It’s never too early to start planning your future career and, in fact, if you want to be a solicitor, the application process begins in your second year of university. Even if you don’t want to be a lawyer, it’s important to get work experience and to do some research while you are at university so that you don’t graduate with an empty CV and no idea of where you’re heading.
As well as advising on the route to qualification as a solicitor, barrister and legal executive, this guide suggests alternative careers and tells you where to go if you need more guidance. It also gives general advice on preparing CVs and completing application forms which will be useful whatever career you are considering.
Becoming a Barrister
Qualifying as a Barrister
Barristers are usually self-employed and the two main functions of their work are advocacy and specialist opinion. Life as a barrister can be extremely tough and the route to get there is highly competitive. The hours and travel commitments can be punishing, the pay will, at first, be dismal, and the work will be intellectually challenging.
The route to qualify as a barrister is equally challenging. Refer to the Bar Council website for some staggering statistics on the small number of Bar Professional Training Course students who manage to obtain pupillage, and the even smaller number of pupils who manage to secure a tenancy.
The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)
To qualify as a barrister, you will first need to complete the BPTC. All LLB pathways at Portsmouth lead to qualifying law degrees (i.e. approved by Bar Standards Board), which means that our graduates can proceed straight to the BPTC on graduation. The BPTC is the vocational stage of training and must be completed before you start pupillage. It is a practical, skills based course and is essentially an introduction to the type of work that you may be expected to encounter as a pupil/junior barrister (e.g. opinion writing, advocacy, negotiation exercises, etc.). You will also develop your knowledge of civil and criminal litigation and the rules of evidence. The course is usually undertaken as a one year full time course although some providers offer a two year part time version.
You must join one of the Inns of Court before 31 May in the year in which your BPTC will commence. It is worth joining an Inn as early as possible so you can take advantage of the support on offer e.g. training sessions, careers advice, awards, scholarships, library facilities, etc.
Applications for the BPTC must be made via the Bar Standards Board’s central applications system. This is available at Bar Professional Training.
According to the Bar Council website, approximately 3000 applicants apply for approximately 1800 BPTC places each year.
You are advised to submit your application as early as possible. The first application round usually closes in January. You should keep an eye on the central application system’s website for updates and in case the deadline changes.
The deadlines change each year so you are advised to check dates carefully in future years.
You will also need to complete an aptitude test - look at the Bar Standards Board website for more information.
Once you have successfully completed the BPTC, you will be ‘Called to the Bar’ by whichever Inn you have joined (see below). You must then complete pupillage, which is a 12 months period of training (divided into two periods of six months each) under the supervision of an experienced barrister. During the first six months, a pupil must not undertake any independent fee earning work so they simply shadow and assist their supervisor. Subject to their supervisor’s permission, they can supply legal services and appear in court during the second half of their pupillage.
Online applications are now made via the ‘Pupillage Gateway’. This has one season, which starts in March each year, plus a clearing period, which starts in September each year. Applicants can make 12 applications in the main season and one additional clearing application in any year. All chambers can view all clearing applications so the idea is that it gives all applicants the best possible exposure to chambers that are still looking for pupils.
In addition to your ‘Pupillage Gateway’ applications, you can also apply directly to as many ‘non-portal’ chambers (i.e. those who don’t subscribe to this online system) as you like.
For detailed guidance on applying for pupillages, you should read Wolfe & Robson’s Path to Pupillage. This gives a realistic account of a career at the Bar, and invaluable guidance on the route to qualification. It also provides up to date, tailored advice on securing mini pupillages, applying for pupillages, and preparing for pupillage interviews.
Following pupillage, you will need to secure a tenancy with a set of chambers. This is not as easy as it sounds – statistics suggest that only half of those who complete the BPTC will manage to secure a tenancy. Some pupils decide to complete an additional six months of training (called a third six) in the hope that they will ultimately secure a tenancy. However, this is by no means guaranteed. Others decide to work as employed barristers in the public or private sector.
