- Different areas of law
- Typical roles in law
- Skills and qualifications
- Key employers
- The application process
- Law sector graduate jobs and schemes
- More information
Do you have a keen eye for detail? Are you persuasive and love arguing your point? If you’re passionate and very good at expressing yourself, a career in the law sector could be perfect for you.
Do you like the idea of law but you’re not certain yet if it’s right for you? Here is why you should consider a career in law. If you’re interested in law but not sure which route to go down, here is a guide on how to decide which area of legal practice is right for you.
The law is a broad sector to work in. You can specialise in the area of the law that you’re most interested in by choosing the courses you take during your degree and by completing relevant voluntary work. Here are two prominent areas of law that you could decide to work in:
Criminal law deals with people who committed or have been accused of committing a criminal offence. A criminal offence is a crime deemed illegal by the state and it is the state that prosecutes the alleged offender. This area of law is separated into its severity as defined by the Crown Court. Minor criminal charges include minor criminal damage, common assault and being drunk and disorderly. If found guilty, these typically come with 6 months in jail or a £5,000 fine. The next level of severity includes theft, fraud, possession of drugs or weapons and assault and grievous bodily harm. The highest level of severity is for crimes like murder, manslaughter, robbery and possession of a firearm. The maximum sentence for one of these crimes is life imprisonment.
Whilst criminal law deals with offences where the state prosecutes someone for committing an illegal act, civil law deals with claims that individuals make against others. In civil law, the person who is wronged, sometimes known as the claimant, takes the person who has allegedly wronged them, known as the defendant, to court. Since this area of law is so broad, you might specialise in an area that interests you. You could work with conveyancing, family law, personal injuries, breach of contract, employment issues, probate or many others.
Criminal and civil law are the two main areas of law but there are many subsections that you might be interested in. Read this guide to different types of law.
The legal sector is in such high demand that there are many jobs that you could do, whether that is working for a firm or a court. Here are just some of the roles that are available to you in the legal sector:
Solicitors are responsible for the background work that a client needs before a hearing or before a case goes to court. In this role, you advise clients about the best course of action for their case using your understanding of the legal system and expertise in the area of law you’re working in. Your work involves speaking to clients, giving them advice and drafting contracts and legal papers. Sometimes your work involves representing a client in court.
Learn about a day in the life of a trainee solicitor.
Barristers represent their clients in court. Working as a barrister involves preparing your argument so making sure you fully understand the case and the route you’re going to take your defence or prosecution. You stand up in court and argue on behalf of your client. Often, barristers don’t do the background work. A solicitor is often in charge of dealing with the client before the barrister is involved so the barrister is solely in charge of the court area of the legal case.
Read this guide to learn about what a barrister is and what they do.
Chartered legal executive
Chartered legal executives have a very similar range of daily tasks to solicitors. The distinction between the jobs is the type of training for each. Whilst solicitors complete law degrees and a training contract, chartered legal executives complete a professional qualification which is more like an apprenticeship paid for by a legal firm. The chartered legal executive training is more vocational, combining academic study with practical experience compared to law degrees which focus far more on academic knowledge.
Paralegal work is necessary to all law firms. As a paralegal, you’re responsible for completing the administrative and research tasks for a solicitor to help the success of a case. In the role, you bill clients, organise meetings for the office and for clients, draft letters for solicitors and proofread documents. You may help to plan a case and prepare information through your research.
Learn about a day in the life of a paralegal.
Legal secretaries have similar responsibilities to paralegals with a higher focus on administrative tasks. This may include transcribing interviews with clients, organising diaries and preparing forms for court.
Judges run the court cases, listening to the two sides of the case. In this role, you make a decision about whether the evidence presented by the two sides is admissible. In a civil case, you rule on the damages to the claimant and in a criminal case you rule on the guilt of the defendant and give a sentence if the defendant is found guilty.
Mediators are involved in discussions between claimants and defendants in civil cases. They help the parties to have a constructive conversation and come to a mutually acceptable conclusion. Having a mediator involved often prevents the need for further legal action meaning it can be cheaper for the parties to employ a mediator rather than going to court and having no say in the outcome.
The legal sector is broad and combines many jobs but there is a combination of skills that help all manner of jobs in the sector. Here are the skills, hard and soft, along with the qualifications that you need to succeed in the legal sector:
- Legal writing skills. Working in law often requires you to have great written communication skills. However, this written communication is highly specialised in law. Having the necessary legal writing skills means you can draft wills, contracts and other legally binding documents without the risk of another lawyer finding a loophole in years to come.
- Knowledge of your area of law. In most legal jobs, you are considered an expert in your field. This means you should have the relevant knowledge to match. Having good knowledge of your area of law means being able to reference relevant cases and state legal precedents that they set. You should also know laws that relate to the case you’re working on and know whether you can use the law to argue something about the case.
