Whilst the legal sector is focussed on 3 main types of lawyers: Barrister, Solicitor, and Chartered Legal Executive, the sector also includes roles beyond these career paths. The route to navigating the many roads into this profession, and which path is the right one for you, can be challenging.
With recent changes in the sector including legal reform, changes in the way that the profession is regulated, and recent changes in the routes to qualification the legal landscape has become much more complex. One thing that has not changed is that working in the legal sector is highly competitive and challenging, demanding a high level of responsibility in a fast-paced environment.
Where do I start?
Apart from the 3 traditional career paths within the legal sector, you could also be considering a range of other law-based occupations. Prospects has a useful list of job profiles each containing relevant information about key responsibilities, skill requirements, starting salaries, entry requirements, career prospects with links to major employers and current graduate vacancies.
Job roles in this sector include (but are not restricted to):
- Barrister's clerk
- Chartered legal executive (England and Wales)
- Company secretary
- Licensed conveyancer
- Patent attorney
- Procurement Manager
- Solicitor, Scotland
- Trade mark attorney
There are defined routes to becoming a Barrister, Solicitor, or Chartered Legal Executive, it's important to understand these requirements and the timescales associated with different stages of application. As part of your career planning strategy you will need to keep up to date with developments in this sector and keep track of key dates for applications and vacancies. Below are some key resources to help you research opportunities available. The knowledge gained through your research may help you to target your applications and will help when preparing for interviews.
- Prospects – the law sector overview is a useful information guide focussing on the diverse range of jobs within this sector. The site incorporates job profiles, entry requirements, labour market and salary information.
- Law Careers – a comprehensive site providing general information on getting into law, plus profiles on alternative careers in and around the law and a useful section on legal career paths.
- All About Law – an in-depth website with information about routes into a career in law, inside information, tips and advice and discussion blogs.
Work experience is invaluable and necessary if you wish to pursue a career in law, even a short period of work experience will give you an insight into the practical workings of the legal system and the day-to-day working life of individuals in your chosen profession. It will also help you determine whether or not you have the skills and motivation to get through the relevant training. Finally, it will ensure that when you apply, you have demonstrable evidence of the attributes needed to become a legal professional: law firms or chambers expect to see real evidence of work experience on your CV. To them, this shows that you have experience of the legal system in practice, reassures them of your commitment, and demonstrates an appreciation of the realities of a career in law. How would you know that you want to be a Solicitor/Barrister if you’ve never actually completed any work experience? Your future employer will be making a significant investment in you and will want to be sure that you are committed and have researched your future career thoroughly.
Competition for training contracts and pupillages is fierce and work experience could be the deciding factor to securing a position. Finding experience will take time and effort; employers receive many CVs so you will have to work hard to stand out from the crowd. You can find out more about how to create a targeted CV through the Careers and Employability Service website.
The key to success is to prepare thoroughly, do your research and organise your experience in good time. Plan ahead so that you know when the deadlines are for vacation placements and mini-pupillages. Research the firms and chambers offering work experience through 'insight days'. Building up your work experience portfolio need not just focus on law-related opportunities, all work and life experiences are valuable if they can be matched to those that recruiters look for.
An excellent way to gain valuable work experience is to complete a placement year whilst you are at university. Placement years help students to develop the key transferable skills that employers are looking for and will really enhance your CV. For further details of the University of Portsmouth law placement year, please contact the Placement Office at email@example.com or on 023 9284 4055.
It is well worth considering the voluntary sector for work experience; the Careers and Employability Service offers current students and graduates access to a Virtual Volunteering Bank which provides local opportunities to undertake alongside your studies. Similarly you can access these opportunities through the paper-based bank located in the Careers and Employability Centre.
If you wish to instigate voluntary work experience during the vacation periods please refer to the 'External Sites' information on the voluntary work experience section of our website.
It’s important to think about which volunteering activities will help you develop relevant transferable skills, and increase your legal knowledge and impress employers. For example, volunteering with an information and advice organisation such as the Citizens Advice Bureau could offer you the chance to not only gain exposure to a broad range of social problems that might prove invaluable in helping you to decide which area of law is best suited to you, but offer you the chance for real client contact. As a CAB volunteer you might be dealing with a myriad of queries and problems from members of the community, potentially interviewing clients to extract the key information you need to diagnose the problem and negotiating on their behalf with creditors or local authorities. In this you will be learning to steer conversations, developing negotiating and persuasion skills – all of which are highly relevant and transferable for a career in law.
Similarly, the national charity, Victim Support, consistently seeks assistance from volunteers to help victims of crime providing information, or with their Witness Service supporting people attending court, providing a valuable insight for those considering a career in law of the workings of the court system.
Think broadly about the sort of volunteering role that might provide the opportunity to develop transferable skills including negotiation, confidence, communication, professionalism, patience and tact, and the ability to stay calm under pressure and when dealing with those stressed, anxious and upset. Experience of report writing and maintaining records in a volunteering role could also prove useful.
Open days are offered by large law firms primarily to enable students to get a taste of life as a solicitor. You will have the opportunity to spend a day in a law firm where you will be introduced to experienced lawyers, trainees and graduate recruitment representatives and experience the law firm's working environment. Typically an Open Day may involve a presentation of the firm's work, a tour of the offices, participation in skills-based workshops and shadowing a trainee. Listings of Open Days and application deadlines are available from the Lawyer Portal.
Vacation schemes are structured placements with solicitors firms which allow students to experience the typical tasks a trainee would undertake as well as the experience and culture of a firm. These are available to second year students and generally there is a formal application procedure for this so if you are considering applying you need to do your research into the individual firms to ensure you are aware of their application deadlines.
