Alternative careers in the law

The legal profession throws up countless other respectable career opportunities beyond being a solicitor or barrister in private practice. Here are some of the more well-trodden lesser-trodden paths.

Working in-house for a company

According to the Law Society’s Annual Statistical Report, over a fifth of the UK’s practising solicitors work in-house for a company. With companies attempting to cut outsourcing costs, numbers have doubled since 2000, and the financial services, manufacturing, retail, construction, media, transport and telecoms sectors are all big employers of legal staff.

As an in-house lawyer, your day-to-day role depends on the work the business in question does, but the experience is nonetheless likely to be broad. One day you might be handling an employment issue, the next drafting a commercial contract or advising on a potential M&A transaction. Indeed, in-house lawyers are fully embedded within the company they work for and have to know the ins and outs of the business down to a T. 

The number of training contracts offered in-house is much smaller than the number in private practice – a total of 220 were started in 2014/15.

The number of training contracts offered in-house is much smaller than the number in private practice – a total of 220 were started in 2014/15. Unfortunately there's no centralised system that gathers all commercial in-house opportunities. As such, it can take a good deal of effort to track one down.

Around 500 companies have permission to offer training contracts, but most recruit on an ad hoc basis, taking newbies as and when they're needed. Your best bet is to target the organisations and sectors of which you have the most knowledge and/or experience and check online recruitment pages regularly. One of the most exciting new contracts on offer is at the BBC, and other companies that take in-house trainees include Standard Life and BT.

Many companies choose not to publish opportunities online, so to find a lead you'll really need to undertake some fancy footwork. We spoke to Chris Benn, an in-house trainee solicitor at BT, to find out more. “From my experience, advertising of in-house training contracts certainly isn't widespread,” he says. “Often vacancies go to someone who is already employed by the company; many of the in-house trainees I've met worked as a paralegal for their employer before being offered a training contract.” Networking events can be a useful way of sussing out which companies are hiring. “I originally thought my only option was to train in private practice,” Benn tells us“It was only when I attended a graduate recruitment fair at my university that I learned that there were opportunities to train at places like BT.” 

“Many of the in-house trainees I've met worked as a paralegal for their employer before being offered a training contract.” 

Following an application, online tests, a telephone interview and an assessment day, Benn was offered a training contract with BT. At the time we spoke to him he was working in the major transactions team at BT. “Working in-house does differ to private practice,” he says. “You still receive solid legal training, but you also benefit from having to think commercially from day one.” Being part of the organisation you're legally representing means that “you develop a complete understanding of the business.” This, says Benn, “helps you to develop as a business adviser as well as a lawyer, because the legal advice you provide is far more tailored to your employer's commercial goals.” BT's legal department consists of a number of different specialist teams so specialisation on qualification is possible. However, with fewer hands on deck, in-house lawyers at smaller businesses are likely to remain generalists for at least the first few years after qualification. 

In-house lawyers don’t lose touch with private practice; in fact, a big part of the job involves selecting and instructing law firms to provide specialist advice. This dynamic often keeps them knee-deep in invites to parties, lunches and sporting events as different law firms curry favour.

Compared to private practice, the salary at the junior end of the scale is more pleasing, but as you rise up the ranks it tends to rise at a slower rate compared to private practice. A decent work/life balance is something else to consider when deciding between in-house and private practice. While in-house lawyers don't exactly work a nine-to-five schedule, they do generally have more control over their working lives than their private practice counterparts.

If the in-house route seems like the one for you, check out the Commerce and Industry Group, which makes promoting in-house legal careers a priority, hosting networking dinners and providing a mentoring system for in-house trainees.You can also look into LexisNexis' Aspire network for in-house trainees. In addition, the Law Society's in-house division is a good place to get advice and keep up to date on the latest issues. Aspiring in-house barristers should get in touch with the Bar Council.

 

Law centres

Law centres are non-profit legal practices with local management committees. Specialising in social welfare law, law centres are committed to providing free services to the most disadvantaged members of local communities, helping them to protect their homes, families and jobs. The core services – advice and representation – are provided without charge to the public, with funding coming largely from local authorities, the Legal Aid Agency and charitable foundations. The salaries offered are lower than in private practice, but if you’re attracted to the idea of colleagues with shared ideals and a social conscience, it's worth investigating a career in the sector. 

