The law sector is challenging and demands a high level of commitment and perseverance, but has the potential to be immensely rewarding. Graduates entering law face tough competition, especially if looking for a pupillage or training contract. They are likely to experience a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment. Some of these changes are highlighted below:
Developments in the UK legal profession
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam
A major change in the legal profession is the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), due in in 2021.
The SQE will be a common assessment that all solicitors will take before qualifying.
Anyone who starts their legal education before implementation of the SQE should have the choice whether to qualify through the existing route (see Study and Training).
Because so much SQE detail is still to be confirmed, advice for students interested in becoming a solicitor is to:
- continue developing your CV - see Gaining Experience
- check FAQ’s for students – I want to qualify as a solicitor on the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) website for updates
- read a specialist law publication like LawCareers.net (includes a regular newsletter)
See LawCareers.net - The Solicitors Qualifying Exam: everything we know so far (December 2018)
Regional legal hubs
There are many law firms outside London, particularly in the ‘legal hub' regions: Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Norwich and Nottingham.
- See Chambers Student – Regional law firms
- Allaboutlaw: Regional Hubs – an overview of living and working in each ‘hub’
- LawCareersNet: Regional law firms v City firms
Brexit and the economy
Brexit could have a major impact on the legal profession. There could be changes to hundreds of UK laws, rules and regulations. Brexit may also affect the UK economy, which could have a big influence on law firms, particularly in areas such as property law. Legal recruiters want you to have knowledge of UK and global economies, and how changes to these economies impact on different sectors. They also want you to have some ideas how Brexit may affect their firm.
Law firm mergers
Law firm mergers are increasingly common - meaning there are fewer law firms than in the past. Firms merge for various reasons, including expanding practice areas and national or international reach, improving referrals, and reducing spending on property rental, support staff, and technology trainee numbers.
Trainees' contracts are usually honoured when firms merge, but merged firms do often cut back trainee and newly qualified solicitor recruitment numbers over time.
Public spending cuts and Legal Aid
Austerity spending cuts across the UK have had impact on firms with clients in publically funded sectors like healthcare, housing, local government, transport, education, infrastructure and charities.
Public funding of litigation through legal aid has been cut. This has reduced lawyer fees in areas like crime, housing, family, employment and personal injury. Larger commercial firms, with private paying clients, have been less affected but cuts are impacting recruitment at smaller firms.
Since the introduction of the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, some areas of practice are no longer covered by legal aid. There have also been cuts to legal aid lawyers’ fees.
Legal Services markets
Customer service and technology skills are becoming even more vital as legal services markets become more diverse and competitive.
For example, Legal technology, or Legal tech firms use technology and software to provide legal services. Clients have access to online software to reduce or sometimes end the need for a lawyer. Legal Tech companies also connect people with lawyers through online marketplaces and lawyer-matching websites.
The number of Legal Tech start-ups is increasing and there are now over 1,000 in the UK. This may have an impact on the number of paralegal roles available.
Increasing and promoting diversity has become a huge issue in law. More women than men are qualifying as solicitors and at least 18% are from ethnic minorities.
The key message for students is to keep on top of changes within the legal professions, using resources like the ones on these pages.
Chambers Student gives a comprehensive overview of these and other trends impacting on the law profession.
Prospects has an overview of the Law sector as a starting point.
High street law firms may also offer training opportunities. Solicitors working in high street law firms may deal with a range of areas of law including employment, crime, debt, family work and compensation claims.
Law Careers Net - Training contract search covers nearly 1,000 organisations that offer training contracts.
About 80% of barristers are self-employed and most belong to barristers’ chambers. All about law explains who the various barristers' chambers are.
Practising barristers who are not self-employed work for public and private sector organisations. These are mentioned below.
More legal sector employers
- Armed forces
- Crown court, magistrates and youth court
- The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) - prosecuting authority, acts in criminal cases investigated by the police and others
- Government Legal Service - provide legal advice to the government
- Immigration services
- In-house legal departments
- Law Centres - work within communities and specialise in social welfare law
- The Law Commission - independent body created to keep the law under review
- Legal Aid Agency - provide civil and criminal legal aid and advice
- Local government - about 4,000 solicitors work in local authorities in England and Wales. See LawCareers.net - Alternative careers: Local Government
- Prospects - overview of the UK law sector
- Lawcareers.net and Beginners Guide to a Career in Law
- The Lawyer
- All about Law
- WikiJob Law & Legal - deadlines, profiles and details of selected law firms' recruitment procedures
Lexology is a free legal newsfeed service providing articles and analysis. Registration is required.
