A Guide to the Legal Industry
Dynamic, collaborative, impactful. A career in the legal sector – although perhaps not quite as glamorous as the jet-setting lifestyle, spectacular cityscapes, and thrilling courtroom performances popularised by Suits and Legally Blonde – nonetheless promises a highly rewarding, intellectually stimulating entrance into the professional world. And, as the industry seeks an increasingly diverse, eclectic personnel amidst a rapidly evolving legislative and technological landscape, the traditional three-year LLB is no longer a prerequisite for becoming a successful lawyer. Credentials aside, breaking into the legal profession as a non-law ‘outsider’ may seem a daunting process – a process supposedly rife with cryptic jargon, hallowed rituals and a dazzling array of specialisms and practice areas.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
‘Law’ encompasses an exceptionally broad and varied professional field, in which the first – and perhaps the most significant – decision you will have to make is whether you want to be a barrister or a solicitor. The distinction between the two is of course a lot more nuanced in practice – but, at the most basic level if you imagine yourself representing your client in a courtroom, performing rigorous cross-examinations, and expounding (sometimes impassioned) arguments before the jury, then you may be destined for a career at the Bar. If, on the other hand, you imagine yourself working in a lively law firm, interacting directly with clients and presiding over complex negotiations, perhaps becoming a solicitor is the better option.
Becoming a Solicitor
Solicitors are traditionally the first port of call for individuals or organisations seeking legal advice on a range of matters from commercial transactions to overseeing wills and probate. They tend to operate within a law firm or office setting, acting as part of a broader team of trainees, associates and partners.
Their activities centre primarily on advising clients, undertaking negotiations and drafting legal documents.
Although they can occasionally appear in the lower courts, in complex disputes solicitors often instruct barristers or specialist advocates plead in court on behalf of their clients.
Becoming a Barrister
While most ‘behind-the-scenes’ legal work falls within the solicitor’s remit, barristers are directly involved in representing clients in courts and tribunals and through written legal advice.
In this capacity, their role is essentially to synthesise their client’s view of events into a cogent and persuasive legal argument, and to present it in such a way as to secure the best possible outcome for their client.
Although most barristers tend to be self-employed and affiliated with a chambers (which they share with rival barristers in order to save on administrative costs), they may also be employed as in-house advisers by corporations, banks, governmental agencies and various institutional stakeholders.
Making the most of your degree
In an era of accelerating globalisation and technological innovation, fostering a diversity of approach and perspective has become the keystone of the legal industry’s recruitment strategy. And, with firms drawing roughly 50% of their annual intake from the non-law cohort, developing and showcasing transferable skills is one way to demonstrate your aptitude for a career in law.
Humanities degrees emphasise argumentation and essay-writing, enhancing critical analysis and investigative ability, as well as the verbal and written communication that sustain a productive lawyer-client rapport.
As the industry seeks to incorporate legal- and fintech into their corporate strategies, the technological curiosity STEM students accrue in the course of their degree is paramount. Intellectual Property (IP) law is one area that harnesses its practitioners’ technical fluency and requires in consequence a background in science.
Linguists are in particularly high demand, with firms prioritizing international expansion and consolidation. Slaughter & May, for instance, operates via a ‘best-friends’ network, working in conjunction with a group of five other European firms headquartered in Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
In short, not having a conventional law degree no longer presents an obstacle to a successful legal career. Highlighting transferable skills in your application will demonstrate not only awareness of but also commitment to the profession
Gaining legal work experience is vital. An insight into the everyday operation of the industry – the reality behind the immaculate website and glossy brochures– can help to ascertain whether a career in the law is right for you, and, of course, provide invaluable supporting evidence for the impending training contract application.
The Careers Service offers a wealth of information on starting out in the legal profession, as well a live database of job vacancies and databases.
Online platforms, such as The Lawyer Portal and Legal Cheek, provides accessible and fairly comprehensive guidance for aspiring lawyers at each stage of the application process.
Finally, getting involved in the University’s various law societies is a great place to start – particularly if you’re looking to connect with like-minded peers and network with potential employers.
Join us at one of our many panels, workshops and taster sessions to get insights into the legal profession, and to explore different practice areas. Check out the 'Events' page to view our latest opportunities!