There is one big 'but' to consider first though: cuts to legal aid and slashed funding from local authorities have affected law centres across the country. Since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Act came into force in April 2013, 11 centres – one sixth of the network's former total – have closed. Remaining law centres are increasing their collaboration with private practices to provide pro bono legal services, as well as relying more on the generosity of charitable foundations to support their work. With budgets tightening, “law centres are having to function in a completely different way to how they did five years ago,” says head of policy at the Law Centres Network Nimrod Ben-Cnaan. Most have shrunk, losing some amazing experts for whom there was no more funding; back-office functions have been cut as well to concentrate remaining resources on preserving front-line services.”

“Law centres are having to function in a completely different way to how they did five years ago.

Alongside securing charitable investment and getting pro bono assistance, law centres have continued to provide as diverse an offering as possible by experimenting with charging for services such as employment and non-asylum immigration work, which since 2012 have not been eligible for legal aid. It's something we'd never have considered before the cuts, but now it’s a stone some law centres felt they needed to turn,” laments Ben-Cnaan. People still need access to those services, but law centres cannot absorb the cost of delivering them. Finding a price point which is affordable to people on low incomes and sustainable [in terms of running costs]is challenging.” Another path chosen by some law centres has been to merge with other local advice agencies to provide both legal and non-legal advice under the same roof. 

Still, law centres remain committed to taking on cases with a wider social impact, with community care, all types of discrimination, education, employment, housing, immigration, asylum and public law matters all in the mix. Legal problems handled may vary from one centre to another, but their common denominator is a focus on social welfare law and the provision of services to disadvantaged clients. It's also an environment that will suit anyone with an interest in social reform: law centres strive to identify trends, and make use of high-profile test cases and campaigning to inspire legislative reform. law centres are also eager to engage the communities they operate in by means of legal training and education. As a law centre employee you might even find yourself at a local school imparting your legal know-how to teenagers. Law centres also regularly take on volunteers – this is an excellent way of both giving back to your community and gaining valuable work experience.

Routes to a law centre positions are as varied as the work each handles: newly qualified solicitors with relevant experience in private practice are taken on, as are those who have worked as paralegals for non-profit agencies and gained supervisor-level status. Law centres are keen on promoting equality and diversity, and many actively seek out trainees from their local community. As a newly qualified solicitor your salary at a law centre will roughly match private practice on the high street or with a local authority – you're looking at between £24,000 and £30,000, with London likely to command a slight premium.

In 2015 the Law Society's Diversity Access Scheme was extended with the DAS Plus scheme which, along with mentoring and LPC funding funds a single Law centre training contract for one lucky applicant. Other opportunities are available at law centres participating in the Legal Education Foundation’s Justice First Fellowships, which combines a training contract with social welfare training. “These are competitive programmes,” Ben-Cnaan notes, “but with fewer dedicated law school programmes for publicly-funded work, they are great opportunities for aspiring legal aid practitioners.”

Law centres strive to identify trends, and make use of high-profile test cases and campaigning to inspire legislative reform. 

Law centres operate along different lines from private practices and tend to be less hierarchical; some even operate as collectives with all staff drawing the same salary. Terms and conditions at work emulate those in local government: pensions, holiday provisions and other such benefits are decent, and flexible or part-time working options are readily available. It is an exciting environment, and many senior lawyers go on to take up influential roles outside law centres in private practice, academia or politics. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said her early days working in a law centre were an important preparation for the role of parliamentarian. 

Candidates for positions at law centres are only considered if they respond to a specific job advertisement. Check out Guardian Jobs, other jobs boards, individual law centre websites and the Law Centres Network site. Applicants must have a demonstrable interest in social justice – for example, having been active for a community organisation or local housing committee or participated in a relevant law school schemes. Work experience with a local authority also offers a taste of the fields law centres plough.  

 

Government Legal Service

The Government Legal Services (GLS) ostensibly has only one client – the Queen. In practice, however, ‘clients’ include policymakers and managers within various government departments, while lawyers act as full-time litigators and solicitors who draft new legislation and advise ministers how best to legally put policy into practice. Despite government budget cuts, the GLS is still committed to recruiting and training solicitors via its Legal Trainee Scheme. Applications for the next LTS will be welcomed from 1st July 2016. If you're interested in working at the interface of law and politics and dealing with matters that directly impact UK society, read our True Picture and Chambers Report features on the GLS.

