Some other career optionsanchor
There are a number of different roles and organisations to look at other than becoming a solicitor or barrister in private practice. Here are a few of the main ones.
Working in-house for a companyanchor
The commercial sector employs around 15,000 in-house lawyers; for example, there are many in the banking, utilities, telecommunications and entertainment industries. In England and Wales, some 48 companies offer in-house training contracts, including Sainsbury’s, EDF Energy and Vodafone. The Commerce & Industry Group has recently made promoting in-house training contracts to aspiring lawyers one of its priorities. It has kindly provided a list of companies which offer in-house training, which we publish on our website. Aspiring solicitors are welcome to contact the group (www.cigroup.org.uk) for more information, while aspiring barristers should contact the Bar Council. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the legal press and in The Times on Thursdays to see who is recruiting.
We spoke to one junior solicitor who had trained in-house with a major international company. She started working with the company as a legal secretary and then “when it was discovered I had a law degree, I was encouraged to go to law school.” The company paid for her LPC and she was asked to help find out how the organisation could become an accredited training contract provider. Four years later our source is a content in-house lawyer: “You get such a mixed bag of work; I will start the day doing contracts and end on regulatory work.” Flexibility and good time management are important: “All day people will turn up at your desk and ask for five minutes of your time.” You do have to be a jack-of-all trades rather than specialising in one area: “We are the GPs of the legal world: we are not the master of anything but cover a wide area.” In-house lawyers retain a strong network of contacts across the industry. Finding out which companies offer training is also “all about networking and making contracts: the C&I Group has a mentoring system and dinners which you can attend.”
Unless an organisation publicises vacancies, usually its trainees will be recruited after having already worked there in some other capacity – often as a paralegal or equivalent. Even then they will have needed to exercise discretion when trying to obtain a contract. A softly-softly approach more in line with the tortoise than the hare usually works best.
Most in-house lawyers will have started out working for a law firm, switching to the role some time after qualification. The perception is that this career path offers good remuneration and better hours than available in private practice. In-house lawyers don’t lose touch with private practice; indeed part of the job involves selecting and instructing law firms to provide specialist advice. This part of the job will keep you knee-deep in invites to parties, lunches and sporting events as different law firms curry favour.
From its roots in North Kensington in 1970, the network of UK Law Centres now stands at over 50. Law Centres are not-for-profit legal practices with local management committees and a remit to ‘help people to stay in their homes, keep their families together and get into employment and education.’ Advice and representation is provided without charge to the public, with funding coming from local authorities, the Legal Services Commission and some of the major charities, such as the Big Lottery fund. Many have received additional funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Community care, all types of discrimination, education, employment, housing, immigration, asylum and public law form the caseload. The legal problems handled may vary from one Centre to another, but all who work in the sector can be described as social welfare law specialists.
Law Centres’ horizons tend to be broader than those of the Citizens Advice Bureaux, and they tend to take on cases with a wider social impact. A client with a consumer dispute is less likely to be helped than someone who is affected by, say, a local authority’s decision on rent arrears. Law Centres identify trends and then use individual cases as a springboard for changing the big picture, perhaps by way of a test case that makes it to the highest courts and the broadsheets. Law Centres are also eager to involve the communities they operate within, providing legal training and education. As a Law Centre employee you might even find yourself at a local comprehensive imparting your legal know-how to teenagers.
Recent reforms to the provision of Legal Aid have required Law Centres to become more target-oriented, but there is still a strong campaigning angle to the sector. Recent highlights include the Streetwise Law Centre based in Bromley that ensures that young people have access to justice; Sheffield Law Centre’s Court of Appeal win which established the precedent that banks, and other service providers, can be ordered to undertake building work to ensure disabled access; and Devon Law Centre’s Asylum Appellate Project which found that asylum seekers are being wrongly refused publicly-funded legal representation at appeal in almost 80% of cases.
Most Law Centres employ several lawyers and, if you’re attracted to working with colleagues who share your ideals and social conscience, you may want to investigate a career in the sector. Routes to a career are as varied as the work. Newly qualified solicitors with relevant experience in private practice are taken on; so too are those who have worked as paralegals for non-profit agencies and gained supervisor-level status. A career may also begin at a Law Centre itself.