Further information on becoming a barrister
- Chambers Student
- Law Career
- G Wolfe & A Robson, The Path to Pupillage: A Guide for the Aspiring Barrister, (2nd ed., Sweet & Maxwell, London, 2010)
- A Kramer, Bewigged & Bewildered, A Guide to Becoming a Barrister in England and Wales (2nd en., Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2011)
Becoming a chartered legal executive
What is a legal executive?
Legal executives are sometimes referred to as the third branch of the legal profession (alongside solicitors and barristers). They work in law firms, local authorities, the Civil Service and some in-house legal departments. They undertake similar work to solicitors and specialise in a particular area of law, e.g. property, personal injury, civil litigation, insolvency or company formations.
Qualifying as a legal executive is a highly accessible route into the legal profession and offers a stimulating, challenging and financially rewarding career. Legal executives are recognised professionals in their own right and can build up their own client base, run their own teams, become partners in law firms, qualify as advocates and even become judges.
The route to qualification is very flexible and can be completed by distance learning or full or part time study. The other advantage is that you can work (and therefore earn) while you qualify. This makes it much less expensive than qualifying as a solicitor or barrister.
The CILEX website says that trainee legal executives are likely to earn around £25,000 pa.
Qualifying as a Chartered Legal Executive lawyer after completing a LLB Degree
If you already have a qualifying law degree, it counts towards becoming a legal executive. The CILEx Graduate Fast-Track Diploma is the qualification for law graduates who wish to complete the academic part of the legal executive qualification. You do not need to study any more substantive law subjects, but you will need to acquire the legal practice and professional skills part of the qualification.
You must also complete a period of "qualifying employment" - look at the CILEx webiste for more details.
University of Portsmouth CILEx Level 6 Unit (option at L6)
The UoP CILEx unit offers final year students the option to study Level 6 Client Care Skills and Level 6 Practice of Family Law as part of their degree. However, you must still complete the period of qualifying employment in order to qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive and certain exemption fees would also be payable to CILEx - contact Caroline Strevens or Lisa Wheeler for details of the fees.
Becoming a company secretary
Chartered/Company Secretaries manage the processes that keep a company running effectively and in compliance with legal requirements. They will also keep board members informed of their legal responsibilities. The opportunities for experienced company secretaries are many and varied and the training can lead to an interesting, challenging and extremely well paid career.
Members of ICSA can be found working in a range of senior roles including those listed below.
- Company secretaries
- Chief executives in both the public and private sectors
- Senior positions in the administration of schools and hospitals
- Offshore investment trust administrators
- Share registrars
In all of these roles the Chartered Secretary is the primary source of advice on the conduct of business. This may include advice on everything from legal issues facing an organisation, through advising on financial reports, to the development of strategy and corporate planning. Becoming a Chartered Secretary is a passport to arguably the most diverse, challenging and rewarding career among leading business professions.
Company Secretaries – Frequently Asked Questions
So what is a Corporate Secretary?
Company secretaries are:
- High-ranking professionals
- The focal point for advice about conduct of business and corporate governance.
- The first port of call for legal advice for the board of directors
Key tasks include:
- advising the board of directors
- developing strategies to ensure legal compliance
- improved in corporate governance
- shareholder communications
Are there any jobs for Company Secretaries?
The short answer is ‘yes’. These are very exciting times to be considering a career in corporate governance. The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings prepared by the Office for National Statistics suggests that salaries in corporate governance compare very favourably with other professions in law and business. Market reports suggest that recruitment in the sector has remained strong as excellence in corporate governance is seen as central to success in the current economic climate. In the last few years many of our LLM graduates have taken up traineeships in a range of leading companies.