In addition, the Welsh Government recruits trainee solicitors who are officially employed by the GLS. In its most recent recruitment round in December 2015 the devolved government in Cardiff recruited three trainees to start in 2017 and three for 2018 (only one of each cohort had to be a Welsh speaker). It's unlikely the service will recruit again for another year or two, but nevertheless it's worth keeping your eyes peeled if this is an opportunity which interests you.

 

Local government

According to the Law Society's 2015 Annual Statistical Report, there are around 4,500 solicitors employed in the local government sector – in addition a host of paralegals, legal executives and barristers beaver away in this sector too. As for trainees, there were around 80 legal traineeships on offer in local government in 2014/15. 

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 depends on the type of local authority involved and can include litigation/prosecution, social care, children, consumer protection, environmental, highways, planning, education and housing matters. Lawyers tend to maintain broad practices in the smaller authorities, while those in larger ones tend to be more specialised. 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.

Salaries vary between authorities, but usually start in the high £20,000s, rising to between £35,000 and £40,000 for mid-level practitioners. Since public sector salaries were capped in 2010, local authority legal salaries have struggled to keep up with private practice. However, working hours – though not nine-to-five – are generally more favourable than in private practice, and pensions are generous, currently being awarded at full salary.

Local government services are funded by central government and local council tax payers. Between May 2010 and September 2015, 40% of central government funding was cut from local councils, prompting a huge rethink among local authorities as to how legal departments ought to function. Some have started to share services in an attempt to limit their expenses, while others are stripping back services to basics, providing little more than statutorily-mandated services such as social care and child protection. Outsourcing work is also a growing norm in the sector. “Councils used to employ everybody from cleaners to social workers,” sighs Derek Bedlow of legal publication Local Government Lawyer. “Nowadays, they're becoming more commissioners of services, rather than suppliers.” 

Cuts to funding have also forced councils to explore new ways of lining their coffers. “There's a large demand for property lawyers in local government at the moment,” Bedlow explains, “because councils are being forced to sell off property to raise revenues.” Others have even converted to Alternative Business Structures to offer more flexibility in terms of the services and resources they can provide – this also offers up the possibility of selling legal services to independent bodies like academy schools. Luckily for lawyers “this has actually expanded the opportunities and work available for both trainees and qualified solicitors. Outsourcing contracted work requires legal supervision.” Furthermore, says Bedlow, a growing economy has meant that “house building and infrastructure projects are on the rise as councils try to promote redevelopment.” These factors pave the way for a situation wherein “the size of local authority workforces has fallen drastically, but the number of solicitors working in local government is actually up.” What's clear is that local government lawyers are increasingly required to adapt to changes both in departmental structures and the services they are expected to deal with.

Contact the head of legal services at a local authority to ask for further information – the more experience you can get the better.

Local government trainees usually undertake a seat rotation similar to those 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. Most authorities offer summer placements to give aspiring solicitors a sneak preview of what the job's really like – some schemes are even paid. Contact the head of legal services at a local authority to ask for further information – securing a training contract is incredibly competitive and the more experience you can get the better.

Most applicants are graduates, but there is a chance for non-graduates to pursue a career in this direction by starting their training as a legal executive. Many lawyers switch between public and private practice and beginning your career in one won't bar you from continuing in the other. That said, Derek Bedlow tells us that “councils look for candidates with some local government experience, as working in the public sector is very different to working in-house or in private practice.” On a personal level, “you'll need to have a very flexible attitude to doing a wide variety of work, as you'll be acting as a first port of call for all sorts of issues.” Applicants would also do well to demonstrate a level of comfort in political environments, as “a large part of the job at a more senior level is working alongside politicians.”

Be prepared to wade through the bureaucratic bog and at times be driven to distraction by the slow machinations of local government. Still, the benefits of a government training contract – variety in your day-to-day work, flexible hours and a sense of serving the community – generally outweigh the downsides. “It is the variety and complexity of local government work that continues to make the job interesting and challenging,” Bedlow maintains, “as well as knowing that what you do does make a difference to your local community.”

“The size of local authority workforces has fallen drastically, but the number of solicitors working in local government is actually up.”

A major plus is the ease with which many climb the career ladder – there's the option to hop from authority to authority, plus the general perception that a glass ceiling for women is less prevalent in local government than it is in private practice. Training in local government can also open doors to careers in private practice, with the Crown Prosecution Service or with the Government Legal Service.

