front of a tribunal or judge. Responsibility and confidence in oneself when under pressure is a strong attribute too.

Corporate tax

Practically every commercial transaction has tax implications. Therefore, corporate tax is a very vital practice area for a law firm of any size. Employment in corporate tax involves giving advice on the most tax-efficient way of acquiring, negotiating and documenting the transaction, divesting or restructuring assets and making sure the simple completion of deals. On the contentious side, corporate tax lawyers give advice on every aspect of negotiating with tax authorities, tax litigation and investigations, and conduct litigation in both civil and criminal courts.

Tax solicitors

Advantages of being a tax solicitor can be the satisfaction gained from understanding a tax system and helping clients with their issues. One has to work out what is happening and look at the issues that are specific to the deal. It is therefore a quite technical discipline and on most points, you are either correct or incorrect. Because there is a lot of thinking and checking of the legislation, it's important regularly interact with clients, rather than being alone in an office.

A particular range of skills is needed to be an effective tax lawyer, such as an analytical mind, curiosity and business nous. The good tax solicitors are commercial and use their judgement as to how much detail the client needs, and stay concentrated on the commercial situation.

To get ahead it is very important that the individual chooses the firm that is right for them, and now it is easier to research them and their culture. They should pick a firm that matches what they wish to do in their career and one with the staff and an environment that they like. The first few years are always the hardest but ultimately they should enjoy what they are doing.

Criminal law

Criminal law solicitors give advice and appear in court for the accused and the prosecution. They deal with a huge range of offences from benefit fraud to more serious crimes like manslaughter and murder. They deal with every part of the criminal justice system, from the first police station interview to the hearing before the judge.

Some days are spent in court, others in the office and others giving pre-charge advice to the police. In court there is much social interaction with different types of people. On a desk based day, the role is defined by procedures.

The CPS takes over and prosecutes all criminal prosecutions started by the police. This means there is a statutory responsibility to review any files that appear and apply the tests under which they look at each case. The first is determining if there is enough evidence to prosecute and the second is deducing whether it is in the public interest to prosecute.

Preparing a file for court can include examining evidence and making sure that the solicitor has everything needed, dealing with queries from the public and police as well as handling witness problems. Cases could require court applications, like applying for special measures for a witness.

There could also be evidence in the hands of the prosecution that does not make a part of case, like previous convictions of prosecution witnesses. If these undermine the prosecution case or help the defense, this information must be made public. Decisions like this are taken in most cases that are dealt with.

Another day, the criminal solicitor could find themselves in a police station as for a large number of offences the police need the CPS’s authority before they can charge an individual. It is the criminal solicitor’s job to look at the evidence with police officers and decide whether or not to charge or ask for further evidence before a decision can be made.

Progression and variety as a criminal lawyer

Employment at the CPS means seeing the full range of criminal activity. All crimes need all of the statutory procedures be followed, but with particular emphasis in the more serious or difficult cases, which have to be carefully managed. Standard things like evidence, disclosure, special measures, special requests from the defence, witness issues, are usually magnified in those more serious cases.

The greater the experience the solicitor acquires, the greater their capability to deal with a heavier caseload of greater importance. The solicitor doesn’t have to specialise to the same extent as many lawyers do in private practice, but they do need to develop areas of specialist knowledge.Most lawyers of the CPS have a wide range of work but some undertake training to specialise in areas like sexual offenses and youth work.

There is a great diversity in the role of CPS prosecutor and the cases are almost always challenging. Satisfaction of working towards the public good can be a boon. Lawyers interested in crime need a range of skills like people skills and the ability to advocate. They have to think clearly and accurately on their feet while under pressure.

Criminal barristers

As a barrister in criminal law, the lawyer can be called to act for either defence or the prosecution. Criminal law chambers offer expertise in specialist areas like drug-related crimes, fraud, child abuse, white collar crime, violent crime, human rights and mental illness. Criminal barristers spend a large amount of time in court compared to other sectors.

There is an international factor to criminal law that deals with terrorism, war crimes, serious internal fraud, money laundering, human rights and organised crime. Barristers operating in international criminal law attend international courts and tribunals in other countries.

People looking to become a criminal barrister should expect the unexpected as the work and the movement depends on whether or not they are going to court, and whether they are defending or prosecuting.

The career can be very hard and the rewards can take a while to come, however, and the pay is far less than commercial and private sectors as it is publically funded. The uncertain nature of work and income can be very stressful to some but many love the responsibility, independence and thrill of being in court.

Employment law

Employment law is a widely misunderstood field of legal practice, even among those who work in the law sector. It is commonly thought that this area of law is just about employment contracts, but in actual fact this is misguided. Employment lawyers actually can be expected to deal with every area of employment law, including discrimination, workplace monitoring and restructuring, flexible working and employee representation. Employment lawyers work on everything from drafting policies to working on cases surrounding inappropriate use of the Internet at work, meaning that every facet of dealing with the workers in a business can be represented within their role.

Trainee lawyers help with the employment parts of corporate transactions and the preparations for tribunal claims, in addition to going to hearings and meetings with clients and helping to write employment documents. They may not truly experience the different types of issue that an employment lawyer may have to deal with unless they go into the field beyond their training.

Practice can be quite varied, but lawyers usually concentrate on one area. Conscientious cases for example mean acting for employers on issues like unfair dismissal, sex, and race and disability discrimination, breach of contract claims. Cases can range a lot in time. On non-contentious cases, a lawyer will expect to draft contracts of employment, policies and procedures, get involved in ad hoc agreements like secondment agreements or giving advice on employment aspects of corporate transactions.

Clients can be remarkably diverse, and can feature supermarkets, universities, companies or various sizes, transport companies as well as public sector bodies, all of which present their own issues unique to the market sector and workplace environment.

One of the hardest things in employment law is coping with the high turnover of work however, with many cases happening all at once. It’s a fast environment and there are very tight deadlines to meet when litigation is a factor. Keeping abreast of all the changes in employment law can also be hard, so an employment solicitor has to keep up to date with developments.