Look at recent industry comments:
"Corporate governance specialists are in demand due to the financial crisis making better governance a top priority for companies." – Accountancy Magazine February 2010
"It is clear that corporate governance is no longer perceived as a ‘nice to have function’. It is a ‘must have requirement’ to remain in business." – Adrian Simpson Barclay Simpson Recruitment February 2010
"The company secretarial sector offers the opportunity for a varied, rewarding and exciting career. The market for trainees has remained strong as companies seek to recruit bright, well-qualified graduates into this vital area of their business. ICSA accredited courses such as the LLM Corporate Governance and Law/GRAD.ICSA help graduates capitalise on the opportunities currently available." – Fiona Boxall of Boxall Wallace Wells – specialists in the recruitment of company secretarial professionals.
What do company secretaries earn?
Category of employee
Average base salary for a company secretary
Private t/o £1bn+
Private t/o £250m-£1bn
Private t/o under £250m
(Information taken from Chambers and Partners Salary Survey 2010-2011)
Where do Company Secretaries work?
- Company secretaries work across a variety of sectors: corporate, not-for-profit and charity.
- Many work in private corporate governance practice, offering business and legal services to clients.
- A number work within investment management.
- Those who combine business knowledge and legal skills can become directors of legal services or in-house counsel.
- Many company secretaries move into directorship roles (CEO, Finance Director etc.).
Becoming a Chartered Secretary
If you are interested in a career as a Chartered Company Secretary, you may also like to find out more about the Portsmouth School of Law’s LLM in Corporate Governance and Law/Grad.ICSA. The LLM is one of a select few masters courses in the country that are accredited by the ICSA. Once you have the LLM you can apply become a graduate member of ICSA and can use “LLM” and “Grad.ICSA” after your name. Essentially, this means that you are a Chartered Secretary but you can become a higher grade member by gaining additional practical experience. To find out more about the LLM, please contact Charles Barker, the Director of Postgraduate Law Programmes, on firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are other routes into the profession. There are a number of institutions that offer courses that follow the ICSA syllabus. After completion of a full or part-time course, formal examinations are undertaken to achieve membership of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators. Further details can be obtained from the ICSA website.
Becoming a Solicitor
Qualifying as a Solicitor
Generally speaking, solicitors have far more direct client contact than barristers and are usually employed by a firm or company, rather than being self-employed (as barristers tend to be). Solicitors can practice as sole practitioners, in law firms, or as “in-house” lawyers within companies or the public sector. They are generally divided into two categories: commercial solicitors and private client solicitors. As you would imagine, the former deal with corporate clients (commercial contracts, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, corporate tax, commercial property transactions, etc.) while private client solicitors deal with individual clients helping them with legal issues relating to their private affairs (e.g. tax, residential property transactions, divorce, wills and probate, etc.).
The Training Contract
After you have completed the LPC, you will need to complete a training contract in order to qualify as a solicitor. The training contract lasts for two years and is generally divided into four ‘seats’ of six months which are spent in different departments within a law firm. This gives trainees broad training and the opportunity to experience different practice areas before deciding where they would like to qualify. Upon qualification, the vast majority of trainees will be offered posts by their firm, although this is obviously dependent on market conditions at the time and there are no guarantees.
Wherever you decide to train, your training will have to meet requirements set down by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (the body that regulates and advises on the training and professional conduct of solicitors). For further details you are advised to refer to the student pages of the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority website.
The most obvious place to train and work as a solicitor is within a law firm. Many different types of firms exist and it’s important that you do your research to find out what type of firm would suit you best.
- City Firms – as you would expect, these firms are based in the City of London and specialise in commercial/corporate law. They can vary in size and range from the top 5 ‘magic circle’ firms and other international law firms to medium sized City firms, which tend to have a strong UK base and some alliances with other law firms internationally.
- London/West End Firms – these are firms that are based in London but are situated outside the City.
- National Firms – these are large firms with a strong presence nationwide. They tend to specialise in commercial work (although this is not always the case).