As a newly qualified solicitor your salary will roughly match private practice on the high street –£24,000 to £30,000 or more in London. However Law Centres tend to lose their competitive edge when seeking to appoint more experienced lawyers. Without wishing to sound trite, those who take up positions generally feel there is more to being enriched than being rich. Law Centres operate along different lines to private practices: there’s less hierarchy and more of an equal say for staff at all levels (some even operate as collectives with all staff drawing the same salary). Terms and conditions at work emulate those in local government and, as such, pension and holiday provisions, etc. are good, while flexible and part-time working is common. Law Centres are keen equality and diversity employers and encourage trainees from their local community. You will need to be flexible and willing to accept new challenges. It is an exciting environment and many lawyers have gone on to take up influential roles outside of the movement.
Candidates will only be considered if they respond to an advertisement. Look for these in The Guardian (Wednesdays), local newspapers and a monthly publication called Legal Action and on the Law Centres Federation website (www.lawcentres.org.uk – updated daily). To enhance your prospects you should be able to demonstrate your interest in social justice. Earn some stripes on committees or with community groups. Working in a local authority will also give you a taste of the fields Law Centres plough. While at law school take advantage of any schemes that bring you closer to working for social justice.
Some volunteers are accepted by Law Centres to help with administration and (if accredited) translation work. Volunteers usually come via other non-profit agencies so don’t expect to just walk into a Law Centre and be accepted. A voluntary role with a Citizens Advice Bureau may be easier to get hold of and would prepare you well for the type of clients served by Law Centres.
Government Legal Serviceanchor
The GLS ostensibly has only one client – the Queen. In practice ‘the client’ includes the policymakers and managers within government departments. Lawyers include full-time litigators and those who draft new legislation and advise ministers how best to legally put policy into practice. Despite government budget cuts, the GLS will still be recruiting in 2012. Before you apply, you need to know you’ll be happy to work at the interface of law and politics and deal with matters that directly impact on UK society. If the idea appeals, read our True Picture and Chambers Reports features on the GLS.
There are around 3,500 solicitors, as well as a host of paralegals, legal executives and barristers employed in the local government sector. Local government lawyers advise elected council members and senior officers on a wide variety of topics including commercial/contracts, conveyancing/property, employment issues, information management, administrative law and governance. Additional work will depend on the type of local authority involved – litigation/prosecution, social care, children, consumer protection, environmental, highways and planning, education and housing to name but a few. Lawyers tend to have broader practices in smaller authorities, while those in larger ones usually specialise in an area like housing, planning, highways, education or social services. Duties include keeping councils on the straight and narrow, making sure they don’t spend their money unlawfully and advising councillors on the legal implications of their actions. The typical salary for a local authority solicitor is between £30,000 and £40,000.
Trainees usually follow the same seat system as trainees in private practice but have rights of audience in courts and tribunals that outstrip those of their peers. Trainees shadow solicitors and gradually build up their own caseload. If you want a sneak preview of what it’s really like then most authorities offer summer placements, some of which are paid. Contact the head of legal services at a local authority to ask for further information – the more experience you can get the better.
Be prepared to wade through the bureaucratic bog, and at times be driven to distraction by the slow machinations of local government. However, the benefits of a great training contract, variety in your day-to-day work, flexible hours and a sense of serving the community generally outweigh the downsides. A common way to climb the ladder is by hopping from one authority to another. Many local authority chief executives trained as solicitors and we are told the glass ceiling is not so prevalent in local government as it is in City law firms. Training in local government can also open doors to careers in private practice, the Crown Prosecution Service and the GLS.
Each of the more than 400 authorities in England and Wales acts as a separate employer; some offer training contracts but there’s no central list of vacancies and no single recruitment office. Finding out about training contract opportunities is a challenge in itself, as is finding out which councils offer sponsorship for the GDL and/or LPC. A good starting point for research is www.lgcareers.com. Click on ‘Careers A-Z’ and then head for ‘supporting your community’. The number of training contracts available annually currently stands at around 150. Our sources told us that although government cuts and job freezes would doubtlessly affect recruitment, a good number of councils are expected to continue recruiting trainees. Most authorities advertise vacancies on their own website and in the Law Gazette and The Lawyer. Localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk and www.lgjobs.com have good job-search functions and Solicitors in Local Government (www.slgov.org.uk) provides tons of information including testimonies from qualified solicitors and trainees. You can also try the law and public service job ads in The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, or even approach local authorities directly.