Employment law for barristers

Many would-be barristers are attracted to becoming a barrister in employment law for the drama of advocacy and the free lifestyle one experiences. The area of employment law is huge and barristers within it often specialise a wide variety of areas.

Though lots of court time is guaranteed, there's no such thing as a standard working week for the average barrister in employment, making it an invigorating role to play.

Although the lack of predictability and an established routine can be thrilling, inevitably it comes with disadvantages. Being on the road a lot and spending sometimes days from home can make trying to plan a social life in advance hard. Employment law does have the advantage of being recession-proof, with being immune to the troughs and booms of the economy.

To succeed in this field of law, great social abilities are vital, as well as the qualities required for the Bar generally. Strong academic performance and advocacy are also most important.

Energy law

Energy is as always a vital part of the global economy, which is becoming even more so with the approaching peak oil and the rapid industrialisation of the developing world. This has been reflected in the legal landscape. Energy law covers oil and gas projects, refineries, pipelines, natural gas, and increasingly nuclear power and renewable energy. The key legal aspects are projects and trading, and can be national or international.

What do energy lawyers do?

Unlike lawyers in other areas, energy lawyers are far less likely to spend all of their time in one area of energy law - litigation, for instance. Energy law solicitors will often find themselves moving between contentious and non-contentious work, with none specialising exclusively in either type of work.

Energy law work is consistent in the sense that it usually takes place on a grand scale - small trivial cases in energy law are unlikely to be found, and you will often find yourself working on legal issues that will have implications across different countries, and even continents. You are also likely to find yourself called into action on cases that need urgent resolution. Naturally, all of these elements add up to put a great deal of pressure on all involved.

A training contract can be a big shift from university work and can be quite overwhelming for the trainee. Energy is often considered a very interesting sector because of its international and political scope. Much of the work involved is very high value and consists of very long legal contracts, which means that any problems that occur can build up for a long time and cast very long shadows into the future. This area in law is considered immune from the swell of the global economy as energy is such a vital component in any developed country.

What do I need to succeed in energy law?

With such an important sector, energy lawyers need to become used to working in a high pressure environment which often consists of international conference calls, research of opinions, meetings, teamwork and the preparation of documents. There is also a lot of international travel.

Though experience is highly valuable, the strengths that really matter to an energy lawyer is the patience and ability to deal with extremely complex energy contracts that involve mathematical and price formulae. Possessing the stamina to keep up with the energy companies while thinking commercially is a great skill for an energy lawyer to have.

Working in energy law is by no means for the faint of heart - all those who seek to work in it must be able to work well under pressure, and handle the demands of major corporate and political figures. However, for the few who are capable of handling everything that the world of energy law can throw at them, it can be an exciting and dynamic environment to work in.

There is little that can compare to the thrill of working on high-profile legal cases with profound real-world implications, and energy law gives you more opportunities to do this than many other areas of law.

EU and international law

Barristers who specialise in EU & international law can appear before the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), the International Court of Justice, the World Trade Organisation and other European and international tribunals. So, if repeated trips to the heart of the continent are your thing, it could be that you are cut out to work in the realm of EU and international law.

Issues under dispute in these arenas include those relating to the interpretation of treaties, human rights, boundaries, state responsibility, international investment and matters to do with the environment.

Because of the seemingly relentless onslaught of new EU legislation from Brussels there is an increasingly large demand for barristers who are well versed in the complexities of the European legal system as well as that of their own native land. EU law is reaching further and further into many aspects of laws in the UK and is something that lawyers, businesses and public bodies have to deal with if they have designs on maintaining an international presence.

The European Convention on Human Rights is a piece of legislation which, to the chagrin of many, is playing an increasingly prominent role in many high profile legal cases.

The work of an EU and international law solicitor itself is usually dichotomous in nature, divided into a public European side like challenging the implementation of EU legislation domestically, and the commercial and regulatory side of EU practice, which includes EU competition and trade law.

EU competition law is a vital device for maintaining the fairness of international markets and militating against cartels and monopolies which may threaten competition in the wider European area. So, if you thrive when working with large multi-national corporations, EU and international law could be the area of law for you.

One of the primary things that attracts legal professionals to EU work, with its international scope, is the wide variety of subject matter that comes a barrister’s way. Cases in which an international lawyer may be asked to provide legal representation can range from challenging restrictions on exports and contesting asset-freezing measures against associated with belligerent regimes to suing airports for abusing their privileges.

Disadvantages to this line of work are mostly those that apply to commercial law, like some of the dialogue being stop-start, and having to keep clients' interests first despite the barrister knowing that he or she could win the case if they wanted to.

The skill required to succeed in EU and international law are generally considered to be analytical ability first and foremost as well as a strong intellect. A suitable candidate for an EU and international lawyer also needs the ability to be diplomatic and operate in sometimes difficult political situations. Naturally, an interest in international affairs and law outside the confines of the United Kingdom are a plus. Knowledge of foreign languages which are important in Europe such as French and Spanish would also be beneficial, although not essential.

Family law

Family lawyers deal with legal matters concerning marriage, separation, divorce, cohabitation and everything relating to children, like access arrangements and maintenance. It also involves financial negotiations, prenuptial contracts and inheritance problems. Some cases deal with substantial assets and complicated financial issues, or high profile cases with famous people.

Developments in family law are driven by developments in society, and though the job of a family law lawyer requires a sharp legal mind it also needs social skills like tact and empathy. Family law could be described as a fusion between law and sociology.

Family solicitors

Because of the sensitive nature of the client contact, trainee solicitors aren’t often given a high level of responsibility in comparison with other legal areas, though this changes as the lawyer becomes more experienced and her skills increase.

The workload can vary from the crucial but boring administrative tasks to issues that are high-pressure. The situations that come up in family law can be complex as they deal with the lives of individuals on a personal level, which means there has to be a sensitive element. At the same time, however, clients need strong frank advice as they are often being told things they don't ideally want to hear.