- Regional Firms – these are large firms with several offices within one region. They may specialise in a combination of private client and commercial work
- High Street Firms – these are much smaller practices and tend to specialise in private client work (although this is not always the case).
- Niche Firms – these firms specialise in particular areas of law such as Intellectual Property or Employment.
Salaries can vary widely depending on the firm you choose and where you are working. The minimum wage for trainee solicitors stipulated by the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority is currently £18,590 for trainees working in central London and £16,650 for trainees working in other parts of the country. Most national and large regional firms offer trainee salaries of between £18,000 and £25,000. Smaller firms and High Street practices will offer lower salaries. ‘Magic Circle’ firms in the City of London offer starting salaries for trainees of between £35,000 and £40,000. American firms pay even higher salaries, (White & Case offers trainees a salary of between £41,000 and £44,000). However, such high salaries are not paid for nothing and trainees at such firms can expect very long working days, weekend working, and considerable responsibility. Competition for places is also extremely fierce and most London firms will stipulate minimum A Level requirements as well as requiring that candidates have at least a 2:1 degree.
Many law graduates think they must head for a career with a large City firm, but smaller firms can offer very good training and might suit some people better. The most important thing is to choose a firm where you are likely to fit into the culture and which carries out the type of work that you are interested in. The client base and work on offer at a particular firm will determine the experience you gain during your training, your future marketability as a solicitor, and whether or not you are likely to be happy there. Therefore, choosing the right firm for you is a crucial decision.
In addition to finding out about the size and location of a firm and the work they carry out, you should research its reputation and the retention rate for trainees at the end of their training contract (i.e. how many are actually given permanent contracts at the end of their training). The best way to find out what type of firm is likely to suit you best is to complete as many work experience placements possible. This will also give you something to talk about at interviews and will help you demonstrate to potential employers that you’ve made an informed choice about the type of firm that you’d like to train with.
It is worth noting that as a solicitor or trainee solicitor, you do not have to work in a law firm. You may also like to consider some alternative options such as those set out below.
- In-house lawyer – opportunities to train in large companies in their “in-house” legal teams are scarce but there are plenty of opportunities to move “in-house” post qualification if you train with a recognised law firm. “In house” legal teams generally have very high volumes of work to get through and often have far less administrative support than solicitors in private practice. You may therefore find that opportunities arise to fulfil temporary administrative or paralegal contracts with “in house” legal teams. This is a good opportunity to make contacts and get a clearer idea of whether this type of work is likely to suit you. For in-house vacancies keep an eye on The Lawyer (www.thelawyer.com) and the Law Society Gazette (www.lawgazette.co.uk) and also look at individual companies’ websites).
- Local government – solicitors in local government advise on the relationship between the local authority and the surrounding community and legal issues arising out of the services provided by the authority. This could include, for example, planning law, property law, or education law.
- Government Legal Services – imagine that your client was the British Government – around 1,900 lawyers and trainee solicitors are employed by GSL where they advise on a range of legal issues including charity law, constitutional matters, education, agriculture, human right, health and safety and much more (see www.gls.gov.uk for further details)
- Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – the CPS employs around 2,700 lawyers and is responsible for prosecuting people who have been charged by the police. It also advises the police service on prosecutions (see www.cps.gov.uk/working/index.html for further details).
- HM Court Service – the Court Service employs legal advisors to advise on legal issues arising out of the day-to-day operation of the courts. For example, legal advisors in the Magistrates Court advise on legal procedure and matters of substantive law arising out of the cases that come before the Magistrates. The Court Service usually recruits qualified solicitors and barristers so you would probably need to train elsewhere and then apply after qualification.
The Recruitment Process
London firms and most national and regional law firms recruit two years in advance so, if you want to start your training contract straight after completing your LPC, you should apply during your second year at university to ensure that you secure a training contract in time (non-law students should apply in their final year) with a view to being offered a training contract at the beginning of your third year (to commence two years later). The deadlines for applications for training contracts usually fall in July, but you must check the specific deadlines for the firms of your choice.