Because most of the 400-plus authorities in England and Wales act as separate employers, there’s no central list of vacancies or single recruitment office. As such, finding out about training contract opportunities is somewhat of a challenge in itself, as is determining which councils offer sponsorship for the GDL and/or LPC. A good starting point for research is lgjobs.com. Most authorities advertise vacancies on their own website or in the legal press, so those are worth a look too. Other helpful resources include localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk which offers useful job-search functions, slgov.org.uk which provides a career brochure outlining career profiles and advice, and jobsgopublic.com. 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 Service

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. It 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 2,200 lawyers, who in 2015/16 brought over 640,000 prosecutions. Lawyers are responsible for reviewing, prosecuting, and where appropriate, discontinuing criminal cases following investigation by the police. They also advise on matters of criminal law and evidence. Specifically, prosecutors advise the police on appropriate charges for certain crimes, and generally split their time between preparing casework of all levels of seriousness in the office and prosecuting in the Magistrates’ Court. A special band of lawyers entitled Crown Advocates prosecute Crown Court cases including murder, rape and robbery.

The CPS relaunched its Legal Trainee Scheme in 2012 after being put on hold for a few years as a result of government cuts. In 2016 the Service offered 25 traineeships and pupillages across the country. The deadline to apply was 12 May for opportunities starting in November 2016. Candidates are put through a rigorous application process involving case studies, online testing, a presentation and interview. The CPS's recruitment timetable and numbers vary each year and it's not known yet what the exact timetable for recruitment in 2017 will be – unlike (commercial) law firms the CPS only decides a short while in advance how many graduates it's going to recruit and what the application process will look like. Thankfully, recruitment hasn't looked in threat over the past few years and we would expect the Service to recruit trainees and pupils again in 2017. Head over to the careers section of the CPS website to find out more.

 

The armed forces

The Army Legal Services (ALS) is always on the lookout for fully qualified barristers and solicitors to help tackle all sorts of work, from courts-martial to operational advice. Legal officers can expect to get involved in the three main areas of the ALS's work – court-martial prosecutions, chain-of-command disciplinary and administrative matters, and international law and the law of armed conflict. Lawyers and other professionally qualified officers are commissioned as captains, with a starting salary of £39,236. Army officers are entitled to 30 days' paid leave a year, plus bank holidays, while other benefits include subsidised accommodation, sport, travel and adventurous training.

Major Andy Farquhar of the ALS told us: “You'll need leadership skills, integrity, courage, a practical mind, determination and the ability to work under pressure in hostile environments. You also need mental agility and strong, flexible presentational skills: you might be briefing a room of 700 soldiers about to be deployed on operations abroad or you could be advising a senior general who needs clear and concise legal advice.”

The Army Legal Services (ALS) is always on the lookout for fully qualified barristers and solicitors to help tackle all sorts of work.

Recruitment goes as follows: once or twice a year up to 18 suitable candidates are called in for an interview. Successful candidates are put forward to the Army Officer Selection Board at Westbury in Wiltshire for a three-day selection process. Those who pass this stage then attend the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and will be offered a Short Service Commission with the ALS, which has a minimum commitment of four years including an 18-month initial ‘probation’ period. Six months of training (including a three-month infantry attachment abroad) will lead on to your first legal appointment, usually in a general advisory role, working on chain-of-command criminal and disciplinary offences and administrative sanctions.

Major Farquhar suggests that prior to making an application to the ALS those interested might like to think about attending one of the insight visits held at the Adjutant General's Corps HQ at Worthy Down near Winchester. “Come and see what army life is really like,” says Major Farquhar. “You get to spend time in the officers' mess, enjoy the hospitality and even test yourself on the obstacle course.” Follow this link for more details on the ALS.

The RAF’s legal department is small, but the work is juicy – areas of law covered include Air Force law, the law of armed conflict, new legislation plus the host of civil issues that affect RAF personnel. Recruitment is done according to needs rather than annually and the RAF only recruits qualified barristers or solicitors as legal officers who start out commissioned as flight lieutenants. The starting salary during and after training is £37,915. High flyers can expect to make squadron leader after four years, and wing commander after a further six. Throughout your career there'll be opportunities to explore new areas such as international humanitarian law. Visit the RAF website to learn more.

The Navy doesn’t have such a clear recruitment path and expects its lawyers to serve as officers before taking up a legal role. Qualified lawyers should sign up as a logistics officer in the first instance. From there, officers are streamed depending on their skills, so if you're legally qualified there's a good chance you'll be considered for legal work if there are vacancies. The Navy careers website has more information.