Crown Prosecution Serviceanchor
The Crown Prosecution Service is the government department responsible for bringing prosecutions against people who have been charged with a criminal offence in England and Wales. The CPS handles all stages of the process, from advising the police on the possibility of prosecution, right through to the delivery of advocacy in the courtroom.
The CPS employs over 2,700 lawyers to handle more than 1.2 million cases in the magistrates’ and Crown Courts. Its prosecutors review and prosecute criminal cases following investigation by the police. They also advise the police on matters of criminal law and evidence, to combat the problem of failed prosecutions. Lawyers advise the police on the appropriate charge for the crime, spending time in the office preparing cases and in the magistrates’ court prosecuting. Other lawyers, Crown Advocates, prosecute Crown Court cases including murder, rape and robbery.
The service’s training programme, which we have covered quite comprehensively in the past, was put on hold in 2011, in line with government spending; however, as of 19 April 2012 it has reopened to those who have completed the LPC or BPTC. The official statement is this: "From 19 April 2012 the CPS will be accepting applications for places on our newly re-opened legal trainee scheme. The scheme will offer 15 graduates who have completed their vocational training the chance to work at the CPS. Once they have qualified they will take up positions as Crown Prosecutors, and will be responsible for reviewing and prosecuting criminal cases, as well as advising the police. October 2012 will see the graduate trainee scheme opened to candidates who have not yet completed their vocational training. Successful candidates who have yet to take the LPC or the BTPC will also be given financial assistance with funding their vocational training." For more information go to http://www.cps.gov.uk/careers/.
The armed forcesanchor
As you can imagine, the army always needs lawyers, and in good army no-nonsense fashion, it knows how to sell the position: ‘No billing, no timesheets, no rat race – a job worth doing,’ declares the website. Fully qualified barristers and solicitors with a good understanding of army activities and preferably some work experience under their belt can join the Army Legal Services (ALS) and expect to see all sorts of work from court-martials to international cases. You should be physically fit and aged between 24 and 32.
Potential applicants should look out for ads in the national press or send their CVs to the service. Suitable candidates are called for interview, then attend the Army Officer Selection Board at Westbury in Wiltshire. Succesful applicants are offered a Short Service Commission in ALS (initial period: four years, 210 days). Six months' training will lead on to your first legal appointment, either at home or in either Germany or Cyprus. NATO and the UN are also worth bearing in mind as future job prospects. See www.army.mod.uk/agc/9935.aspx for more details.
The Royal Air Force employs both barristers and solicitors to deal with criminal cases and prosecutions, both home and abroad. The Air Force’s legal department is small but the work sounds rather interesting – areas of law covered include Air Force law, the law of armed conflict, new legislation and the host of civil issues that affect RAF personnel. A clear career progression can see you rise to the position of Squadron Leader after four years and Wing Commander after a further six. The starting salary is £37,915 after training and recruitment is by need rather than to an annual deadline. Visit the RAF website to learn more: http://www.raf.mod.uk/careers/jobs/legalofficer.cfm.
The Navy doesn’t have such a clear recruitment path, though there might be legal opportunities available after you’ve signed on the dotted line and joined the Senior Service.
Only Sherlock Holmes can operate for and outside of the law and get away with it. All other members of the police force are as accountable as everyone else and therefore need good legal representation when their own conduct is called into question. This is where police lawyers step in, and they can find themselves working in all sorts of areas, which aside from the aforementioned civil actions, include: corporate governance; employment law and discrimination; personal injury; and safer neighbourhoods (ASBOs, Sexual Offences Protection Orders, etc).
We spoke with the Metropolitan Police force to find out about career opportunities for law grads. Sadly, government cuts in spending have meant that this is one area that is unlikely to be recruiting at entry level for the foreseeable future. However, for those that have a passionate interest in police work, our recruiter contacts recommend voluntary positions as special constable. This is often a route taken by lawyers eager to gain experience of the law being enacted at street level, rather than in the courts. If this sounds like your sort of gig, or if you want any further information about possible vacancies, check online with your local police force.