This means that, if you are applying to London firms or regional or national firms for a training contract commencing in September 2014, you will need to submit your application in the summer of 2012 (depending on deadlines), for inclusion in the round of first interviews which will normally take place in September. However, some firms view their vacation schemes as an integral part of their application process so you might well need to apply much earlier than this to secure a place on a vacation scheme.
It is, of course, possible to apply for training contracts after your second year at university but this might mean that you have to take a gap year between finishing the LPC and starting your training. It is also the case that many public sector employers do not recruit trainees until they are in their LPC year because they do not necessarily recruit every year and they tend to have a much shorter gap between the application process and the start of the training contract.
The Chambers Student Guide to Becoming a Lawyer provides some very useful information on how to secure work experience at a law firm, and how to approach applications for training contracts. It also contains a timetable of deadlines for vacation scheme and training contract applications.
In the early stages of your second year at university, you should research the various career options available to you. You should identify your preferred career pathway and make a list of the firms you would like to apply to for vacation schemes and training contracts. This will ensure that you are prepared in good time before the application process begins.
Competition for training contracts is intense and is likely to become even more competitive given the current economic downturn.
Many firms set their entry requirement at a minimum of a 2:1 degree and A-level grades may also be taken into account.
Your academic credentials are crucial and without a 2:1 degree, your chances of obtaining a training contract become much slimmer.
The list below illustrates the key factors that law firms take into account when recruiting prospective trainees.
- Academic achievement (see above).
- Motivation to become a practitioner (this can be shown through evidence of work placements/work experience, independent research, a good knowledge and understanding of the workings of the legal profession, and evidence of research into that particular law firm).
- Commercial awareness (perhaps you have co-ordinated a successful fundraising activity, or perhaps you can show a good knowledge of current affairs/business trends, or perhaps you have experience of working in a business/commercial environment).
- Outside interests/evidence of achievement other than academic success.
- Evidence of focus and motivation.
- Evidence of being a well-rounded individual.
- Enthusiasm and motivation.
- Targeted applications (don’t just mail merge the same application or CV to every firm and make sure you send a tailored, well written covering letter).
- Overall quality of application (check for spelling and grammatical errors).
For further advice on making applications for training contracts and vacation schemes, please speak to Jacqui Adams at Purple Door on email@example.com.
Just because you have a law degree does not mean that you should become a lawyer. Each year, a considerable number of law graduates enter alternative employment and training. Law graduates, by virtue of their academic training, are regarded very positively in a range of graduate occupations including finance and accountancy, industrial and commercial management (particularly the functions of personnel, purchasing and contracts procurement), retail management and public administration. The Prospects web site contains comprehensive information about the options for, and destinations of, graduates from all disciplines. Go to the “Jobs” section for details of a wide range of graduate jobs.
Some suggestions for alternative legal and non-legal careers are summarised below. For further ideas, why not visit Purple Door for a one-to-one careers interview.
Paralegals often deal with general office tasks, but can also become involved with much more demanding work. Paralegal work is a good way to strengthen your CV and, in some firms, can lead to a training contract. Many firms have started to recruit LPC graduates into paralegal work (often on short-term contracts) as a cheaper alternative to employing trainee/qualified solicitors.
Further details can be found at the Institute of Paralegals website.
Look for vacancies at the Law Careers website. Also look at firms’ websites and/or contact their HR departments to see if they recruit paralegals.
Licensed Conveyancers specialise in the buying and selling of property and are either self-employed or work for firms of licensed conveyancers or solicitors. As well as academic training, there is a period of two years practical training to become qualified.
Further details can be found at their website.
You could also look at the job profile on the Prospects website.
This is a skilled, clerical job in a specialised area. In addition to the usual secretarial tasks, you will also be involved in the preparation of legal documents and may sometimes be asked to attend and take notes at meetings. Legal secretaries generally earn more than other secretaries and able legal secretaries may move on to become Legal Executives (see section 4).