Solicitor work primarily consists of child and matrimonial cases. Cases include such things as a parent’s use of alcohol, false allegations of sexual abuse, divorce settlements and separations. Many solicitors consider family law exciting as they get to see inside the lives of individuals and help them make a change for the better. From a sociological view, it deals with interesting issues like how the court sees the roles of men and women in a marriage, and can give people a reflection of society.

The client contact can be seen as one of the more rewarding parts of being a family lawyer, but it can also be the most challenging. Client contact can be tough because the solicitor sometimes has to give bad news. It is hard to tell clients things they don't wish to hear while doing a PR job at the same time. The solicitor has to put their mind at rest and encourage and support them. There are lots of varied situations that can occur and therefore lots of different methods of dealing with them all, unlike in other areas of law. In family there is a real strategy element as well as very challenging client care.

Family barristers

On the bar, barristers deal with every matter of law about divorce, marriage, separation, cohabitation and everything relating to children, much like a family law solicitor.

In contrast to a family law solicitor, however, there is a distinct lack of routine. This can provide stimulation and excitement but can be vexatious for some at times, with a negative impact on family (ironically) and social life.

Skills that are valued in a family law barrister are being able to work well under pressure, the ability to think quickly on one's feet as well as having a genuine interest in people and their affairs.

Housing and landlord law

Housing/landlord and tenant law covers every part of commercial and residential tenancies and encompasses things as varied as disrepair, human rights, possession claims, succession, and anti-social behaviour. Clients often are tenants, registered providers of social housing, private landlords and local authorities.

Cases will likely be fought from varying sides of the fence, and you will need to understand the rights and responsibilities of both property owners and their tenants to thrive within this legal arena.

In order to assist landlords, you will need to understand their responsibilities with respect to the law, what rights they have in order to deal with problematic tenants, and the processes they must go through in order to exercise these rights. Your remit will include how they can initiate possession proceedings, how they can make a claim for disrepair and what they can do if they face accusations of unlawful eviction. You may also have to help them deal with the legal effects of owning an HMO, as well as dealing with their local authority in any requisite fashion, particularly with how to make grant applications.

When dealing with tenants, you will need to be aware of their rights and entitlements, and in many cases how they can counter claims from landlords. You may have to defend them against possession proceedings and claims for disrepair or antisocial behaviour, or even help them to make a disrepair, unlawful eviction or harassment claim of their own. You may also work with those who are homeless, in social housing, or looking to buy a formerly rented home, and help these individuals along their path to finding a more permanent domicile with the assistance of the local authority.

The common perception of housing, landlord and tenant law is one of the duller and unspectacular areas of law, but many lawyers in the sector disagree strongly. This area can branch into anti-social behaviour of families and gangs, possession, violence and drug dealing. On the more prosaic side of it, you may have to branch out into family law, litigation proceedings and conveyancing regulations in order to gain a full understand of everything there is to know about housing law.

The practice is quite strongly courtroom based, though there is still considerable preparation time and conferences.

The abilities required to forge a career in housing and local government law are the same as those from elsewhere at the Bar, but human touch and a lot of common sense will help. Handling difficult witnesses and the ability to empathise with them are important qualities, as is the ability to analyse large quantities of documents, as well as grace under pressure. There is often a great deal of tension surrounding negotiations over housing - the landlord may be concerned over their property and their tenants frightened that they may lose the roof over their heads, for example - and it takes an even hand and a steady mind to defuse these worries and reach a fair legal conclusion.

Human rights

Recently human rights law has become a more popular choice for students and lawyers. University law faculties are offering human rights modules more and more as a piece of their law degrees, and a greater number of firms now offer specialisms in the area. The introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 put human rights law, public law and EU law into English law, and made the European Convention on Human Rights apply in UK courts.

Human rights solicitors

Work can consist of civil liberties, human rights law, cases relating to deaths in custody, actions against the police and other miscarriages of justice. A typical day for a human rights solicitor can be made up of many tasks, most of them desk based. There can be a larger than usual media factor to human rights cases.

All human rights solicitors should be primarily motivated to help people, and enjoy contact with clients. Having a large degree of empathy as well as feeling very strongly about the case can be vital qualities. Downsides can include trying to get funding from the Legal Services Commission, and dealing with unsavory subject matters that can be harrowing. Also, having a huge workload can be stressful, so one has to be organised.

A lot of students are idealistic and are attracted to human rights with a romantic view of what the job entails. It's all about having enough commitment while giving up a potentially higher salary that can be gained from other legal areas. Personality and ability prerequisites could include a strong and persistent character, with a committed and idealistic view of what civil liberties and human rights are. Having good social skills to deal with people who have been through a lot is also a major bonus.

Human rights barristers

To be a barrister in the areas of human rights can be quite similar. They are usually motivated to help people and enjoy contact with clients. The term human rights law can be a seen as a little misleading as human rights can crop up in many different areas of law such as commercial law and family law. Human rights in law can be seen as the interface between people and the state, where the competing demands of the policy of the state for a society as a whole against the rights for people or communities of people.

To be a good barrister in human rights law the person should be a competent lawyer first and a competent human rights lawyer second, as very similar skill are needed for both. The lawyer has to be able to draft and debate with persuasion as well as possessing good social skills in order to work well with people and clients.

Human rights law can be seen as a little different from other area of the bar as it is still developing and evolving, so the barrister has to be ingenious with arguments and think outside the box. There is a large scope of clients so the lawyer also has to change their tactics and strategies to match the different needs of each.

Insurance law

Insurance and reinsurance is a vital constituent of commercial activities across the planet. The importance of this sector literally cannot be overstated, with its influence over both companies and individuals being wide-ranging and vast. The insurance practices of the major law firms give advice to clients on a series of different areas, like investment management, coverage disputes, documentation, mergers and acquisitions of insurers, and the transfer of books and work between different insurers. As you might expect, this is high-level stuff, with big deals and imperative ideas being pored over by well-trained professionals with an eye for detail and an analytical mind of the highest calibre.

Regulatory law dictates issues like the creation and regulation of insurance businesses across the world. Clients can include insurers, reinsurers and British insurance institutions, and large insured companies and their insurers. Those working in insurance law will find themselves digging down into the minutae of claims, attempting to resolve disputes over who owes what and what should be paid to whom. Such cases may involve working on teams which can grow to be quite substantial and can last a good deal of time when the issues involved are too complex to resolve easily.