- Attention to detail. All legal professionals need great attention to detail. As a solicitor, chartered legal executive or paralegal, when writing a legal document, you need to pick out individual words which could have another meaning and might weaken your case if another lawyer brought it up.
- Communication. Most areas of legal work require good communication skills. Barristers need to argue their cases in court. Solicitors and chartered legal executives need to provide relevant and useful advice to their clients. Judges need to address a courtroom and sentence people. Mediators need to carefully craft their words to allow open communication between parties. Good communication is imperative to most legal jobs.
- Critical thinking. Having great critical thinking skills helps many legal professionals. Barristers need to pick apart the argument made by the opposing legal team and also use the witness’ and defendants’ statements to make a point about your case. Solicitors and paralegals use previous cases to demonstrate why they should win the case and critically think about the evidence alongside legal precedent to help this.
- Ethics. Working in the law means recognising the right and wrong of a legal case. Working strictly within the rules helps you do your work without the case being thrown out for inaccuracies or rule-breaking. For example, if you’re working in defence and a client reveals to you that they’re guilty, it’s your obligation to pass on the case to another colleague or firm and not continue representing them if they want to plead not guilty because trying to get someone off who admits to being guilty is ethically wrong and against the law.
- Research. Many legal jobs require great research skills. This could be researching the particulars of a case, researching important cases with a similar theme that could help you, researching a client’s or another party’s history or researching laws in the particular area.
The qualifications that you need to work in the legal sector depend on the type of job you’re going into. For barristers and solicitors, you need either an LLB. An LLB is an undergraduate degree in law. If you have an undergraduate degree in a subject other than law, you can do a conversion course. After this, you begin a training contract for a law firm where you gain practical experience. Once the training contract is finished, you can practice as a lawyer.
For chartered legal executives, you need to complete two Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) qualifications. This is more hands-on than a law degree and doesn’t require you to complete a training contract. As a paralegal, you can either complete an LLB, or another degree with a law conversion course, or you can find relevant CILEX qualifications to become a paralegal.
One key component to getting a job in the legal sector is having relevant work experience. The sector is very competitive with many people studying law and trying to get training contracts. Having some work experience shows an employer that you’re hardworking and understand how to work in a law firm. This could be an internship or a vacation scheme. Read this guide to vacation schemes.
The salaries vary considerably in the law sector depending on the type of job you’re doing and the size of the firm. Here are the salary ranges that you might expect when working in the sector:
- Practising legal jobs. Whilst solicitors earn between £30,000 and £80,000 per year and chartered legal executives earn between £25,000 and £50,000 per year, barristers begin at £25,000 and can earn beyond £100,000 per year.
- Legal support. Paralegals and legal secretaries earn between £20,000 and £40,000 per year.
- Other legal jobs. Whilst mediators earn between £20,000 and £35,000 per year, judges earn between £50,000 and £85,000 per year.
Learn about the salary expectations for commercial law.
Are you interested in the sector? Here are law firms who are looking for graduates with your degree and discover the leading graduate employers in commercial law.
Getting a great job in the legal sector requires sending off an application that wows the hiring manager. The application for most jobs in the sector requires a CV and cover letter. Making your CV stand out means tailoring it to the job you’re applying for. You should include the relevant work experience and education history to the job and make it clear why it’s relevant if it’s not obvious. Instead of writing about your responsibilities in a job, try talking about what you achieved to show that you are a valuable member of staff in a workplace. You can learn how to write a CV with this useful guide.
Alongside your CV, you should include a cover letter. Your cover letter is your first opportunity to sell yourself to a hiring manager. You should use information from the job description and work it into your cover letter. If they want someone with experience in a particular area of law, show that you have this experience by using examples from your education and work history. Whilst you should sell yourself, try not to exaggerate your experience and make your cover letter false. Learn how to write a cover letter and impress prospective employers.
If your application is successful, you’ll be invited in for an interview. For some legal jobs, there are two interviews. The first interview is an initial screening and the second interview is with a more senior member of the team. If you’re applying for a training contract, the interviews typically happen in September of your final year with a full year before the contract would begin.
You can prepare for an interview by researching a firm. This means being aware of the work that they do, some of their recent or most known legal cases, who the partners are and the specific area of law they work in. You should prepare some questions to ask during the interview. This shows your interest in the job and gives you more information about the role. Why not learn how to tackle face-to-face, phone and video interviews.
If you’re not quite at the stage of applying to training contracts and other legal jobs, learn how to secure a vacation scheme.
Interested in pursuing a career in law? Browse graduate opportunities and take the first step towards a career in the legal sector.
Are you wondering what legal path to go down? Read this guide to the SQE law exam. Are you a university student studying law? Learn about the essential opportunities for first-year lawyers.