Roll on Friday provides news, views and gossip on the legal profession, produced by a group of former city lawyers.
Darlington Solicitors Blog is written by professionals working in the field.
Student specific resources
How to research a firm properly offers additional advice.
The Student Lawyer provides news and career information, written by and for law students.
These represent people working in the sector, providing training and networking opportunities.
They often provide careers support for students and graduates. They also provide development for people already working in the sector.
Follow them on LinkedIn or visit their websites for news, contacts, work experience and vacancies.
The main professional associations for this sector include:
- The Bar Council - represents barristers in England and Wales
- Criminal Bar Association of England and Wales
- The Faculty of Advocates - represents lawyers who have been admitted to the office of advocate in Scotland
- COMBAR - for commercial barristers advising the international business community
The Solicitors Regulation Authority regulates solicitors in England and Wales. You need to enroll as a student with the SRA before starting the Legal Practice Course (LPC).
Specialist professional associations include:
- Black Solicitors Network
- Law Society: Junior Lawyers Division
- Law Society: Women Lawyers Division
- The Muslim Lawyers Association
- The Society of Visually Impaired Lawyers
- Young Legal Aid Lawyers
Making contacts is essential for success in this sector. Many jobs in this field come through networking and speculative applications. You could start with:
- Newcastle alumni on LinkedIn – find out what they did after graduation and contact them for advice
Recruitment fairs, open days, talks and other events give insight and opportunities to make contacts.
Regular events for this sector include Newcastle Law Fair. This is in November each year and attracts law firms, course providers and professional bodies.
Law firms and schools regularly visit the university to talk about their selection criteria and recruitment practices. See Employers on campus.
For more events for this sector see Careers events.
Reference books in Newcastle University Library
- All you need to know about being a trainee solicitor - what they don’t teach you at law school by Elizabeth Cruikshank and Penny Cooper
- All you need to know about the City by Christopher Stokes
- From Student to Solicitor: The Complete guide to securing a training contract by Charlotte Harrison
Takeaway resources in the Careers service
- TARGETjobs Law 2019, Law Vacation Schemes & Mini-pupillages 2019 and Law Pupillages Handbook 2019
- Prospects Law 2018/19
- The Lex 100
- Beginners Guide to a Career in Law
- The Training Contract and Pupillages handbook
You may also be interested in Government, Politics and Policy, Armed Forces, Law Enforcement and Public Protection and Development.
See our other Sector-specific pages for more options.
Roles & Skills
Most students consider becoming a practicing solicitor or barrister when exploring legal careers.
Chambers Student Guide: What kind of lawyer do you want to be? outlines the differences in these roles.
Roles in the legal sector are however more diverse and frequently changing. The resources below highlight the range of professions within law.
- All about law - careers with a law degree
- Prospects: What can I do with my degree: Law?
- LawCareers.net – alternative careers in and around the law
- LexisNexis: Alternative careers
- Chambers Student Guide: Alternative careers in the law
- Careerplayer – videos of roles within law
You may also look at TARGETjobs – Twelve jobs you can do with a law degree
See About for information on the range of employers within the legal sector.
The following job profiles include descriptions of typical duties, entry requirements and case studies.
About 12,000 barristers work in England and Wales. Most are self-employed and work in Chambers. Others work for organisations including the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Government Legal Service (GLS), financial services, industry and the armed forces.
To train as a barrister you must join one of the four ‘Inns of Court’. These provide educational activities, scholarships and support for students, barristers and judges.
- All about law: Barristers
- Chambers Student : A Career at the Bar
- Bar Standards Board - information on qualifying as a barrister
Chartered legal executive
Court legal adviser/Court clerk
Legal officer (Armed forces)
There are about 300,000 paralegals in England and Wales, responsible for legal support work and clerical duties. This is a career in its own right rather than an alternative to a training contract.
Paralegals can work in solicitors' practices, in government, for charities or in new paralegal law firms.
