A Career in Law

Statue of Lady Justice


Do you want a career in law? There are many routes in so check out our tips on getting into the legal profession.

Law might seem one of those careers you have to choose from birth and study at university for X number of years, but in reality there are different ways into the legal profession, depending on what type of lawyer you want to become – a solicitor or a barrister. Solicitors are the first point of contact for individuals and organisations who want legal advice and representation. Most work in private practice, while others work in central and local government, or in-house in a commercial or industrial organisation. Barristers offer advice on legal issues and represent clients in court. The information they receive comes through a client’s solicitor.

Routes in

The quickest route into law is to do well at your exams, get a good university law degree and then do further training. Barristers need to do a one-year Bar Vocational Course and a pupillage in a barrister’s chambers for at least 12 months. Solicitors have to do a one-year Legal Practice Course followed by a two-year training contract with a solicitors firm or the law department of a government department or company.

Top grades are required throughout your academic studies to become a solicitor or barrister. The quickest route into the profession is to get top marks in GCSEs and A-levels, at least a 2.1 university law degree, and then further training and qualifications.

The further training depends on whether you wish to become a barrister or solicitor. For barristers, the one-year Bar Vocational Course (BVC) followed by at least a 12-month pupillage in chambers is necessary. Pay varies from £10k to £30k at the top chambers. Solicitors take the one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by a two-year training contract, usually with a firm of solicitors, or the legal section of a commercial firm or government department. Trainees’ pay varies, but at a major London firm can be between £25k and £35k.

Both the BVC and LPC can be done at universities and colleges across the UK.
If you are a graduate, but not of law, you can do a one year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) before taking the LPC/BVC.

There are other routes in, though. Solicitors can qualify as a legal executive through the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) and do on the job training. To do an ILEX course, you need four GCSEs at C or above, including English. Legal executives can work in any area of law, but tend to specialise in the following areas:

– conveyancing – the legal side of buying and selling property;
– family issues – advising on divorces and matters affecting children;
– crime – defending and prosecuting people accused of crimes;
– company and business law – advising clients on legislation that affects their business such as tax, contract and employment law;
– litigation – where a client is in dispute with someone else;
– probate – dealing with wills, trusts and inheritance tax; and
– personal injury – handling accident claims.

Starting salaries for legal executives tend to be between £14k and £18k, but qualified legal executives can earn over £50k and partners in law firms considerably more.


Studying law can be an expensive business, with the Junior Lawyers Division estimating that most lawyers tally up around £40k in debt before they begin training or pupillage. Subsequent earnings, however, can be high.

More information: http://www.lawcareers.net/Information/

WorkingMums spoke to Helen Climance, our employment law expert, to find out how she got into the profession and about the qualities she thinks are necessary to become a lawyer.

What qualifications did you take to get into law?

I did not follow the conventional route! I did not take any A Levels and I started by qualifying as a FILEX (Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives) which involved attending evening college courses and home study for approximately six years. I then took some additional ILEX exams over the next couple of years. Thereafter, I completed the Legal Practice Course at University of the West of England in Bristol – a two-year ‘Open Learning’ course that involved attendance approximately one weekend a month. After a week’s intensive attendance on the Professional Skills Course at Bristol I finally qualified as a solicitor in September 2005.

Did you specialise early?

I started off in my first job in 1996 as a trainee legal executive covering general litigation matters – so a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’. My role involved a certain amount of employment law which led me to a job specialising in employment law in 2002. I have specialised in employment law since then and have been with Lemon & Co in their employment law department since 2006.

Do you think there are any particular personality traits that suit people to law?

I would say that one of the most important skills is being able to communicate with people from all walks of life and backgrounds. The ability to organise and prioritise tasks is also very important.

Is it possible to do your work flexibly?

Sometimes, however as you are generally dealing with a number of cases, it is important that clients are able to contact you during working hours.

Is there a lot of extra work to do in the evenings?

Generally not, but there are occasions when it is necessary if, for example, if I am attending the Employment Tribunal the next day.

How many hours a week do you work?


What are the advantages of a career in law?

The work is challenging, interesting and can be very rewarding.

What is the average salary for someone in your specialism or does it depend on the law firm, etc?

It does vary greatly depending on the area of law you specialise in, the size of the firm and the location.

View all law jobs

Focus on.. A Career in Law is in association with SJ Berwin

We are a leading international law firm. We believe that working here is certainly challenging, but the rewards are clear. Our people take responsibility early on for their client relationships, allowing them to develop real leadership skills at a firm with a genuinely international outlook.

We’re also proud of the supportive culture that’s developed here. Our unique mentoring and career development initiatives and award-winning Insight training programme means that no matter what your role, you’ll be supported every step of the way.

SJ Berwin has a very strong commitment to diversity. We have embodied this in a clear set of policies and have an enthusiastic Diversity Committee and energetic working groups focused on issues that are important to us: age, disability, ethnic background, gender, religion, sexual orientation and social inclusion. SJ Berwin’s Diversity Committee comprises representatives from across the firm led by one of our senior partners.

Our emphasis on the diversity of people is part and parcel of our overall strategy of creating and maintaining an inclusive working environment.

Find out more about working with SJ Berwin.

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