Mini-pupillages offer key experience for those wishing to become barristers, as you experience life in a set of chambers, you will meet those practising at different levels of their career, and gain a grounding in chambers work. Generally students should apply directly to individual chambers, but again do your research on whether an online application is involved or whether to submit a covering letter and CV. Listings of firms offering mini-pupillages can be found on Law Careers website.
Ad hoc work experience and shadowing
Ad hoc work experience/shadowing a speculative application to a set of chambers or firm of solicitors for work experience or work shadowing opportunities can often be a good route into gaining valuable experience. The Law Society provides listings of solicitors by postcode.
Mooting makes the most of the opportunity to participate in moots at university, mooting gives you a chance to develop your advocacy skills, strengthen your ability to think on your feet and build your self-confidence, presentation and communication skills.
Marshalling involves shadowing a judge, building your understanding of court proceedings. All About Law website offers useful information on what marshalling will involve and how to apply.
Visit the Courts which are open to the public, so it is possible for you to sit in the public gallery and observe lawyers, whilst gaining an insight into court procedures. Remember to make a note of any case you sit in on and names of lawyers/judges involved in case you want to make reference to it in future interviews or applications.
Mentoring Schemes put future generations of the legal profession in touch with practising lawyers and solicitors to provide insight into the work of the profession. Information on selected schemes is available from The Law Society, Young Legal Aid Lawyers, and The Society of Asian Lawyers.
SEO London runs a number of programmes that provide mentoring, support and guidance and connections with firms.
Tips to build experience
- Explore the various areas within the legal sector before you apply for work experience; knowing what you want to specialise in will help you focus your research and ensure you gain the relevant skills.
- Getting involved in relevant University or external groups is a good way of demonstrating your motivation and interest in this area of work. Many recruiters are looking for recent evidence of balancing university commitments with extra-curricular activities such as being elected onto a society's committee.
- Be proactive and make direct contact with organisations that interest you and apply speculatively; send a targeted CV and a covering letter focused on why you are interested in them and why they should be interested in you.
- Create a LinkedIn profile to network with sector employers – see our Networking and Social Media section for further guidance.
Finding a job
The area of law which you wish to focus on determines how you target your job search, since for some roles there are clearly defined routes in and stages to go through.
Becoming a Barrister, Solicitor, Legal Executive, or Company Secretary
For the principal legal roles there are a series of specific steps you need to take in order to qualify fully and enter the profession. These are described in greater detail here: becoming a barrister, becoming a solicitor, becoming a legal executive, and becoming a company secretary.
This is an informative guide to working as a criminal solicitor.
Useful websites to start pursuing a career in these roles
- Pupillage Gateway – Comprehensive site providing access to all pupillage vacancies in England and Wales.
- Law Gazette – Dedicated legal recruitment website of the Law Society, including listing of relevant recruitment consultants.
- Law Careers – Comprehensive website which includes entry-level role vacancy listings, and training contract and pupillage vacancy information.
- Baby Barristers – A recruitment site for barristers at the pre-pupillage stage.
Alternative careers in Law
For alternative careers in the sector, for example as a paralegal, legal secretary, working in HM Court Service, or as a licensed conveyancer, the following websites may also be helpful:
- MyCareer – access the Careers and Employability Service's online jobs board to search the latest vacancies, save jobs searches and set up job alerts.
- Institute of Legal Secretaries – the jobs board exclusively for legal secretaries.
- Legal Week – a legal recruitment website offering a wide range of legal jobs including: graduate/trainee opportunities, paralegal, legal secretarial and support jobs, from legal recruitment consultants, companies and law firms.
Tips for finding a job
- The legal world is part of the business world so keep up with the business sections on newspapers' websites to improve your commercial awareness and read more specific legal press.
- Do your research: particularly around firms/chambers that interest you.
- Know your deadlines for applications and how you should apply - don't leave applying to the last minute.
- Spend time on completing any application – refine, check and check again, competition is fierce so avoid giving recruiters the chance to eliminate you simply for spelling or grammatical errors.
If you need more information why not check out some of the resources below to help you to research a sector in more depth.
- New Law Journal – discover the latest law and legal magazine articles and view regular newsletter, reports and publications.
- Counsel Magazine – monthly Journal of the Bar of England and Wales, largely written by and for barrister, includes latest news and recruitment announcements.
- The Lawyer – news, features and analysis to help keep up to date with all the latest developments in the legal sector.
- Training Contract and Paralegal Handbook – essential resource for those wishing to become a barrister or solicitor provides advice and views from key graduate recruiters in the sector. Helpful detail on interview and application techniques, alternative career options and work experience.
- Institute of Paralegals – essential information on paralegal careers, including guidance on becoming a paralegal and advice on choosing the right training course.
- Conveyancer – useful student section covering CLC lawyer roles and information on how to qualify, plus up-to-date sector trends and job vacancies and work experience opportunities.
- Her Majesty's Government Courts and Tribunals Servicer – latest information on developments in the sector, links to job vacancies.
The Careers and Employability Service offers support to students throughout their studies and provision for graduates up to five years after graduation, with advice and guidance on:
- Career options
- Further study
- CV and covering letters
- Application forms
- Job search
We have an online jobs board advertising a variety of graduate jobs across different sectors and locations. We also have a dedicated in-house Graduate Recruitment Consultancy that delivers a personalised job matching service.
You can also access our services by calling or emailing us:
Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org