If you haven’t found a training contract or are thinking about moving sideways into a legal career, you could consider the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) course. Those who complete it become qualified in what is sometimes known as the ‘third branch’ of the profession. Day-to-day work is similar to that of a solicitor, although legal executives often deal with lower-value, high-volume cases such as residential conveyancing and personal injury claims. That said, it is possible to progress to more bespoke and complex work with experience.
Over 85,000 individuals have already qualified as fellows since the creation of ILEX, and there are currently over 22,000 legal executives and trainee legal executives across England and Wales. No prior legal training is required to enrol on the course, and it is open to those reaching GCSE, A level or university level. This makes it suitable for school leavers, new graduates or those already engaged in a career and looking to branch out. It can be taken on a full time and part-time basis, giving students an opportunity to combine study with practical experience.
For those with no prior legal training, the ILEX Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice is the first stage of the academic training. It usually takes about two years of part-time study and costs around £3,500 for tuition and all exam and registration fees. On completion, students become Associate members of ILEX. Associate members are entitled to use the designatory letters A.Inst.L.Ex after their name, but are required to undertake eight hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) each year. This qualification also allows firms to charge out their paralegal staff with this qualification as fee-earners.
The second stage is ILEX Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice, which is assessed at honours degree level, again typically taking two years to complete at a cost of up to £3,500. On completion, students become Graduate Members of ILEX. Graduate members are entitled to use the designatory letters G.Inst.L.Ex after their name, and are required to undertake 12 hours of CPD.
For those with a qualifying law degree obtained within the last seven years, ILEX now offers a Graduate ‘Fast-Track’ Diploma. Students need to choose two subjects from the range of ILEX Level 6 Practice units (one of which must relate to the subjects studied within the law degree), and take the ILEX Level 6 Client Care Skills unit to complete their academic studies. The qualification takes around nine months to complete part-time and costs around £2,200 (including ILEX fees), depending on where you choose to study.
With both the full ILEX route or the Fast-Track for law graduates, to become a fully qualified legal Executive lawyer (ILEX Fellow), it is necessary to gain five years of qualifying experience in a legal background (at least two after completing the ILEX Level 6 or Fast-Track exams). Timescales for all ILEX courses are flexible, according to personal needs, and study can be fitted around a job. There is no set time to complete the exams, so people can work at their own pace. The qualifications can be studied at a local accredited centre or via distance learning.
Once qualified, ILEX graduates end up in employment across the full spectrum of legal services from private practice to government departments and the in-house legal teams of major companies. ILEX Fellows can continue studying to become ILEX Advocates. They can now also become partners in law firms alongside solicitors and even apply for judicial appointments. Being a legal executive can be a rewarding career in its own right. For those who still want to become a solicitor, ILEX can provide a useful route to qualifying as one, even if it is by no means the quickest. Most people can seek exemptions from much of the GDL (having already covered its core subjects). Crucially, they are also usually exempted from the two-year training contract, provided they are already a qualified legal executive before completing the LPC. A full list of institutions offering the ILEX course (including the distance learning option) is available at www.ilexcareers.org.uk.
If you have time to fill before starting your training contract or are yet to decide whether you want to spend time and money on law school, paralegal work can provide a useful introduction to legal practice. There is no single job description: some experienced paralegals may run their own cases; others with little to offer by way of experience may end up doing very dull document management tasks for months on end. Experiences do vary widely depending on the firm. Employers view time spent paralegalling favourably as it demonstrates commitment to the profession and enables candidates to gain valuable experience and commercial or sector insight. It is a good idea to take into account factors such as the size of the firm and the number of trainees – a smaller trainee intake may mean that you get to see much better quality work. One paralegal told us: “A major factor in getting my training contract was the fact that I could talk about my responsibilities: attending court, going to client meetings, drafting documents. I was able to show enthusiasm for the legal process and through showing enthusiasm for my current position I was able to demonstrate that I would be a committed and enthusiastic future trainee.” Some firms and companies – though not all – offer traineeships to the most impressive of their own paralegals, but you should always keep in mind that the job is a valuable position in its own right.