If military matters and international law are of interest to you then NATO (in Brussels) and the UN (in New York) are also worth considering as future job prospects.

 

The police

Only Sherlock Holmes can fight crime while operating 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. Whether it’s providing guidance on policing at events, advising officers on legal problems or clarifying particular points of law, there’s always plenty to be getting on with. As well as the aforementioned civil actions, they might find themselves working on corporate governance, employment law, discrimination, personal injury, and neighbourhood safety matters.

Owing to public spending cuts forces have chosen to scrap fixed yearly intakes.

There are also a myriad of transactional issues that forces have to deal with to keep afloat. Whether it's drafting agreements to procure goods and services, or handling conveyancing matters for police premises there's plenty kicking about, and guess what, it won't be PC Plod doing the paper pushing, it'll be a police lawyer.

We were told by Rachel Stone, HR officer at Derbyshire Constabulary, that “the legal department runs one or two recruitment drives a year to cover two or three vacancies in total.” It's a similar story across the rest of the country: owing to public spending cuts forces have chosen to scrap fixed yearly intakes, instead undertaking recruitment campaigns for qualified lawyers according to the needs of the service and the levels of work coming in.

Those looking for traineeships or NQ opportunities are better off looking elsewhere. However, those with experience in relevant areas – think civil litigation, employment, contractual matters, real estate – can expect to fit the Bill. There are also occasionally opportunities in areas like forensics, operational policing and in criminal justice units, and you don't necessarily have to be a qualified solicitor to get in there. Check online with your local police force for information about any vacancies.

You may be gung-ho for the Five-O, but bear in mind that vacancies for police lawyers are few and far between. If civil enforcement is your calling, then donning the badge and signing up as a police officer may also be worth some consideration.

 

Legal executive

Becoming a qualified lawyer doesn't mean you have to start your career with a law degree or a training contract. You can still qualify as a lawyer, practise independently and become an advocate, coroner or judge by means of the legal executive route.

Members of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) can gain independent practice rights in conveyancing and probate, and can set up their own legal businesses and law firms. Chartered Legal Executive lawyers are also commissioners for oaths, and can gain practice rights to independently conduct litigation and advocacy in civil, criminal and/or family cases, and are authorised to work on immigration matters too. 

Since 1989 CILEx (previously called ILEx) has helped over 100,000 people secure a successful career in law. There are currently over 20,000 Chartered Legal Executive lawyers and paralegals across England and Wales, all of whom are independently regulated.

You can still qualify as a lawyer, practise independently and become an advocate, coroner or judge by means of the legal executive route.

Taking the Chartered Legal Executive route means aspiring lawyers can earn as they learn and gain valuable practical experience in one fell swoop. Once your qualifications and work-based learning are complete, you can call yourself a qualified lawyer straight away without having to undertake the LPC, or wait for an elusive training contract or pupillage. CILEx members are employed across the full spectrum of legal services, from private practice to government departments, and within the in-house legal teams of major companies. Two-thirds of CILEx students are financially supported by their employer.

For those beginning their legal studies, both vocational and apprenticeship routes are available, and students can study at a local college or through a distance learning program. The CILEx Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice is the first stage of academic training. The second stage is the Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice, which is assessed at honours degree level. For those with a qualifying law degree, CILEx offers the Graduate Fast-Track Diploma. This one-year qualification fast-tracks you to become a Chartered Legal Executive lawyer. In recent years, CILEx has seen a significant rise in fast-track students. A full list of institutions offering CILEx courses is available on the CILEx careers website.

While being a Chartered Legal Executive can be a rewarding career in its own right, don't forget CILEx can provide a useful route to qualifying as a solicitor. As a qualified legal executive, you can seek exemptions from much of the GDL (having already covered its core subjects) and, more importantly, are usually exempt from the two-year training contract, provided you are already a qualified Chartered Legal Executive before completing the LPC.

 

Paralegal

A stint paralegalling has always been a useful way to fill the space after law school or before commencing a training contract. It offers a broad taste of the legal experience. With fewer and fewer training contracts on offer, however, a job as a paralegal can act as a feasible longer-term option too.

The term 'paralegal' is quite generic and the job duties that paralegals encounter can vary drastically.

