The law offers a wide variety of fascinating careers. Not everyone can become a judge or a magistrate, but in addition to barristers, advocates and solicitors, many people work in a range of jobs that keep the legal system running smoothly. There are plenty of opportunities for office staff as well as a growing number of posts which reflect the fact that the law today is a business as well as a profession.
- Is this the Job for You?
- Do you like meeting people?
- Do you like helping people to solve their problems?
- Are you good at communicating with people?
- Are you prepared to take on responsibility?
- Can you keep a confidence?
- Can you cope with pressure?
- Do you seek to build a long-term career?
- Do you dislike desk work?
- Do you dislike convention?
- Do you want to move from job to job all over the world?
The more times you answer 'Yes' to the first seven questions, the more likely it is that a career in the law will suit you. But if you answer 'Yes' to the last three questions, the law may not be for you after all.
Careers in the law are often rewarding in terms of job satisfaction as well as financially. Television series such as Kavcuiagh QC and This Life, as well as the novels written by solicitors such as Frances Fyfield (creator of Helen West, a Crown Prosecution solicitor) and myself (featuring the Liverpool lawyer and amateur detective Harry Devlin), have perhaps helped to persuade viewers and readers that legal life is far from dull. And in the real world, although the legal market place is increasingly competitive and sometimes highly pressured, by and large the law still offers a reasonable degree of job security to those who have the right skills and are prepared to work hard.
But it is important to realize that the law does not offer an easy route to riches: a survey which made front page news in The Law Society's Gazette in 1997 reported that although the number of former Legal Practice Course students still in debt had fallen to 64 per cent, the average level of their debt had risen to £7000. The average cost of completing the vocational stage of training was recently estimated at £10,000, taking into account living expenses. Fortunately, help is sometimes available.
Good qualifications are necessary for some careers in the law, but not for others. In any event, having certain personal qualities - especially integrity and discretion - is important in all areas of the profession. There are opportunities not only in solicitors' firms and at the Bar, but also in industry, in central and local government and the academic world. Pressure groups, charities and law centers also offer openings which many people find more fulfilling than those on offer in more traditional legal offices.
The legal system in England and Wales differs from those in Scotland and Northern Ireland and the rest of the world. This means that qualifications you gain in one of the UK jurisdictions may not readily help you to find work either in another part of the UK or abroad, although you may be able to re-train.
The law and the legal profession are currently undergoing a major transformation. Many of the old barriers, such as those between the work of solicitors and barristers, are breaking down. Few years back there was a news aired that a new law degree course is to be run by the Open University in partnership with the College of Law, a move hailed by the Lord Chancellor as providing a wider variety of people of different ages and from different social and educational backgrounds with the chance to enter the profession.
The opportunities for women and for minority groups are steadily increasing, although full equality has not been achieved. A Trainee Solicitors Group recent survey revealed that white male trainees were paid, on average, pay more than their female counterparts, while 50 per cent of ethnic minority trainees were on the then minimum salary, compared with 26 per cent of trainees as a whole. But awareness of discrimination has undoubtedly increased and that awareness should help to contribute to continued improvement, over time, in the statistics.
Lawyers are, of necessity, increasingly having to specialize in particular aspects of their subject. There is a marked tendency for solicitors' firms to become larger. Yet it is possible to buck the trend successfully. The Solicitors' Indemnity Fund reported in June 1997 that the remuneration of sole practitioners was rising at a faster rate than that of all other law firms.
This article deals with the present state of affairs, but anyone thinking of a legal career needs to have an eye to the future and to be aware that the nature of the jobs available continues to evolve. The factual information set out later is based on the latest data obtained at the time of writing, but it is worth bearing in mind that details are subject to constant change and it is always sensible to check the up-to-date position as regards any point of importance. A good deal of material, especially on becoming qualified and getting started, has been kindly supplied by the professional bodies themselves, and the care and attention that they are devoting to the provision of information to would-be lawyers are an encouraging sign for the future.
It is a truism that any job will only give you back as much as you are prepared to put into it. So it is for legal work. But whatever level you are at, you will find that there is scope to earn more and take on further responsibility and as a result to develop not only your career but, far more importantly, yourself.
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LawCrossing Fact #180: Our career articles provide some great job insights!