The paralegal market is massively competitive, especially since the recession, so those with no legal qualifications or practical experience will find it hard to secure a position. Usually large commercial firms require all paralegal applicants to have completed the LPC or BPTC and have at least six months of prior experience. If you can get a foot in the door, you might find yourself completing a number of short-term contracts until one firm decides it wants you on a longer-term basis. Some smaller firms insist that prospective trainee solicitors complete a trial period of paralegalling before offering them a contract. Understandably, this does sometimes lead to allegations of firms exploiting paralegals. Be careful to read the small print, looking for things such as whether you get paid for overtime or not. This can make all the difference, especially if you are handed a BlackBerry and called in on weekends. Should you find yourself in a compromising position, a good organisation to contact is the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society.
An occasional complaint among paralegals is that they don’t always feel part of the firm. As one explained: “Sometimes the paralegals are not invited to department events. The secretaries go for drinks, the trainees meet for dinner, etc. but a paralegal is neither one nor the other. This doesn’t matter in a large firm, where there are large groups of paralegals and the partners and associates organise events for their teams. In a smaller firm, however, it can be a bit depressing. The best thing to do is find another paralegal and stick with them.”
Experienced paralegals with specialist skills can make a decent living. If you’re thinking about becoming a career paralegal you should take a look at the National Association of Licensed Paralegals’ website at www.nationalparalegals.com. For information on current vacancies, find out if your law school’s careers office has contacts, check the legal press, register with a specialist recruitment agency and trawl law firms’ own websites. It’s even worth firing off a speculative letter or two as some firms will recruit this way.
Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Serviceanchor
On 1 April 2011, Her Majesty's Courts Service and the Tribunals Service integrated to form Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is the executive agency of the Ministry of Justice responsible for the daily business of the civil, family and criminal courts in England and Wales. Its stated aim is ‘to ensure that access [to justice] is provided as quickly as possible and at the lowest cost consistent with open justice, and that citizens have greater confidence in, and respect for, the system of justice.’ HMCTS looks after the management of over 1,200 properties and court buildings. It deals with the timetabling and management of hearings, as well as lighter matters like making courts available as filming locations.
Many HMCTS jobs are administrative in nature; however, three times a year the service recruits Judicial Assistants (JAs) who are assigned to one of the Court of Appeal’s senior judges for a period of between three to 12 months. Duties include legal research, advice and providing assistance in drafting judgements. JAs may also help define the shape and nature of appeals in less well-presented cases. There are usually ten positions available at any one time. Applicants must be lawyers who have completed or are about to complete pupillage or traineeship; have at least a 2:1; and have the ability to work under pressure in a team. Positions are advertised according to need in The Times and the Law Gazette, as well as on the Justice website: www.justice.gov.uk/about/hmcts/index.htm.
Long-term careers are available for administrative officers, bailiffs, and county and Crown Court ushers or clerks. Court clerks do not have a legal advisory role and do not need legal qualifications. Their responsibilities include maintaining the records of a court and administering oaths to witnesses and jurors. Magistrates’ clerks do give legal advice to lay magistrates on issues like self-defence, identification of suspects and inferences from the silence of defendants after arrest as well as points of procedure. All court clerks need to be able to think on their feet and deal confidently with people. Clerks are present at most court sessions (of which there are nine or ten a week) and also issue summonses on behalf of magistrates. One clerk we spoke to mentioned describing his role to someone from continental Europe: “They replied that in Poland, they would call someone with that level of responsibility a judge!”
In June 2010, the coalition government announced plans to close 103 magistrates’ courts across the country, as part of a programme to save over £2bn at the Ministry of Justice. This means fewer jobs in the sector, and the Service stopped recruiting trainee magistrates’ court clerks; however, aspiring court clerks should keep checking the jobs pages of www.justice.gov.uk/about/hmcts/index.htm and www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk for any opportunities as well as other information on HMCTS.
The Law Commissionanchor
Many laws are the product of centuries of precedent; others arise from little more than political expediency. Constant reform is needed to ensure that the law is fit for purpose in the modern age, however, the government is not always best placed to see where reforms could be made. The Law Commission, an advisory non-departmental public body sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, was set up by Parliament in 1965 to review the laws of England and Wales and propose reform where necessary. The Commission is engaged in about 20 projects at any one time. Among topics it set out to examine in its most recent reform programme were: shortcomings of the law on contempt committed by publishing information about imminent or active court proceedings; the taxi-cab and private hire regulatory system; the modernisation and simplification of wildlife law; and modernising the Offences Against the Person Act (1861), which uses archaic language, follows a Victorian approach and whose structure provides no clear hierarchy of offences.