In insurance law you can find some very intriguing and complicated pieces of litigation that you don't always get in other areas of law. The insurance litigation sector essentially goes from personal injury cases all the way to defending a billion-dollar insurance claim from a defective drug. Because the cases in law practice are often so large, there aren’t that many trials, but the amount of hard graft one must put in at the office make up the bulk of the time.

Commercial insurance solicitors

The daily work of a commercial insurance solicitor includes a mix of taking correspondence from clients or rivals and taking instructions on that and replying. At advanced stages of litigation, the insurance lawyer may be drafting witness statements or advising clients on settlements. In the early stages of a dispute, there may be meetings to debate the chances of winning or meeting expert witnesses. The work tends to involve the sort of disputes that evolve over a longer time period, and as such doesn’t involve a high level of urgency unlike other areas of law. Instead, an insurance law practitioner must be in it for the long game.

Such an amount of involvement can make the issues dealt with very absorbing and challenging. The insurance industry can develop quite fast however, and lawyers in the field need to keep abreast of these developments. Another key part of the job is marketing, which can involve taking clients out to lunch, going to conferences or writing articles.

One of the positive things about a career in insurance law is that it is reasonably recession-proof, and, barring a full-scale meltdown of civilisation, insurance companies seem likely to remain doing good business for the foreseeable future, as cover is always needed and disputes will inevitably always arise over these issues.

Intellectual property

Intellectual property work for a solicitor can be separated into two primary areas: hard and soft intellectual property. 'Hard' intellectual property is about patents, while 'soft' intellectual property covers copyright, design rights, trademarks and passing off. Intellectual property solicitors give advice on things ranging from infringement disputes, commercial exploitation and agreements that deal either exclusively with intellectual property rights or with intellectual property rights in the bigger context of larger commercial transactions. Many lawyers specialise in either contentious or non-contentious intellectual property work.

Intellectual property can be described as bundles of rights associated with intangible assets, unlike property. Things like patents, trademarks, copyright and designs, and the rights associated are the intellectual property lawyers' bread and butter. Many are registered and many are not. Common contentious cases involve protecting and enforcing their rights, like suing companies and individuals for using trademarks without permission or helping a client oppose an application of a third party to apply for a contentious mark.

Clients can range from relatively small to large business and across a wide scope of sectors and industries. The intellectual property lawyer can be involved in all areas of business activity which can make the work varied and interesting.

Work can also consist of cases that are not contentious like giving advice to clients who wish to exploit their intellectual property by mortgaging, selling or licensing it.

Because intellectual property is intangible, it is easily transported or transferred across the world, which makes the job of a lawyer in the field international, necessitating links with lawyers and attorneys across the planet. If someone has infringed another's intellectual property in number of different countries then methods to prosecute them can become a great effort of coordination across potentially very different legal systems. Non contentious work can be seen as international as companies attempt to protect their intellectual property across the entire planet. Because of this internationalisation of intellectual property, lawyers can learn about a range of commercial issues and get involved in many different types of industry.

Intellectual property barristers

Much like intellectual property solicitors, their work is divided into hard and soft. Intellectual property barristers advise clients about things that go from commercial exploitation to infringement disputes, which deal either just with intellectual property rights or with these rights in the larger context of bigger commercial transactions.

A junior intellectual property barrister is expected to work in the two broad categories of supporting senior colleagues in a large patent court action or dealing with small matters on their own. The rest of the work is usually giving advice to smaller clients on disputes that don’t generally include patents.

The amount of advisory work tends to mean that intellectual property barristers do not work as much on their feet early on in their career path as those working in different areas of law. There is not much advocacy though, and court action tends to be in six or seven big trials a year rather than week in week out in court. Though time in court increases as the barrister increases in seniority, intellectual property law may not be for those looking for large amounts of courtroom drama. This area is probably more suited to those who would enjoy working on the same case for long periods of time.

Personal injury

Personal injury law is concerned with providing compensation for diseases and injuries. This area is doing rather well because of the relatively recent recognition of new types of physical and mental illnesses. The subjects involved vary a lot and can range from simple health and safety to road accidents to huge newsworthy disasters. A similar specialised practice area of personal injury law is clinical negligence, which is to do with injuries caused during medical procedures in hospitals.

Particular cases can involve serious injury like damage to the brain, negligence and cases that stretch across borders. Serious cases can result in huge multi-million damages for train crashes or children suffering brain damage, which can have a huge media presence. Other interesting cases can be an opportunity to improve a client’s personal situation, often with victims for whom the lawyer might have a particular sympathy.

The human element is indeed an important part of the job, and is not always as depressing as one might think. Helping someone out of a problem can be an intensely rewarding experience, as the provision of money can greatly improve someone’s life and their family’s life. Intellectually it can be a most satisfactory area of work as the solicitor gets to go into the other person’s mindset, sometimes briefly, sometimes even attaining the same level of knowledge and understanding as a consultant.

Some of the negatives of this area of law can be how the public may perceive personal injury, often because of misleading media coverage. Some in the industry are of the opinion that pendulum has swung too far away from the claimants to the insurers, in terms of laws, regulations and therefore the verdicts.

Becoming a personal injury solicitor

To be a great personal injury solicitor the individual has to understand the law and keep up to date, because the area is moving fast. They have to be very disciplined as this is a litigation process; they have to run the case, plan the strategy and go through with it, which demands a particular mindset and discipline. Most importantly however, they have to be able to sympathise with the clients and recognise their issues and what the case concerns. If the individual cannot communicate adeptly with people from different backgrounds from themselves then it is hard to be successful in this type of profession. The individual needs to connect with the client and acquire the information needed get the best out of the case.

Personal injury is a far wider area than other areas of law, which can often be dry and limited. With personal injury the solicitor has got a terrible and upsetting incident that has had a major impact on a person's life, and they have to work out how to quantify it, evidence it and assess it. There are many different types of case that require different sets of abilities.