Professional support lawyer
There are more than 80,000 solicitors in private practice in England and Wales. The number of in-house solicitors is growing, with about 11,000 working in commerce and industry.
About 4,000 solicitors work in local government, 1,000 in the Government Legal Service (GLS) and approximately 2,300 work for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
- Law Society – Becoming a solicitor. Includes: Becoming a solicitor: Start planning your future today (PDF: 826MB) Disabled students: Start planning your future today (PDF: 626KB) - additional advice for students with a disability, and Preparing students for the profession: A guide to qualification and the profession (PDF: 215KB)
- allaboutlaw – how to become a solicitor
- Career insight: working as a solicitor – practicing solicitors share their experience
- Lawtonslawco.uk - How to become a criminal solicitor
Trade mark attorney
Skills employers look for
Employers in this sector will be looking for evidence of the following skills:
- communication, interpersonal and negotiation skills
- commercial awareness
- analytical capacity and attention to detail
- flexibility and ability to plan and prioritise tasks
- problem solving capability
- commitment, professionalism and a respect for confidentiality
Excellent academic results are vital to having a legal career, but gaining relevant work experience is also essential.
Work experience helps you decide what area of law suits you and is necessary to show evidence of transferable skills and sector awareness.
The following give tips and highlight the importance of legal work experience:
- All About Law – Legal Work Experience
- The Guardian – Seven tips that will land you work experience at a law firm
- Law Careers.net - Experience required
- Junior Lawyers Division: Vacation placements vital experience for law students
Large firms often run vacation schemes. These give an insight into the field, and offer an opportunity to establish contacts.
The hidden boxes all aspiring solicitors should tick explains what law firms want from a vacation scheme applicant.
- TARGETjobs: Law - Work Experience
- Law Careers.net: Work placement scheme deadlines
- SEO London: Corporate Law - vacation placement with corporate City law firm for undergraduate students from ethnic minorities
- Careers Service Vacancies Online - search for legal work experience
Finding legal firms
Not all work experience is advertised, so make speculative applications, particularly to smaller firms. Find firms that interest you and get in touch, always with a named contact.
Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for. Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills.
Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.
Use the following resources to identify firms:
- Law Society: Find a solicitor - search for law firms by region
- Bar Council: Find a Barrister – is useful for speculative approaches
- North East Graduate Directory - local companies to approach on a speculative basis
Also use the Finding Jobs tab above to help you identify recruiters across the sector.
Pro bono and voluntary work
Pro bono - offering free legal services, can help develop essential practical legal skills.
Some projects are only open to graduates, but students can still get involved in legal voluntary work such as advice and research work.
Some of the following opportunities are advertised but you will need to apply to others speculatively.
- LawWorks - promote pro bono across the profession. It includes volunteering opportunities such as legal advice clinics
- Bar Pro Bono Unit - pro bono work for barristers
- Law Centres Federation – information on volunteering in a Law Centre
- Free Representation Unit (FRU) - represent clients who are not eligible for legal aid
- Law works - other providers of legal advice
- Do-it - search for voluntary opportunities by the category ‘legal profession’
- Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB): Volunteering - includes contact details for local CAB offices
- Go Volunteer – volunteering for Newcastle students including advocacy roles, for example The Citizens Advice Witness Service - Witness Service Volunteer (court based and outreach services)
More related experience
- Pathways Plus was developed to widen access to the legal profession. Undergraduate law students who match certain criteria can gain one week work experience placement at a leading law firm as well as other professional experience and benefits
- insight days - short ‘taster’ events with leading City and regional law firms. See TARGETjobs or External Events
- write for student publications such as Keep Calm and Talk Law
- get involved in student law society activities (for example the Eldon (Law) Society or Law4NonLaw)
- work shadowing is a good way to gain an insight into different environments
- The Student Initiative Fund – funding is available for social, community or cultural projects
Read on for information on finding jobs in the sector.
A training contract is the paid experience between academic study and becoming a qualified solicitor. Most training contracts are full-time and last two years.
Application deadlines vary. City and national firms tend to have their deadlines on the 31 July.
Others, especially smaller regional firms, will have deadlines throughout the year but most still end in the summer. Places tend to be filled ahead of advertised deadlines.