It is not just a case of repealing laws that are clearly archaic; it’s equally important not to accidentally remove the legal basis for someone’s rights. The Commission employs around 12-15 researchers every year to help it fulfil its remit, and as a researcher you would analyse many different areas of law, identifying defects in the current system and examining foreign law models to see how they deal with similar problems. You may also help to draft consultation papers, instructions to Parliamentary Counsel and final reports.
Researchers are normally law graduates and postgraduates, those who have completed the LPC or BPTC, or people who have spent time in legal practice but are looking for a change. The job of research assistant involves some fascinating (and less fascinating) subjects and is intellectually challenging. Candidates should have a First or high 2:1, along with a keen interest in current affairs and the workings of the law. The job suits those with an analytical mind and a hatred of waffle. They must also love research because there’s a lot of it, be it devising questionnaires and analysing the responses, studying statistics or examining court files. To read which reforms proposed in 2010 have been implemented and which have been rejected, read the report on the implementation of Law Commission proposals at http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/report-implementation-law-commission-proposals.pdf
When we last spoke to the recruitment team at the Commission, the recruitment season for 2011 had come to an end and the process was due to begin again in December 2011. Keep up to speed at www.lawcom.gov.uk.
Legal Services Commissionanchor
The LSC was created by the Access to Justice Act 1999 and replaced the Legal Aid Board in 2000. In addition to its HQ in London, it has operated from 15 offices across England and Wales, helping over two million people a year by managing the distribution of public funds for both civil legal services and criminal defence services. The work of the LSC is essentially divided into the Community Legal Service (CLS) and the Criminal Defence Service (CDS).
The role of the CLS is to ensure people can get information and advice about their legal rights and help with enforcing them: this tends to be in the areas of family breakdown, debt and housing. CLS caseworkers assess the merits of applications for legal funding and means test applicants. The CLS works with Legal Aid solicitors, Citizens Advice Bureaux, Law Centres, local authority services and other organisations. Recent reforms have seen the CLS working with local authorities to create Community Legal Advice Centres in a bid to provide a more integrated service in relation to social welfare law.
The CDS manages the supply of legal advice to those under police investigation or facing criminal charges, using local solicitors accredited by the service. It also performs an audit role in relation to authorised providers of criminal legal advice. Part of the CDS’s work is the Public Defender Service (PDS). Its four offices, set up in 2001, advise members of the public 24/7 in what the LSC believes to be a more cost-effective and efficient way. They are located in Cheltenham, Darlington, Pontypridd and Swansea.
There has been a recruitment freeze at the LSC. Rare opportunities are advertised on the Civil Services and Jobcentre Plus websites. However, this year it further pruned its staff numbers to 1,500, and aims to have just 1,100 by 2012. The commission is undergoing a great deal of change and will be transforming from a non-departmental public body into an executive agency in the future. Keep up to date at www.legalservices.gov.uk. It’s worth keeping an eye out for the work experience placements that have occasionally cropped up, which are unpaid and tend to last about six weeks.
Around 1,500 patent attorneys are registered in the UK, usually in private practice firms, large companies and government departments. Their job is to obtain, protect and enforce intellectual property rights for their owners. The website for the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) is www.cipa.org.uk and it has a useful careers section and job vacancy listings. In summary, it takes four or five years to become a UK Chartered Patent Agent and/or a European Patent Attorney. All candidates must have a scientific or technical background (usually a relevant degree) and the aptitude for learning the relevant law. Attention to detail, good drafting skills and a very logical, analytical mind are crucial and, increasingly, a knowledge of French or German is seen as key due to the international dimension to the work. The traditional route is to work and study for professional exams simultaneously. It is also an option to take the Certificate or Master’s courses in intellectual property. Once qualified, there is the opportunity to obtain a further qualification to become a Patent Attorney Litigator, entitled to conduct litigation in the High Court, although all patent attorneys have the right to conduct litigation and to appear as advocate in the specialist Patents County Court. In order to become a European Patent Attorney, candidates must complete another set of examinations.