Become a personal injury barrister

To be a barrister in the areas of personal injury law can involve a lot of travelling, in comparison to being a solicitor though there is more time being spent in court advocating.

The large amount of travelling can be a disadvantage of the job. There is little time to enjoy the places one visits as the time will be spent in court. Many barristers see this as worth it, however, for the amount of action in the court room.

To succeed as a personal injury barrister the person has to think outside the box and be innovative. The barrister needs to have a firm grasp of the law and be astute, but it’s the special ability to be imaginative and creative that sets an okay barrister apart from a great one. Persistence and courage is also required as the job is not secure and the barrister will never know when the next brief will come.

Planning and environment law

Planning law is the regulations that property owners use to develop their property for the benefit of the wider community. Local planning authorities need to abide by the national legal framework in their decision making. Planning law is often conjoined with other parts of the law, like local government and judicial review. Clients can be developers, government departments, public and private utilities, amenity groups, individuals and landowners.

On an individual level, planning law can affect people who wish to make significant changes to their land or homes - homeowners who want to add an extension to their house, for example.

The related field of environmental law is an area that has expanded greatly in recent years, and will continue to expand as concerns increase over the detrimental impact that we have on our planet. Environmental law exists to rein in the amount of environmental damage that is caused by human actions, with the hope of reducing or even nullifying the environmental impact of some of the more damaging processes.


Environment law tries to help the environment and people against pollution and the other impacts of human activity on the natural environment. Barristers in this area are involved in a large scope of matters, like contaminated land, waste, renewable energy, environmental finance, health and safety risk management, commercial and property transactions and nuclear law.

Barristers in this area are attracted to the opportunity to make a real impact. Personal characteristics that are useful for this part of the law are being able to deal with a demanding amount of work with confidence and assurance as well as the ability to take in a lot of information. How to pick out the important points in which the secretary of state will be interested in the court, appeal, judicial review or statutory challenge is a useful skill.


Because of the increasing awareness of environmental issues like the need for non fossil fuel energies and climate change, environmental law is becoming increasingly prevalent. Its primary aim is to help prevent pollution and reduce the negative impact of human civilization on the Earth.

This rather large objective has the consequence that environment solicitors are involved in a wide series of matters as diverse as risk management, contaminated land, waste, renewable energy, health and safety, finance, commercial and property transactions, litigations and nuclear law. Clients often include individuals, community groups, organisations, local authorities and the state.

Not many law firms have an environment litigation capability, but the work is extremely varied. Work can include advising on corporate deals from an environmental perspective, nuclear deals, transactional work, general advice and regulatory advice that can be wide in scope because the environment is very heavily regulated. The client base is correspondingly broad such as multinationals in the petrochemical sector, car manufacturers, nuclear companies, chemical companies, agriculture and the Crown estate.

There is also a criminal side to an environmental lawyer’s work, as can be imagined. Their work can often be defending against the Environment Agency, which can pursue its own prosecutions.

Because environment law changes so frequently, it is advisable that if a student has an interest, they should do all they can to keep up. An interest in the environment is obviously an advantage, but an equal interest in new technology is considered a bonus.

Shipping law

Shipping is seen by many as one of the most specialised areas of law, which means that its solicitors are always sought after. The sector generally falls into two distinct areas: ‘dry’ shipping consists of bill of lading, issues with contracts, charter party disputes, damage inflicted on cargo, whereas 'wet shipping' mostly involves deaths of individuals and sunk or damaged ships. It can either be contentious or non-contentious.

Regardless of the state of the world’s economy, shipping litigation is always strong and mostly does well because of its counter cyclical nature. Work that isn’t contentious, however, usually follows the ups and downs of the world economy. Examples of cases include damage from Hurricane Katrina and international piracy.

Shipping work by its very nature means that it is international in scope. The majority of cases have a multi-jurisdictional factor which means that they often have to instruct lawyers from other countries to give advice on different legal systems as well as considering international maritime conventions and law.

Shipping law challenges

These days, shipping law practitioners are spending less and less time on court cases, and more time in arbitration and dispute resolution. This means that working your way into shipping law will offer you less opportunities to argue in court - however, if helping two or more sides to negotiate a mutual agreement over some disputed issue is something that would be more to your liking and more befitting of your skills, shipping law could well be up your street.

Shipping law events tend to happen in real time - as a shipping law solicitor, you are unlikely to find yourself dealing with things that happen months ago. You will be dealing with things as they happen, and you may be called upon to make a quick decision at the drop of a hat.

The upside of this aspect of shipping law is that events can be quite fluid and exciting - many people are energised by the prospect of this kind of working environment. On the flip side, this does increase the amount of pressure on those working in shipping law. It also means that you could be unexpectedly called into action at any time of the day, on any given day.

Shipping law solicitors

To be a top shipping solicitor a person needs to have a range of quite specific skills. The person needs to be able to absorb and comprehend a large amount of technical information from lots of different experts, like mariners and marine engineers. The person needs to be very well organised as there are different procedural requirements and lawyers in cross jurisdictional cases.

Comprehensive legal knowledge is also a big factor in this area as there is a wide range of law types that can apply to shipping law.

Shipping law barristers

Barristers and solicitors in shipping law have many of the same qualities and background except that the huge majority of work performed at the admiralty and shipping Bar is dry work. There is not much wet work nowadays, especially at the junior end of things.

In the dry sense, shipping can be viewed as niche areas of the commercial bar. The legal side is intellectually very rigorous. Many top commercial judges have practised as shipping lawyers as it is an analytical discipline. There is much problem solving and the law is commonly very complex.


Technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) is a very quickly developing sector in the legal industry. There is a constant growth and evolution in technology which is always pushing legal boundaries, and this can be hard to keep up with. TMT lawyers give advice on regulatory changes, market developments, legislation, and technical and commercial issues. The continued development of outsourcing is a very common topic in TMT.

The work can range from big banks to big public sector organisations to tiny commercial outfits. The actual work involves really depends on the client, but it includes drafting terms and conditions, distribution agreements and intellectual property work.

