A short guide for students considering a career in law
Since you're here, we'll take a bet that the thought of becoming a lawyer has crossed your mind. Could law fill that post-degree abyss you find yourself staring into? Could law provide you with the career you want, need and deserve? It's possible.
The law can be a deeply rewarding career, but it requires a lot of grit, so you have to be very honest about the kind of person you are before committing.
You've got a lot of choice. There's a huge range of legal employers out there: global corporate giants, prestigious barristers’ chambers, boutique media firms, and everything in between.
That means opportunity. The law craves diverse talent more than ever before. In our research this year, Chambers Student spoke to trainee lawyers navigating Article 50, the BBC gender pay gap, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This profession gets more complex every year, and law firms are on the hunt for candidates from all academic backgrounds.
So, back to that question: why law? Well, each of the thousands of trainee lawyers we interview has a different take on what they love about their jobs. There’s the glamour – the chance to work on headline-hitting deals, ground-breaking cases – and the lifestyle that goes with it. International ventures attracted some; others wanted to use their education for the greater good; but everyone found their intellect was put to good use.
There's no substitute to hearing about the experiences of junior lawyers as they start their careers, and the successful lawyers who've made it to the top. Chambers Student brings the profession to life in this way. We've done the research and talked to the trainees – now it's down to you to learn from their experiences and make the all-important decisions on the road ahead…
The value of a non-law degree
Will I use my degree?
Let's settle this: while some lawyers knew they wanted to practise law before they were potty-trained, many only started seriously considering it once they’d graduated. In fact, over half the trainees at the leading firms took non-law degrees. We’ve spoken to trainees all over the UK with a huge variety of backgrounds, and if we’ve learnt anything it’s that there’s no typical lawyer that firms are looking for.
“I initially thought that I might be at a disadvantage to law students but I have different perspectives and experiences to them which enables me to look at issues in a different way,” a former Eversheds Sutherland trainee told us. “I found myself giving more examples in interviews about things I’d learnt during my non-law degree. I also felt like there was less pressure on me to know everything law related for my interview, which gave me a chance to show more of my personal interests.”
Many degrees will equip you with transferable skills needed for a career in law, whether you’re studying English literature or engineering. But as a history graduate at White & Case suggests, “consider taking a module that is law-related to make sure it doesn’t bore you.”
You should study what you love – always – but consider how your skills find a place in law:
We hear from STEM graduates who took the plunge:
...and from history grads who found their natural habitat:
No matter how abstract your degree, there's a place in law for your brain:
For law firms, your education creates new business opportunities:
To become a solicitor:
But for solicitors, the route is changing from 2020 onwards, with the Solicitors Qualifying Exam:
To become a barrister:
You'll have to go further than those qualifications to give you the best shot at cracking your legal career. Experience counts for a lot, and you'll also need to build an understanding of the legal industry.
For wannabe solicitors, you'll want to get a place on a vacation scheme. A ‘vacation scheme’ is no holiday: it’s a rigorous work placement at a law firm. Increasingly, they form a crucial part of the road to recruitment. They give you the insight to help you make sound career choices and make your CV shine.
Usually two weeks long, these placements show recruiters that you’re serious about becoming a solicitor, and some even culminate in a training contract interview.
The barrister’s equivalent of vacation schemes are mini pupillages. These tend to run during term time and usually last three to five days. The same rule applies: show them you’re serious and push yourself.
An understanding of the legal industry also pays off. You’ll quickly become irked by hearing recruiters say ‘commercial awareness’ on a loop – how can a student expect to be commercially aware? It’s a valid question and an obstacle for everyone, which Chambers Student provides the solution to.
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