Trade mark attorneyanchor
A trade mark is a form of intellectual property used to distinguish a manufacturer or trader’s particular brand from its competitors. It can be anything from a logo, a picture, a name or even a smell (apparently a Dutch perfume company uses their trade-marked ‘freshly cut grass smell’ to give tennis balls their aroma). Trade mark attorneys provide advice on the suitability of a word or logo as a trade mark, on the action needed to safeguard a protected trade mark, and on how to deal with any infringements by another party. There are about 530 fully qualified trade mark attorneys in the UK, all registered with the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (ITMA). Most work for large companies or at firms of patent and trade mark attorneys. Good communication and drafting skills are required, but a degree is not a prerequisite to qualification. The minimum educational requirements are five GCSEs (grade A-C) and two A level passes in approved subjects. The road to qualification involves passing the exams set for ITMA, completing a practical skills course, maintaining a training diary and it is common for aspiring practitioners to study while learning on the job as a trainee. Candidates with certain degrees, such as law, may be exempt from some foundation papers. There is no central admissions procedure, so students need to approach firms or in-house trade mark departments directly. Check out www.itma.org.uk or its helpful careers page.
Compliance officer or analystanchor
Banks and other financial services companies recruit law and non-law grads into their compliance units, which take on the vital role of advising senior management on how to comply with the laws, regulations and rules that govern the sector. They also ensure that the banks’ own corporate procedures and policies are followed. Other functions relate to the handling of complex regulatory and internal investigations and examinations. In essence, through compliance risk management, banks improve their ability to control the risks of emerging issues, thus helping to protect the organisation’s reputation and safeguard its interests. Due to the proliferation of financial regulation, the importance of compliance departments has grown enormously so that in larger banks they are often equivalent in size to in-house legal teams and offer equally solid career prospects.
The role of compliance officer or analyst requires astute advice, clear guidance, reliable professional judgement and the ability to work in a team. Attention to detail and a determination to see the consistent application of compliance policies and practices are essential. Regular exposure to senior management commonly occurs much earlier for trainees in this area than for trainee solicitors at law firms. A minimum 2:1 degree is standard for successful applicants, and salaries are typically comparable with other graduate trainees in the City. With some compliance teams numbering more than 100 staff, there is plenty of scope for career development. Several banks run a two-year compliance analyst training scheme, over the course of which a trainee will gain a broad base of business knowledge and technical experience. It is not usually necessary to have completed the GDL, LPC or even a law degree before undertaking a graduate scheme, although those with a mind to move across to an in-house legal role later in their career would need to find the time to qualify as a lawyer. Being legally qualified opens up the door to general counsel work and it is not uncommon for a bank’s head of legal to also lead the compliance team.
The road less travelledanchor
So perhaps things haven’t gone exactly according to plan, and this year’s round of training contract offers has failed to recognise your potential. Or perhaps you didn’t graduate in law with the objective of going into legal practice in the first place, as you just wanted the degree as a platform for taking you into other areas. Whatever the case, there are various valuable ways to bide your time until the next round and/or pursue alternative routes that will keep your hand in while beefing up your CV.
The harsh truth is that a cold winter of legal recruitment is fast closing in, especially in the (quasi-)public sector and the policy/regulatory world. That’s not to say that all organisations will have frozen recruiting altogether (though many have), but the onus is on you to dig a little deeper.
The policy route was described by one source as a “magical world,” and once you’ve got your foot in the door numerous others should then open for you – as long as you’re prepared to be dynamic. But how to make that first step? The feedback we have received suggests that knowing the right people who might champion your cause certainly doesn’t hurt (start networking early on, folks) and that luck occasionally has its part to play. Otherwise, it will be a question of researching the various government departments and regulators that might interest you and, if needs be, contacting them directly to see what their current recruitment status is. This is no conveyor belt career path, so you do have to feel your way a little, but the rewards off the beaten track are there to be found. This kind of highly malleable experience can propel you towards your preferred original career of barrister/solicitor or take you into “other realms,” as they were so romantically described to us. More prosaically, this means that policy work “is a profession, but it spans all industries.”
For ideas, try typing ‘policy’ into The Guardian jobs website search engine every so often, as well as checking regularly on the websites of organisations such as the Judicial Appointments Commission and Queen’s Council Appointments. The Law Society, Solicitors Regulatory Authority, Bar Council and Bar Standards Board websites are all worth looking at for vacancies, as are various industry ombudsmen (check out www.bioa.org.uk). And then there are the heavyweight regulators such as the Financial Services Authority, which runs a graduate training scheme of its own. See www.fsagraduates.com.