There is a lot of juggling of a large amount of different cases, so organisation is the key, along with prioritisation. An important part of the job is just how you react and respond to stressful situations. It’s a challenging job but is rarely the same, with always a surprise round the corner.

Areas of TMT Law

When you split up the different areas of TMT law, you realise how broad and varied this relatively new legal frontier is.

Technology Law

Technology law is a somewhat vague umbrella term, which can account for any legal matters that arise in the development and use of technology.

One example of technology law in play could be in the many patent disputes that occur between large technology corporations, such as Apple and Samsung. When one company accuses another of developing a mobile phone or a tablet that uses a piece of technology they have patented, lawyers are sure to get involved soon after.

Naturally, this means that being a lawyer at the high end of technology law can be quite lucrative - these are expensive lawsuits, battled across numerous countries by multi-billion pound technology companies. However, bear in mind that only the very best technology lawyers will be able to get involved at this level - companies of this size will deploy their own lawyers to handle this litigation.

Technology law covers plenty of other ground, but it has a tendency to not evolve quickly enough to keep pace with the world. The law was slow to establish itself on matters such as spam, cybersquatting, and more recently matters relating to privacy online and guidelines for social media. However, technology law will continue to evolve, slowly but surely, and working in this area of the law is guaranteed to be an interesting challenge for many years to come.

Media Law

Media law covers the entire spectrum of entertainment in all its forms, from theatre and film to books, music, and videogames.

Media law can cross over into a number of other legal fields, but one area that rears its head across all fields of media is intellectual property. The spectre of intellectual property violation lurks across virtually all branches of media, whether its illegal downloading of music and films or the pirating and cracking of computer games and software, and a media lawyer could find themselves protecting a media company's assets through litigious means.

Employment law is another key aspect of media law, especially when dealing with employees who are public figures, who may earn a lot of money.

Telecommunications Law

Telecommunications law is the name given to laws governing, among other things, radio and television broadcasting, as well as wireless networking.

Communications of this nature in the UK are regulated by Ofcom - Ofcom sets the regulations and guidelines for what can and cannot be broadcast on television and the radio, and are responsible for punishing those who broadcast material which crosses the line of acceptability.

Private clients

A private client solicitor manages the affairs of individual clients and trustees, managing and planning every part of their finances, like tax matters, Wills and probate, and onshore and offshore trusts. Private client lawyers deal with a large range of charity work and advise on certain charity law issues as well as on matters that affect charitable organisations and the establishment of charities.

Working for a private client can be a tremendously interesting field of law as you will be dealing directly with issues that affect people and helping them to structure the legal side of their lives. It is likely you will deal with a wide variety of different people, a fascinating undertaking in itself, and the potential for dealing with their affairs and assisting them in issues of law means that your legal ability will be stretched to the limit and put to the ultimate test.

International private client law

This type of law work is thriving at the moment and multi-jurisdictional problems are becoming ever more important for the private client lawyer when acting for clients who are situated outside Britain or who own assets in different nations around the world.

Areas of work

Private client work can be separated into three different areas, with lawyers usually focusing on one in particular, though this isn’t always the case.

The first area is individuals and families who need services like having wills drawn up, buying selling property, and sometimes disputes over a boundary. This type of work involves Wills, probate and estate planning. The second is work for trustees, which usually involves family trusts of considerable wealth. This deals with trust and tax advice, usually on tactical issues. The third area is about institutional business, which is mostly acting for charity organisations. The issues they have to deal with are usually similar to private trusts, but with greater additional tax and regulatory problems.

Career progression and qualities

As a private client lawyer's career progresses then the decisions they have to make get more significant. An obvious requirement for such a role is that you should possess great technical excellence in understanding and dealing with the law, as well as superb people skills to explain to your client what is happening and why you chose to do. Another aspect which makes a good private client lawyer is the courage and ability to make a decision and take the responsibility for it. Furthermore, resilience in the face of problems is another key quality that’s needed, as stress is an inevitable part of the job.

To be a private client lawyer an individual needs a series of skills, especially intellect. Reading and understanding some of the complicated literature, laws and regulations that come with the profession is vital. Stamina is also an important component of being a success in this tough profession, and it’s going to get tougher as there is a wave of new laws being brought in shortly.

For those who like dealing directly with people and facing the challenge of their legal troubles, private client solicitor could be the role for you.

Alternative law careers

The territories of England and Wales house around 20,000 lawyers, the majority of which are divided more or less equally into those in private practice and self-employed barristers. For those not travelling down either of these avenues, however, there are other careers in which to invest the skills garnered during one’s legal training. These range across a wide variety of vocations and sectors - there is the possibility of working as an in-house lawyer for a company, seeking a rewarding career in the public sector, or even taking on the morbid yet necessary mantle of coroner.

Being trained as a lawyer or solicitor is highly prized outside the legal profession. Lots of employers want the skills you have learned, like research ability, the ability to collect and analyse information competently, the ability to make logical argument and the weighing up of points and counter points. The ability to communicate with other people in such a way is highly valued, as is the ability to handle pressure and acquire and retain great knowledge.

You should not feel disheartened if it transpires that you may not be able to directly enter the law world - it is a very competitive sector and there is currently an oversupply of legally trained graduates seeking the positions you so covet. If it is the study and practice of law you savour, there are many ways to place it as the centre of your career without having to work as a solicitor or barrister, while if you are merely looking for a challenging and worthwhile career, the world is literally your oyster with a law degree under your belt. Likewise, you should not be downhearted if you are finding the law aspect of your study or work unrewarding, as switching into another field could be easier than you think.

If you have found yourself in a position of uncertainty over your future career, it may be a good time to step back and have a good think about what aspects of your degree were best suited to you, what you are good at and what you are looking for in a career, and from there develop some idea of what alternative career paths you may pursue.

