A law degree is the first step on the ladder to becoming a solicitor or barrister. It provides a solid grounding in the law and enables undergraduates to feel out which areas of the law most interest them – from criminal to commercial.
But a law degree isn’t only a pathway to a legal career. The analytical, negotiating, writing and problem-solving skills undergraduates learn can be useful in a host of other professions too.
Here, we look at a selection of careers that may suit law graduates, how to get there and some of the skills needed to succeed in them.
Solicitors take instructions from clients and advise on how the law applies to them. They don’t tend to spend much time in court, but they often get more time with clients.
“Every day, I get a chance to get into the weeds of problem-solving and I very much enjoy the client-facing aspect of the job,” says Akima Paul Lambert, a litigation partner at Hogan Lovells, in London.
Qualifying as a solicitor involves first passing the legal practice course (LPC), a vocational course made up of modules on a range of legal topics and skills. (The solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) is being introduced from September 2021 and will eventually replace the LPC.) The final stage is a two-year training contract in a law firm, learning from qualified lawyers.
There is a huge range of specialisms to qualify into: from commercial law (the more highly paid end of the profession), to immigration, property, criminal, family, sports, human rights law and many others.
On choosing a specialism, Lambert advises: “Do what you love or enjoy. As solicitors we spend a lot of time at work and it is very difficult to remain enthusiastic and engaged if you don’t like or take pride in the work you do.”
Those who dream of standing up in court may consider becoming a barrister. This job suits people skilled in constructing reasoned arguments, getting to grips with complex information quickly and advocating on behalf of others.
Michael Polak, a barrister specialising in public law at Church Court Chambers, in London, started his law degree with ambitions to be a commercial solicitor, but his heart wasn’t in it. “I soon realised that what I wanted to do was to speak up and represent individuals at the most difficult periods in their lives and that becoming a barrister would allow me to do that.”
To qualify, prospective barristers must pass the bar practice course (BPC), a professional training course, and then undertake a “pupillage”, which is a year in chambers learning from experienced barristers. These are highly competitive – 3,301 people applied for just 246 roles in 2021 – and aspiring barristers must secure a pupillage within five years of finishing the BPC.
As with solicitors, there is a vast range of specialisms, which call for different skill sets. Criminal barristers are likely to spend more time in court than, for example, commercial barristers, who often have a more advisory role.
For those who don’t want to jump straight on to the treadmill of qualifying as a solicitor or barrister – or who are yet to secure a training contract or pupillage – there’s the option to work as a paralegal. Paralegals do a mix of administrative and legal work and it’s an opportunity to get a feel for the job. Paralegals are also able to set up their own firms offering legal services.
A law degree provides plenty of transferable skills for a media career. An ability to digest complex information and communicate it in a clear and accessible way is a key skill for reporters, while advocacy skills could be particularly helpful for broadcast media. A knowledge of media law is invaluable for journalists of all types.
Sebastian Salek, who studied law before going into political journalism, says his degree gave him “a firm understanding of how the UK and EU governments work, which was essential for presenting political programmes and reporting on Brexit”.
Plenty of politicians studied law before entering politics. More than 14% of MPs are barristers or solicitors, according to data from the House of Commons Library published in 2020. Good analytical skills, an understanding of government workings and policy, as well as the ability to summarise chunks of information, are all good skills for a career in politics. Recent law graduates might consider becoming a parliamentary researcher, helping to run an MP’s office and providing them with the research they need for speeches and policymaking.
Find out how The University of Law could open the door to a whole range of exciting careers