“Being a legal secretary is a good way to get your foot in the door,” explained one of our lawyer contacts. They would know: it’s exactly how they started their career. For anyone unsure of whether they want the full-bore pressure of working as a solicitor, this route could be perfect; “the major pro being that you’re working in law without the more intense responsibility of being a lawyer.” It’s also a smart way to spend a few years if you’re struggling to get your finances back on track and can’t yet contemplate law school. According to the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs (ILSPA), taking a legal secretarial role is suitable for anyone with an interest in law or a background in administrative work. That said, it’s important to know that the market is pretty full right now, with firms reducing their support staff to reduce costs and there’s a lot of competition for jobs. As such, ILSPA recommends completing a course. For more details visit www.institutelegalsecretaries.com.
People can take on legal secretarial positions at any stage of life, be it instead of university, after a degree or as a complete career change. Whenever you take this step, you’ll need to be certain that you have the right qualities and temperament: you need to work well under pressure, have a lot of patience, pay attention to detail and be articulate. You must also get to know your boss quickly, think for them and organise them. One downside is that some people will regard your role as relatively lowly and show precious little respect for your talents. One legal secretary-turned-lawyer confirmed that it can be a challenge working for people who do what you actually want to be doing. For more on the reality of the job see www.legalsecretaryjournal.com.
A legal secretary can be employed as a shared resource for a whole department or just a few lawyers, or they may be more of a personal assistant to just one lawyer. Typical administrative tasks include typing correspondence, filing, arranging meetings and diary management. The salary range is wide and can go up to £40,000 or so a year, though it varies depending on where in the country you work. The most money is to be made in London or other big cities. As in any career, you’ll need to start at the bottom of the ladder – especially if it’s your first job – although our ILSPA contact reckons that law school grads may be able to start a rung or two up and definitely have scope for climbing higher.
Check recruitment sites and agencies for as many options as you can find and apply for any job for which you feel you could be suitable. Look up the law firms in your area, call them and send your CV. Junior positions are often filled via word of mouth or by speculative applicants.
Barristers' clerks should not be confused with any other type of clerk, as their role is very different. They help provide all the admin services a barristers' chambers needs: they liaise and organise meetings with solicitors (and the CPS); negotiate and collect fees; allocate cases and plan their duration; administer databases, timetables, finances and diaries; and market their set's members. The most brilliant barristers aren't always the best at selling themselves and so a good team of clerks can be a godsend in this respect.
The traditional image of a barristers' clerk is that of a Cockney barrow boy – think Michael Caine in a suit – with a wide tie-knot, wheeling around a trolley of legal briefs, just like his father did before him. As with most professions, these days clerking is now more mixed, with plenty of women and people from other backgrounds, but there are still many burly, earthy types. Certain forward-thinking sets have retitled their clerks as 'practice managers', but it's essentially the same job under a different name.
Clerks are usually school leavers and the minimum academic requirement is four GCSEs at C or above. Some clerks also have A levels and degrees but it's personality along with legal, business or court administration experience that matter most. Training is mostly on-the-job, though clerks who want to move up the ladder also complete the BTEC Advanced Award in Chambers Administration. Note that not many people who become clerks are aiming to become a barrister or solicitor later: if you want legal work experience for that purpose, becoming a barristers' clerk is not a great option.
This is a job where you start at the bottom. Salaries for the most junior clerks are between £15,000 and £20,000 at top sets, rising to £30,000 to £50,000 for mid-levels. Junior clerks collect and deliver documents (hence the wheelie-trolleys), manage databases, photocopy briefs, deal with court lists and handle day-to-day admin: post, the library, stationary, phone calls. Don't get us wrong: from the off, this is a high-pressure, fast-paced career, which requires excellent time-management and people skills. No one is going to hold your hand and the job can be stressful with long hours, tight deadlines and huge workloads. As you make your way up the hierarchy, a clerk's role becomes more managerial. Sets' senior clerks are their CEOs in all but name – they run the place. It has been estimated that some senior clerks at top London sets make as much as £500,000 per year and they're some of the best business managers in the City.
For more information, visit the website of the Institute of Barristers' Clerks (www.ibc.org.uk) as well as www.barristers-clerks.com for information on the BTEC qualification.