Some suggested positions for those trained as lawyers include:

  • Civil servant - a variety of different roles are available in the public sector, both at home and abroad
  • Jobs in the Crown Prosecution Service - making objective decisions on criminal cases and sentencing
  • Government Legal Service positions - advising the government on legal issues in the interests of the public
  • In-House Lawyer - making a name for yourself within the walls of a big company
  • Working in Law Centres - helping the less well-off secure access to legal advice and representation
  • Law Clerk - working behind the scenes to keep the courts of the land running
  • Careers in Local Government - assisting councils and local authorities with their legal needs
  • Non Law Jobs - finance, insurance, academia and many more can always use the touch of a legal expert

Civil servants

There are all manner of career opportunities in the civil service, lots of which are very appropriate for people with legal training. If you have been left reeling after discovering that a law job is not for you, or found yourself unable to secure a position in the highly competitive legal world, you may well find your home in the civil service. Many tasks of great importance are dealt with by these stalwart employees of the government, and you may discover a rewarding and challenging role within the civil service's walls. Your legal mind could be put to great use for the purposes of the state, so looking into these careers could be your first step to a glorious and worthwhile future.

The Home Office, the Foreign Office, and the Ministry of Justice are all superb targets for legally trained individuals seeking out a career, as their specific specialities mean that you will find your expertise well-suited to the tasks they undertake. All of these departments deal with issues of law, governance and justice, so it makes a lot of sense to have a look at what they have to offer, as they may well be delighted to welcome you into their ranks.

HM Revenue & Customs employs tax inspectors, so those with the skills and experience to comprehend the complicated details of tax law are very suited for such line of work. It may sound dry, but if you find that you have a particular aptitude for the topic, then you may find your place with HMRC, ensuring that the taxes of the nation are in order.

The UK Border Agency also looks for job applications from people with law qualifications. Dealing with immigration, citizenship and asylum issues, the Border Agency is the pick of the crop for those who wish to work in these rewarding fields, and your knowledge of law could be put to great use there.

If you are interested in any of these positions, the Civil Service Fast Stream is an accelerated training scheme for people who have finished university and who wish to join the Civil Service, and may therefore benefit you.

European civil servant

The European Commission regularly looks for law graduates to be employed in its directorates. To give a sample of what the job entails, the commission offers three periods of in service training for those who have acquired a university degree or diploma recently. The European Parliament, the Council, the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, the Social and Economic Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Ombudsman are all receptive to trainees, with each traineeship going on for a period of between twelve and twenty weeks.

This programme has been available more or less since Europe started to integrate, and tens of thousands of people have taken advantage of it. Many of them have even gone on to become European civil servants and even commissioners. As you can plainly see, applying to become a European civil servant could be the path to a long and fruitful career.

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)

The Crown Prosecution Service is a government department which is charged with carrying out public prosecutions of people charged with criminal offences in England and Wales. It is the duty of the CPS to analyse cases constructed by the police and to then advise on what charges should be brought. It has bases around the country and around 2,800 of the 9,000 staff which it employs are lawyers.

What does a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer do?

Every bit of prosecution work by the CPS is done by solicitors or barristers called 'crown prosecutors'. Lawyer teams, backed up by administrative staff, make sure that every fact and bit of evidence to support cases are there for presentation by CPS lawyers in the courts. Cases that are more serious are conducted in the crown court by barristers instructed by CPS staff. Though every case is different, there are basic principles that apply in every case, and crown prosecutors have to make their decisions completely impartially. It is their job to make sure that the right individual is prosecuted for the correct offence and that all facts that are needed shown to the court.

Training at the CPS

Training at the CPS can be seen as a good alternative to private practice if the individual has an interest in criminal law and thinks they have the potential to be an effective advocate.

Trainees are likely to be in court a lot as they will be assisting CPS lawyers during their training, and they will prepare the files for the offences.

The CPS trainee scheme is advertised a year before the start date so that those who wish to apply have completed the LPC or BVC, or be in their final year of study so that they can start the next year. Solicitors in training have to serve between six and eight months in private practice to acquire enough work experience in the other two seats of law. Pupils can do the year with the CPS but will spend a month in chambers to acquire the relevant experience of the independent Bar.

When the trainee has finished his training successfully, he or she will be appointed as a crown prosecutor. He or she has the option to move into industry, private practice or other institutions.

Why join the CPS?

The CPS can offer a rewarding and stimulating career path to someone who wants to work within the criminal justice system in Britain. There is a strong emphasis on advocacy in the CPS, and the work done is quite dissimilar to that of private practice. There are branch offices all over Britain, and the CPS offers the standard benefits of employment with a big organisation. The CPS gives good training, options for part time work, equal opportunities, career breaks and job sharing. Employees of the CPS also have access to a number of other benefits, including child care and flexible working.

The person will earn £18,605 as a trainee, or £19,621 in London, and the posts are pensionable and permanent.

Government Legal Service (GLS)

The Government Legal Service is a body of lawyers which are based within around 30 local government departments in the UK. Among their ranks of around 2,000 are both barristers and solicitors, which are on hand to provide any type of legal advice for which the need may arise.

What does the GLS lawyer do?

There is an enormous amount of legal work created by the government in all the primary areas of law, and most of it is completely unique. Legal teams differ greatly in size from a single lawyer in smaller regulatory bodies to over 400 in bigger organisations. The GLS has lawyers from lots of different backgrounds and experiences, from trainees to the best legal minds in the industry.

Some examples of the areas of law handled by the GLS are:


GLS lawyers deal with civil and criminal litigation from judicial review and personal injury, in every court up to the House of Lords, which occasionally has constitutional implications. The lawyers also deal with the litigation in courts of Europe.


EC law increasingly has a greater effect upon each member state of the European Union. It is the GLS which gives advice on its consequences for domestic policy and domestic legislation.


GLS lawyers give advice to ministers and policy administrators on the consequences of changes to the law and instruct parliamentary counsel on the preparation of bills. They also give advice to government during debates and draft subordinate legislation whenever needed.


Government decisions can be subject to judicial review and it is therefore crucial that sound legal advice is on hand at all stages of the policy formulation process.

Why join GLS?