Legal employers tend to view any time spent paralegalling favourably as it demonstrates a commitment to the profession and enables candidates to gain industry insight and experience. “A major factor in getting my training contract was that I could talk about my responsibilities as a paralegal: attending court, going to client meetings, drafting documents,” one trainee source told us. What's more, the job remains a valuable position in its own right. It's a good idea to take into account factors such as a firm's size and number of trainees when making applications – a smaller trainee intake often means you'll get to see much better quality work. And it's not just wannabe solicitors who should consider a stint paralegaling, either: some recruitment agencies now specialise in putting pre-qualification barristers in paralegal positions.

The term 'paralegal' is quite generic and the job duties that paralegals encounter can vary drastically: some are given their own files to run, while others end up with dull document management tasks for months on end. “I was given better work because I had previous business management experience” one source said, “but on average it's rare that you get exposure to true legal work as a paralegal.” At the end of the day “experiences depend entirely on the firm.”

Paralegals who have completed the LPC can now qualify as solicitors without undergoing a formal training contract.

Since July 2014 paralegals who have completed the LPC can now qualify as solicitors without undergoing a formal training contract. This change to the SRA's regulations – known as 'qualifying by equivalent means' – is part of a general overhaul to decrease red tape in the profession and make it more accessible to individuals for various backgrounds. In 2015 a paralegal at London firm Bates Wells Braithwaite became one of the first individuals to qualify as a solicitor via this route. The individual in question had worked at BWB as a paralegal for two years and at several other firms for a total of three years before that. The potential introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination in 2018 for everyone who wants to qualify as an NQ could pave the way for more paralegals to qualify directly as solicitors. There will be a greater expectation on candidates to have relevant work experience as entry routes into the profession become less formalised.

A new way to get paralegal experience is through a platform called F-LEX which offers the chance to gain work experience while studying. The platform hooks-up vetted students with law firms that have ad-hoc demand for paralegal work. This allows a student to find work from half a day up to a week, fitting it around their study.

Legal secretary

“Being a legal secretary is a good way to get your foot in the door,” explained one of our lawyer contacts. This particular source 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. “A major pro is 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 – many firms are reducing their support staff to reduce costs, and there’s a lot of competition for jobs.

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 and have a lot of patience, as well as be detail-oriented, organised and articulate. You must also quickly get to know your boss and become their surrogate brain.

 

Her Majesty's Courts & Tribunals Service

HM Courts & Tribunals Service is an agency of the Ministry of Justice. It is responsible for the administration of the criminal, civil and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales, and non-devolved tribunals in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Its aim is to 'provide for a fair, efficient and effective justice system delivered by an independent judiciary.'

The agency employs around 18,000 staff, and most jobs are fairly admin-based. However, it also recruits judicial assistants (JAs), who are assigned to one of the Court of Appeal’s senior judges for a period of up to 12 months. Applicants need at least a 2:1 degree and must be lawyers who have completed or are about to complete pupillage or a training contract.

Legal advisers are qualified solicitors or barristers and play a crucial role advising magistrates and district judges.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service also employs legal advisers who are qualified solicitors or barristers and play a crucial role advising magistrates and district judges. Their responsibilities include managing the courtroom; advising the Bench on law, practice and procedure; the drafting of justices’ reasons; and the use of delegated judicial powers for the purpose of effective case management. Research and the verbal and written delivery of findings are thus a big part of the role, and a commonality among all legal advisers is the ability to think on their feet and deal confidently with people.

The next recruitment campaign for judicial assistants begins in spring 2017 – vacancies will be advertised on the Civil Service Jobs website, via Job Centre Plus, and on the Ministry of Justice website. If you’re interested in becoming a legal adviser be aware that recruitment isn’t cyclical. When vacancies crop up they are advertised in the national press and legal periodicals, as well as on the MoJ website and the Civil Service Jobs website.

 

The Law Commission

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 what 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 law reform projects at any one time. Recent topics have included: how the outdated law that governs firearms may be modernised and simplified; how to ensure that there are more wills and that fewer wills are invalid; and how the law can protect the rights of people who lack the capacity to consent to necessary medical care. For the first time, the Commission is also looking specifically at laws which apply only in Wales.

Another of the Commission’s statutory obligations is to recommend the repeal of obsolete laws. Statute law repeals researchers examine the statute book to identify laws that may be suitable for repeal. But it’s not just a case of repealing laws that are clearly archaic; it’s equally important not to accidentally remove the legal basis for certain rights. Thorough research and consultation are as important in statute law repeals as they are in law reform.

In 2016 the Commission is recruiting 18 researchers to start in September.