Law students usually apply for training contracts from their penultimate year. Most large firms recruit two or three years in advance, meaning second year law students can apply.
Smaller, regional law firms sometimes recruit only a year in advance, meaning students can only apply in their final year
Non-law students should start applying in their final year (for training contracts starting in three years) or during their conversion course (for training contracts beginning in two years). Some firms have training contracts with different deadlines for non-law candidates so check websites.
For more advice on training contracts see:
- Chambers - What is a training contract?
- Targetjobs - Choosing the right training contract for your graduate career in law
- Junior Lawyers Division: Finding a training contract
- Law Careers Uncovered - a frank blog post from a head of litigation
For advertised training contracts see:
- Law Careers.net: Training contract search - see also Training contract deadlines
- All about law: Training contracts
- Chambers Student Guide
A pupillage is the final stage of barrister training. There are only about 500 pupillages offered every year. All About Law: The Realities of Gaining Pupillage gives insight into the level of competition.
Law Careers.net and Target Jobs: Law - Barristers advertise pupillages.
Graduates can find jobs from the following sources:
- Careers Service Vacancies Online
- LawCareers.net - includes training contract search and immediate vacancy listings
- Law Society Gazette Jobs
- The Lawyer
- Totally Legal
- Simply Law Jobs
- Legal Jobs
- CILEx Recruitment
- Legal Prospects
- LG Jobs – includes legal jobs in local government
Sellick Partnership is a specialist recruiter for the legal sector.
See Graduate jobs for more vacancy sources.
Not all jobs are advertised. You could also approach firms directly or find work through networking in the industry.
Find legal services that interest you and get in touch, always with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for.
Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.
The following resources will help identify potential legal employers:
- The Lawyer - directory of law firms
- Legal Hub - includes a Bar Directory and In-house Lawyer Directory
- Bar Council: Find a Barrister
- The Law Society - Find a solicitor
- Waterlow Legal Search - directory of legal services
- The Law Council of Australia
- New Zealand Law Society – find a lawyer or organisation
- Federation of Law Societies of Canada – Law Societies by province
- Chambers & Partners Europe Guide - guide to law firms in Europe
- Law Society of Ireland - solicitor search
- Chambers Associates – research US law firms
- Chambers & Partners USA Guide
- FindLaw Career Center – includes employer directory
Study & Training
A career in law is open to graduates of any discipline.
Non-law graduates must take a one year (or two year part-time) conversion course.
This is the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
Find out more:
- Central Applications Board – applications for all full-time CPE/GDL courses are through this site. Applications for part-time and distance learning courses should be made directly to the course provider
- TARGETpostgrad: Thinking of taking a law conversion course? - guide to the CPE and GDL
- All About Law: Law Conversion Course
Law graduates and non-law graduates who have completed the CPE/GDL must then complete a one year (two year part-time) vocational course. This is the Legal Practice Course (LPC), to become a solicitor, or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), to become a barrister.
Legal Practice Course (LPC)
- Central Applications Board (CAB) - applications for full-time Legal Practice Courses are through the CAB. Applications for part-time and distance learning courses are made directly to the course provider
- TARGETpostgrad: What is the legal practice course?
- allaboutlaw: Legal Practice Course - course providers
- University of Kent Careers Service - writing a personal statement for the LPC
Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)
- Bar Student Application Service - applications site for the BPTC
- Chambers Student Guide: The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)
- allaboutlaw – BPTC providers
Training outside the UK
- Fulbright Commission: Legal Education in the US - choosing a law school and qualifying in the US
- New York Bar Exam - law graduates can prepare for this exam in the UK. Providers include the BPP
- Pieper Bar Review - offers a home study programme
Funding legal training
Legal training is expensive. After taking a degree, followed by a possible conversion course and then the LPC or BPTC, students can face a £25,000 to £50,000 debt at the beginning of their training contract.
The most common way of funding the GDL and/or the LPC is with a bank loan.
For more information on sources of funding see the following:
- Law Careers.net: Finances
- All about law: Funding
- Law Society Diversity Access Scheme
- TARGETjobs: Which law firms will fund your LPC and GDL course fees and pay maintenance costs
- TARGETpostgrad: Securing a scholarship to fund your BPTC from the Inns of Court
- Careers Service: Funding further study - relevant to a Masters in Law (LLM)