The GLS is quite different to private practice and the work offers an alternative intellectual side and perspective. The overall aim is to benefit the public and its lawyers have the chance to make a very positive impact on the country and the individual lives of its inhabitants. A lawyer also has the opportunity to change his job every few years, which can be very interesting, increase one's skill and can also improve one's CV. To do this they are helped by a training programme of very high quality, which utilises the experience and skills of senior lawyers and academics. It also offers flexible working patterns like part-time work and policies that are friendly to the family.

Career Path

Most of the time trainee solicitors work in four separate areas of practice over a period of two years in their assigned department, which enables them to gain a wide view of how government works and functions. A lawyer can change to a different department for a period, however. Trainee barristers spend much of their time in the chambers and the department of government that they were originally put in. Under the supervision of their highly qualified and experienced supervisors they help and take part in a lot of genuine legal work.

In the GLS lawyers are often given a lot of responsibility early on in their career, as well as being given training opportunities and career development, which is accompanied by a simple system of grading. This makes a lawyer's progress dependent on their own performance, which can be rewarded financially if over a long period.

Sponsorship for LPC/BVC is between £5,400 and £7,600 and course fees. Starting salaries for trainees can differ according to department but are generally around £22,640, or £24,900 in London.

Law clerks

A variety of clerk roles are available within the legal realm for those who are qualified, though some require more legal knowledge than others.

Court clerk

Her Majesty's Courts Service has a lot of qualified solicitors and barristers as court clerks, also known as magistrates’ court legal advisers, whose role it is to advise lay magistrates on law and procedure. The legal expertise of the court clerks complements the qualities of the magistrates, who are not qualified lawyers and do not necessarily have to have a legal background. During a case court clerks will work closely with the magistrates by advising them on the applicable laws and procedures after the magistrate has considered the facts of the case.

The court clerks hold vital positions in the daily smooth running of the courts and in the administration of justice. As well as assisting the magistrates they also help to explain procedures to witnesses and defendants in order to put them at ease, and make sure that the conventions of the court are adhered to at all times.

Court clerks are also an important cog in the management and administration of the service, being responsible for payment of fines, organising the arrangement of court time, and other court duties.

Clerks work towards becoming a justices' chief executive, with responsibilities for big groupings of magistrates' courts if they are interested in administration.

Outdoor clerk

A solicitors firm employs an outdoor clerk to assist with matters in court, which can include the tasks of attending hearings, taking witness statements, filing documents in court and prison visits, as well as some more mundane things such as administration. They often work in a series of practice areas, like immigration, crime, family and personal injury. It can be very useful for graduates or even students to get worthwhile experience. Firms are eager to hire individuals who are Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar Vocational Course (BVC) qualified.

The job however does not always provide full time employment and is mostly done on a freelance basis, but has the advantage of allowing the possibility for the person to be employed at two different law firms at once, if variety is something you look for in a job.

Barristers' clerk

Widely speaking, a clerk working for a barrister helps to run the daily business of a chambers and assists with the organisation of their cases. Earlier on in this kind of work, a clerk will prepare papers, carry documents and robes to and from court, make travel and accommodation arrangements for barristers, and do other administrative tasks. As the career of a barrister’s clerk progresses, they will take on the responsibility of managing diaries, liaising between solicitors, clients and barristers, and helping new business into the chambers. A barrister’s clerk will also be responsible for procuring payment from clients who have used the barristers’ services.

Even though the job of barrister’s clerk is administrative in nature, the clerk is expected to develop a certain level of expertise within in the type of law that the chambers specialises in. An in-depth knowledge of court procedures will also be necessary to excel in this role.

Other law-related jobs

Within the vast and expansive realm of law there are a great many roles which must be filled. Some require legal qualifications and some do not, but together they make up a good chunk of the legal world in the UK. Here are just a few examples of other legal careers you may wish to look into.


A paralegal is an individual who does substantive legal work that needs knowledge of the law and procedures, but isn’t qualified as a solicitor or a barrister. Paralegals can work in a law firm, in house or in the public sector.

Being a paralegal is seen as a profession in its own right nowadays, in contrast to the past. It is often used a very effective way of improving one's CV to get onto a training contract. The SRA also holds a training contract programme which allows a paralegal to qualify as a trainee while working their current job.

Licensed conveyancer

A licensed conveyancer is a specialist property lawyer who deals with every part of the law involving property. Parts of their job include giving advice on the transfer of ownership of property and acting for lenders, buyers and sellers.

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers regulates licensed conveyancing. Different examinations must be successfully completed as well as a period of practical training, but some exemptions are available to LLB, LPC and ILEX graduates.

Law costs draftsman

A law costs draftsman is a specialist lawyer who deals with all aspects of client costs and ensures clients are properly charged for their solicitor's work. They will often be employed in situations where there is a need to prepare case budgets, or prepare a detailed analysis of costs in a disputed settlement or bill.

Law costs draftsmen are regulated by the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen, which provides training and education. Entrants to the profession might be exempt from some exams if they have the appropriate legal training. Contact the association for more detail (

Legal executive

A qualified legal executive with experience has the ability to perform lots of the same legal activities that solicitors do. The Ministry of Justice recognises that a becoming a legal executive is one of the three primary methods of becoming a lawyer. Legal executives have their own clients and can perform representation in court where it is relevant. Some primary parts of specialism are family, crime, conveyancing, personal injury, company and business law, and civil litigation.

The Institute of Legal Executives is the organisation that represents over 20,000 qualified and trainee legal executives. ILEX is a good option to those looking for a law qualification from a range of groups, like recent school leavers, graduates, legal support staff, mature students and career-changers.

Court reporter

Court reporters record the words of court hearings for transcripts of court proceedings. Reporters have been using a computer transcription system rather than traditional shorthand in recent years. Court reporters don’t have to be qualified legally to go into the profession, though it can obviously be an advantage.

Chartered secretary

The job of a chartered secretary involves working as a company secretary and in other high up positions in local government, charities, educational institutions as well as companies. They will be qualified in corporate governance, administration, company law, accounting and management. Other parts of their job include working with legislation, best practice, regulation and making sure operations run smoothly.

Other legal topics that may interest you