The Commission recruits researchers annually on year-long contracts. In 2016 the Commission recruited 18 researchers to start in September; the deadline to apply was 1 February. You can find out more on the Law Commission's website.

Researchers are normally law graduates and postgraduates, and according to the Commission's chief executive, “for many it has been a springboard to a long and successful career in the legal world.” Researchers for the law reform teams 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. They also help draft consultation papers, instructions to parliamentary counsel and final reports.

Those who put in a particularly strong shift may be offered the chance to extend their contract for a further 12 months. Under current arrangements, second-year contracts are usually offered to about a third of each class. This ensures there is some continuity in the research process, and allows second-years who may want to see certain projects through to the end an opportunity to do so. The Commission also occasionally recruits qualified lawyers, usually on fixed-term contracts.

Candidates should have a First or a 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. You 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 find out which proposed reforms have been implemented and rejected, read the Law Commission's annual report. Keep up to speed with the Law Commission's recruitment needs on its website. Recruitment needs vary depending on the projects being handled at the time, so “if it's a project focusing on Wales, then someone who speaks Welsh may be beneficial.” December is usually the month when they start looking for people, with interviews falling before the Easter holidays. New recruits begin in September.

 

The Legal Aid Agency

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) was formed in April 2013 to replace the Legal Services Commission (LSC), which in turn replaced the Legal Aid Board in 2000. The LAA was created as part of the reforms to legal aid funding introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) of 2012. It is an executive body of the Ministry of Justice, giving ministers closer control over the government's legal aid budget. The LAA now shares headquarters with the Ministry of Justice on Petty France in Westminster and has a further seven offices across England. These branches manage the distribution of public funds for both civil legal services and criminal defence services. The agency aims to make savings by sharing administrative resources with the Ministry of Justice.

The work of the LAA is essentially divided into civil legal aid and criminal legal aid. In civil legal aid, the LAA works with legal aid solicitors, law centres, local authority services and other organisations. Caseworkers assess the merits of individual applications for legal funding; a means test is required of civil legal aid applicants. In addition, the LAA is responsible for a national advice line for England and Wales which provides a specialist advice service to people who qualify for legal aid under the revised scheme, in debt, education, discrimination, family, housing, and welfare benefit appeals.

The LAA has implemented a number of reforms to criminal and civil legal aid that aim to deliver savings to the legal aid budget and make the entire scheme more sustainable for the future.

On the criminal legal aid side the LAA manages the supply of legal advice to those under police investigation or facing criminal charges using local solicitors accredited by the service. It does so by the operation of a duty solicitor scheme which covers criminal legal aid procurement areas throughout England and Wales. It also performs an audit role in relation to authorised providers of criminal legal advice. The Public Defender Service (PDS) also comes under the LAA’s aegis, though it provides independent advice to clients separate to the agency. Its five offices, set up in 2001, advise members of the public 24/7. They are located in Cheltenham, Darlington, Pontypridd, Swansea and London. An advocacy unit was established in 2013.

The LAA has implemented a number of reforms to criminal and civil legal aid that aim to deliver savings to the legal aid budget and make the entire scheme more sustainable for the future. Consequently, the LAA has now been forced to oversee a new competitive tendering process for duty provider contracts on criminal cases, and has introduced a new online system for law firms making applications, submitting bills and applying for payments. In civil cases, mediation has become a popular cost-saving alternative to contested court proceedings.

In early 2015 an appeal by the Law Society, London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association and Criminal Law Solicitors' Association challenging some of the reforms to criminal legal aid funding was unsuccessful. And with the Conservatives re-elected into government in 2015, it looks like the cuts and reforms to legal aid are here to stay and will not be reversed any time soon.

For more information, check out the Legal Aid Agency's website. All jobs at the LAA are advertised centrally on the Civil Service Jobs website. For more background information, read our feature on Legal aid cuts and reforms.

 

Patent attorney

Over 2,000 patent attorneys are registered in the UK, usually working in private practice firms, large companies and government departments. Their job is to obtain, protect and enforce intellectual property rights for their owners. It typically takes four or five years to become a UK Chartered Patent Attorney and/or a European Patent Attorney. All candidates must have a scientific or technical background (usually a related degree) and the aptitude for learning the relevant law. Attention to detail, good drafting skills and a very logical, analytical mind are crucial.

