Government Legal Service
The Government Legal Service (GLS) consists of the legal teams of about 25 separate central government departments and public bodies, who between them employ about 1100 solicitors and barristers. While some GLS lawyers can be employed in work similar to that found in private practice, including litigation and conveyancing, many GLS lawyers are involved in work which is unique to government, such as parliamentary drafting and advisory work and dealing with administrative and constitutional problems. Much of the work of the GLS is of a high profile nature. The GLS seeks 'students with a good mind and excellent communication skills, and the commitment to become a first class government lawyer'. Details on recruitment and further information about the GLS can be obtained from the GLS Recruitment Team (see useful addresses).
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Parliamentary Counsel and the Northern Ireland Office legal teams do not form part of the GLS, but contact addresses are available from the GLS Recruitment Team. The Scottish Office legal team, which is managed separately, is based in Edinburgh, while information relating to Civil Service jobs in Northern Ireland can also be obtained from the Civil Service Commission in Londonderry.
The Prosecution Services
In all three jurisdictions, criminal prosecutions are now conducted on behalf of the State through lawyers employed by the government.
The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 established in England and Wales for the first time the Crown Prosecution Service, which from 1 April 1986 took over responsibility for prosecutions (except for the very minor motoring offences known as 'specified proceedings') which had previously been undertaken by the police. Since the creation of the Crown Prosecution Service the job of the police has been restricted to that of investigating crime. It is the job of the legally qualified prosecutors to decide which cases should come to court and, where appropriate, to present the prosecution's case in court. The head of the service in England and Wales is the Director of Public Prosecutions and some 2000 prosecutors are employed in branch offices countrywide. One aim of the system is to ensure greater consistency in prosecuting practice throughout the country.
In Scotland the Crown Office is the Departmental Headquarters of the Procurator Fiscal Service, the body responsible for prosecutions in Scotland. The Scottish Law Officers - the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General - are based in the Crown Office, which is also home base to Crown Counsel. The Head of Department is the Crown Agent.
The Procurator Fiscal is an independent public prosecutor who receives and considers reports of crimes and offences from the police and over 40 other agencies and decides whether or not to take criminal proceedings in the public interest. There are 49 Procurators Fiscal who with their Assistants and Deputies present cases in the Sheriffs' and District Courts throughout Scotland in a similar way to the Crown Prosecution Service. The more serious offences are prosecuted in the High Court by Crown Counsel who are members of the Faculty of Advocates.
In Northern Ireland, prosecutions are undertaken by the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, whose staff are legally qualified.
Local authorities throughout the UK employ many lawyers for a wide range of work. Some of their work, like that of civil servants, is akin to that carried on in private practice, such as conveyancing, planning and litigation, but even here the nature of the cases will be specialized - rather than buying and selling private homes, they may be in charge of letting or selling council houses; the planning might involve local road construction or industrial development. Equally, some work is peculiar to local government - lawyers will often be involved in public inquiries; assisting the social services with, for example, child care proceedings; and they also undertake personnel work for the council. Often, lawyers doing this sort of work will have decided on a job in local government early in their careers and will have specialized in their training accordingly, often having served a training contract with a local government department. This is not essential, and you might choose to work for a local authority having completed your training and obtained experience in private practice.
Jobs in local government are advertised in the national press and professional journals, and you could try applying direct to the local authorities in the areas in which you would like to work.
Magistrates' Courts Service
Magistrates' courts in England and Wales deal with 98 per cent of all criminal cases and have jurisdiction in respect of domestic, juvenile and licensing business.
Justices' clerks advise the lay magistrates on law, practice and procedure and are also responsible for the administration of the local magistrates' courts service. A justices' clerk must be a solicitor or barrister of at least five years' standing with experience in a justices' clerk's office.
Apart from the justices' clerk, the magistrates' courts service employs a considerable number of solicitors and barristers, many of whom receive their training as such while serving as trainees in the service, although others obtain these qualifications beforehand. Appropriate leave and financial assistance are usually provided to enable trainees to qualify as solicitors or barristers.
In Scotland, District Courts are administered by local authorities. Clerks in the Scottish Court Service are non-legal staff at the Court of Session, the High Court and the sheriff court.
