Thinking of a career in law?
A career in law in England and Wales offers a wide range of opportunities. In addition to being a solicitor or barrister, there are many other legal roles and careers
Law touches every aspect of our lives; it underpins the way our society is structured and protects our fundamental rights and freedoms.
A career in law in England and Wales offers a huge range of opportunities, across multiple sectors and in varying roles. If you are thinking of law as a career but you are not sure of your options or the path you want to take, here are some things you might want to consider, as well as some resources you might find helpful along the way. Remember that where you start out might not be where you end up; the great thing about a career in law is just how many doors it could open and what opportunities and experience might become available to you.
Is a career in the law right for you?
No-one is born a lawyer - the skills you need to be a good lawyer can be developed through your work experience, training and studies.
Regardless of the final legal career you choose, you will need to have excellent communication skills to be able to deal with a wide range of different people. Being able to communicate well with clients and other legal professionals will be essential.
If you intend to become a barrister or solicitor advocate, excellent debating skills and confidence in public speaking will be crucial.
You will also need to be a good problem solver and be able to analyse large amounts of evidence. Part of being a good lawyer involves carrying out complex legal research and paying close attention to detail.
Depending on the ultimate legal career you aim for, you will need to be a good team player, or confident working independently..
You can read about other essential skills.
Overall, it is essential to be prepared to study and work hard.
In addition to considering the skills you will need, here are some steps you can take to help you decide if you want to pursue a career in the law.
Understand the basics of law
Why not study a little of the law first to see if it is for you? There are various websites offering free taster courses in law. The Open University's Open Learn portal is a high-quality resource you can access for free, offering introductory level online law modules. Take a look at some options to see if this is a subject you would like to study further:
Do your research
... into the roles available
There are many roles involved in the law including solicitor, barrister, chartered legal executive, costs lawyer, paralegal, legal administrator, legal secretary and many others. Some have very defined and lengthy qualification processes and requirements, whereas others require less academic qualifications or training. Some allow to remain a generalist in law for some time, whereas others allow you to specialise in a particular area of the law from the beginning.
Research entry and exit requirements to find the right fit for you. You do not need to decide immediately what your legal role will be but it is good to understand the range of opportunities and career paths available early on.
Use our route checker to clarify the basic qualification routes.
...the kind of organisation or sector you'd like to work in
There is a need for lawyers in all areas of the world, in all sectors. Are you keen to work for a big City firm, or one that works internationally? Would you prefer to practise law at a small local firm or one operating within a particular region? Are you keen to work in-house as legal counsel for a corporation or government department? Are you passionate about supporting clients that can't afford to access justice by working as a legal aid lawyer? Do you want to work for a firm or be self employed? Do you want to advocate for clients yourself in court or work outside of a courtroom? You should research law recruiters and law firms, both big and small as well as understand the workings of chambers.
...the areas of law that interest you
The areas of law that you can ultimately practise in are wide. Whilst you do not need to make any decisions right now, having an idea of the breadth of practice areas is useful.
...obtaining some practical experience working in the law
Getting some work experience can help you decide if a career in the law is for you or not, even though you do not need to decide exactly what that role might be just yet.
Once you have decided that you want to go into law, your next step is working out the best path for you to take and part of this will be deciding if you want to study law at university or 'earn while you learn'.
Non-university routes into law
If you are interested in pursuing a career in the law, but either don't want, or can't, go to university, there are a variety of routes into the profession which offer flexible entry points and career progression opportunities.
There are courses, such as the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ), which are designed to enable you to earn as you learn, gaining experience on the job while studying via distance learning.
Apprenticeships provide the opportunity to learn on the job from experienced colleagues. Many employers will provide funding to support the costs of training during your apprenticeship, so you can benefit from of a zero-cost route to qualification, plus a salary.
Studying law at university can help you to keep your career options open beyond the law. The UCAS section on law highlights the breadth of opportunities open to those thinking about law as a future career.
Think about whether you want to study law as an undergraduate or as a postgraduate.
Undergraduate law degrees are available as LLBs or as BA Law, as stand alone or combined degrees. Consider which might provide the most useful route for you if you choose to study as an undergraduate:
BA Law guidance
Postgraduate study, if you already have an undergraduate degree or equivalent (in law or non-law subjects), might be a better option for career changers and graduates. Many employers welcome the broader skillsets and commercial awareness brought by graduates from other sectors such as business and finance as well as other subjects that develop commercial awareness and critical thinking. You can keep your options open with a non-law undergraduate degree, then 'convert' your undergraduate degree to law by doing a law conversion course (GDL, PgDL or Masters level conversion), which takes 1 academic year full time.
For those as yet unsure about whether to qualify as a solicitor, a barrister or other lawyer role, a law conversion course will also allow you to keep your career route options open a little longer, whilst giving you a good grounding in the law.
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) route to qualifying as a solicitor only requires an undergraduate degree in any subject (or equivalent qualification or experience), rather than mandating completion of a law degree/GDL course.
Consider the costs
Whether studying whilst working, or going to university to study, the costs of legal qualifications can be high. For apprentices, your employer will cover the cost of your legal training using funding from the government.
If you are working in a non-apprentice position, your employer may be willing to cover some or all of your training costs. This is often the case if you have been offered a ‘training contract’ at a law firm.
If you are self funding your studies, there are a number of bursaries and scholarships available, as well as funding from government for specific courses. See our Funding your Course section for more details.
Qualifying in a different jurisdiction of the UK
If you wish to qualify as a solicitor in Scotland or Northern Ireland, the qualification route is different. Please refer to the Law Society of Scotland and the Law Society of Northern Ireland. If you wish to qualify as a barrister in Northern Ireland, or as an advocate in Scotland, please refer to the Bar of Northern Ireland and the Faculty of Advocates for further information.
Guidance on qualifications
Courses and apprenticeships
All About Law
Guidance on apprenticeships