Visit Institute Legal Secretaries for more information.
HM Court Service
HM Court Service provides the administrative support for the higher courts in England and Wales. Both recruit legal advisors (normally qualified solicitors and barristers) and trainee court clerks. There may also be limited opportunities for students to get part-time work whilst studying.
Clerks effectively run chambers, including managing the barristers’ diaries, arranging and collecting fees, and liaising with solicitors. They need to be familiar with the workings of the legal profession, the court structure, the litigation process, and the practice areas of their barristers. Many also attend networking events to cultivate new instructions and make contacts. The role requires excellent organisational and communication skills, excellent interpersonal skills, commercial awareness, common sense and an ability to work effectively under pressure.
A trademark attorney is a specialised legal professional who advises clients on protecting and enforcing their trademark rights. They may work for a specialist trademark attorney practice, as part of the intellectual property team within a law firm, or for a large company as an “in-house” trademark attorney.
For more information, look at CITMA.
Law in the Community
If you are interested in using your knowledge of the law to help your local community, you could consider training with Trading Standards, the Immigration Service, Probation Service, or the Citizens Advice Bureau.
You could also consider working for a Law Centre (a not-for-profit legal advice centre offering free legal advice and representation to disadvantaged people). There are 56 Law Centres in England and they tend to specialise in immigration law, housing law, discrimination law, welfare benefits and employment law. For more information, visit Law Centres. As well as offering volunteering opportunities, Law Centres also employ qualified solicitors and barristers and the Legal Services Commission provides financial support for a small number of training contracts within some Law Centres.
For details of all the above careers, and more, look at the Prospects website and search for the relevant job profile in the “Jobs and Work” section.
This career path should be fairly self explanatory. For further details, contact the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.
Graduate Business Schemes
Many companies operate training schemes for graduates. These are a bit like a training contract for those entering the business world and provide an overview of the various departments within the company (e.g. marketing, corporate purchasing, legal affairs, IT, etc.). There are also opportunities to train within specialist departments such as personnel or finance. Competition is intense for graduate schemes and most require a minimum 2:1 degree. However, they can lead to a stimulating and rewarding career for those who are commercially minded. A good law degree will provide a useful background for graduate schemes. Look at individual companies’ websites for details of graduate schemes and summer placement opportunities.
Human resources departments deal with the recruitment of new employees, the dismissal of employees, and the development and implementation of employment policies. The role varies according to the particular job description and size of company. As human resources professionals become more senior, their role tends to become more strategic with some being promoted to board level. Alternatively, some decide to work as independent consultants advising large companies on their HR policies and strategies. This could be a good career path for you if you enjoy working with people and have good organisational and interpersonal skills.
For further information, visit CIPD.
If you are considering a career in human resources, you may like to consider completing a placement year in a human resources department (contact the PBS Placement Office for more information). It might also be worth considering a Masters degree in Employment Law as this could set you apart from other candidates.
Lecturer in Law
You may decide that you do not wish to practise law, but would rather teach those who might. If are interested in lecturing at university level, you may wish to discuss this with one of your lecturers. Note, however, that it is becoming increasingly common for universities to require that the applicant either have a Ph.D. or be working towards one. This will mean a minimum of another three years in university, probably more. Therefore, before considering a career as a lecturer, you will first need to consider the pros and cons of postgraduate study.
For more information on postgraduate study opportunities, please contact Charles Barker, the Director of Postgraduate Law Programmes on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, you may like to consider teaching law as a further education lecturer (e.g. within a sixth form college). Unlike lecturing at university level, you would not need a Ph.D. but you would need to achieve Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status (see lluk for further details).
If you are interested in a career in teaching, you should visit the Training and Development Agency for Schools website. You might also like to contact the Admissions Tutor at the university’s School of Education and continuing studies.