Candidates who wish to become a patent attorney typically find a post with a patent attorney firm or in-house, then sit both foundation and advanced examinations, which are run by the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys. Once qualified, there's the opportunity to obtain a further qualification that entitles the successful candidate to conduct litigation in the High Court, although all patent attorneys have the right to conduct litigation and appear as advocates in the specialist Patents County Court. In order to become a European Patent Attorney, candidates must complete another set of examinations. The website for the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) has a useful careers section and job vacancy listings.

 

Trade mark attorney

A trade mark is a form of intellectual property used to distinguish a manufacturer or trader’s particular brand from its competitors. This can be anything from a logo or picture to a certain design trait – for example, Converse recently sued a whole host of rival companies for including features such as rubber toe caps and side-stripes, which it alleged infringed upon its iconic Chuck Taylor design. Trade mark attorneys provide advice on the suitability of words or logos as trade marks, on the action needed to safeguard a protected trade mark, and on how to deal with infringements by another parties. “It's quite a pedantic job,” commented one insider, “and requires you to pay a lot of attention as you're constantly dealing and playing with words.”

There are about 850 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. To become a qualified trade mark attorney you must complete two training courses, as well as a period in practice. The latter is supervised by a qualified registered trade mark attorney or other suitably qualified person. Entry into the profession is at degree level: often a 2:1 or higher is needed, unless the prospective trainee has a number of years’ work experience within the profession, for example as a paralegal. There's no central admissions procedure, so students need to approach firms or in-house trade mark departments directly. A searchable list of vacancies can be found on ITMA's website.

 

Compliance officer or analyst

Banks and other financial services companies occasionally 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. Due to the proliferation of financial regulation, the importance of compliance departments has grown enormously so that in larger banks they're often equivalent in size to in-house legal teams.

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. 

A minimum 2:1 degree is standard for successful applicants, and salaries are typically comparable with those of other graduate trainees in the City. With some compliance teams numbering more than 100 staff, there's 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. 

 

Barristers' clerk

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 by: liaising and organising meetings with solicitors (and the CPS); negotiating and collecting fees; allocating cases and planning their duration; administering databases, timetables, finances and diaries; and marketing 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 Philip Greene – with a wide tie-knot, wheeling around a trolley of legal briefs just like his father did before him. As with most professions, clerking these days is now more mixed, with plenty of women and people from other backgrounds, though 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.

According to Jackie Ginty, deputy senior clerk at One Essex Court, “a degree is not necessary for entry, although the majority of new entrants will have a minimum of five GCSE pass grades at A to C, including maths and English.” Some clerks also have A levels and degrees, but it's personality coupled with legal, business or court administration experience that matter most.

Salaries for the most junior clerks are between £15,000 and £17,500, rising to £30,000 to £70,000 for mid-levels. Some senior clerks rake in over £100,000 per year, but as Ginty points out, “it very much depends on what area of law the chambers deals with, and varies from set to set.” Junior clerks collect and deliver documents, manage databases, photocopy briefs, deal with court lists and handle day-to-day admin including post, the library, stationary and phone calls. From the off, this is a high-pressure, high-paced career that requires excellent time-management, marketing and people skills.It's important to keep in mind no one is going to hold your hand, and the job can be stressful in the way of long hours, tight deadlines and huge workloads. 

For more information, visit the website of the Institute of Barristers' Clerks as well as barristers-clerks.com. In addition, this blog by an anonymous clerk gives some interesting insights into modern clerking (and how it used to be).

 

Policy and regulatory work

So you did a law degree because you eventually wanted to end up writing the law of the land yourself? Then you could consider a policy job in the public or semi-public sector. While the number of jobs available in the public sector has been squeezed by government cuts many recruitment freezes have been lifted and there are opportunities out there for the eagle-eyed. The onus is on you to dig a little deeper: there are still plenty of young people who land themselves a job in the public sector policy realm, but it's often via the back door.

If you're prepared to be dynamic, the policy route requires a fascinating and rewarding career path. But how to make that first step? Knowing people who can champion your cause and offer you work experience here and there doesn’t hurt. We suggest you start networking early. Internships with think tanks, charities, NGOs and international organisations are a must. Otherwise, it's a question of researching which government departments and regulators might interest you and checking their websites, or failing that contacting them directly to ask about recruitment.

For ideas, try typing ‘policy’ into the Guardian Jobs website search engine every so often. The Law Society, Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Council and Bar Standards Board websites are all worth looking at for vacancies.. The Financial Conduct Authority also runs a graduate training scheme