In Northern Ireland there are no lay magistrates, and there is therefore no equivalent to the office of justices' clerk.
Industry and Commerce
Industrial and commercial institutions, public bodies, and business organizations of all kinds employ lawyers. Many solicitors and barristers are attracted by the prospect of a career in business. If you go to work in industry, the areas of law you will deal with will depend on the nature of the organization that you join. If your employer is a retailer, whether marketing pharmaceuticals, cars or high fashion, you will undoubtedly need to advise on consumer legislation; if your employer exports anything from books to bottled beer you will have to explain the requirements of international and EU law, and help resolve disputes over shipping agreements and the carriage of the goods. In all cases you are likely to become involved with problems at a much earlier stage than you would in private practice, which can make the job more interesting and constructive. The Law Society's Careers and Recruitment Service and the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry (BACFI) publish useful information about the work that in-house lawyers do.
Although it is difficult to generalize about the type of job you could find yourself doing, to succeed in the business world you are going to need commercial sense and an ability to find practical solutions as well as legal answers. As your employer will also be your client, you will need to be able to react quickly to situations as they arise, and as your input will only be part of the equation you will probably be called upon to work alongside other professionals, such as accountants, personnel officers, financial advisers and marketing directors, to resolve problems.
If you are thinking of a career in industry you should consider very carefully where your interests lie, and then try to find out as much as possible about the workings of the organizations to which you intend to apply. Vacancies in industry are advertised in the Law Society's Gazette, the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland, and on a notice board in the Inns of Court. In addition, companies advertise in the national and legal press, and BACFI circulates details to members. Some employers also recruit through employment agencies.
Work in industry could take you anywhere in the UK, for although in the past large companies have tended to be based in cities, there has been considerable decentralization in recent years and head offices are now to be found throughout the provinces.
Remuneration in industry tends to involve a package of salary and benefits, such as a company car, a pension scheme, bonuses and possibly subsidized mortgages and loans. As a result, the overall remuneration is sometimes higher in this type of job than in a similar position in private practice.
Bill is the Director of Legal Services and Company Secretary of a major company in a shipping-related industry.
"The company employs two solicitors, an assistant secretary and two legal assistants. The department as a whole is involved in a wide range of matters including company or commercial, property, environmental, parliamentary, litigation, employment, debt collection and personal injury. I deal mainly with company or commercial, property, environmental and parliamentary matters. I am also responsible for the company share registration and claims sections.
I was attracted to the position of an in-house lawyer because I was looking for a more direct and closer participation in industry or commerce. I also had a particular interest in my chosen industry. Prior to joining my present company, I had taken a law degree at Bristol followed by the then Solicitors Finals before joining a general private practice firm. Some two years after I had qualified with that firm, I moved to my present company. I am now its Director of Legal Services and Company Secretary.
The key benefits that I perceive for an in-house lawyer are, first, job satisfaction obtained, for example, by being closely involved with a project, seeing it through from its inception to completion and then, where appropriate, continuing to be involved with it during its existence. Second, there is the wide range of work and situations that I come across. This in turn creates a challenging environment in which to work. The growing impact of new legislation on companies gives the in-house lawyer a much more pro-active role in advising the business on the strategy to deal with the legislation. Where matters are placed outside, I assume responsibility for monitoring and liaising with the external solicitors.
Although I have mentioned variety of work as an advantage, it is equally possible for somebody who so wishes to specialize in a very particular field. There are in-house solicitors in, for example, telecommunications, banking, energy and licensing who acquire a highly specialized knowledge and can be experts in their field. In my experience, a company that seeks to employ an in-house solicitor is looking for someone with a common-sense approach to legal matters and who will have or will acquire a greater understanding and appreciation of business. Given the importance of corporate governance, those who become in-house solicitors who are involved in this field should be able to express strong and independent viewpoints where necessary. It is important to remember that in private practice, a dissatisfied client usually moves to another firm. In industry, it is you who moves if the client becomes dissatisfied.
I find the work more stimulating and absorbing than I did in private practice. One of the attractions for an in-house solicitor is of course the ability, should he or she wish, to move into other areas of management. The legal department can be a stepping stone to higher management and ultimately the board of a company where a lawyer's analytical mind, independence and ability to look at both sides of an argument are valuable attributes."