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Jobs & Careers magazine | December 12, 2017

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Are you right for a career in the law?

Are you right for a career in the law?
The College of Law

Are you right for a career in the law?

As with any attractive and potentially very rewarding career choice, entry to the legal profession is very competitive. This article will give you some pointers to help you decide whether you are suited to a career in law; but remember that just about everyone can take steps to improve their employability.

What recruiters look for

Legal employers tend to be primarily interested in strong academic ability, work experience (legal and non-legal), and evidence of core skills and competencies.

1. Academic attainment

Law is an academically challenging profession and employers want to know that you will be able to handle the work, so remember that all grades are important. You may be applying for vacation placements or even training contracts very early on in your degree, so GCSEs, A- levels, academic awards and first year grades will all count, although the most recent grades carry the most ‘weight’.

Arguably the most significant grade is your degree classification, and many of the larger recruiters look for a ‘minimum 2.1’.

It is possible to achieve a career in law with a 2.2, particularly if you want to practise as a solicitor where there are more opportunities than at the Bar. However, you will need to target your applications carefully, and be flexible about your career path. You will also need to ensure that the rest of your application is strong (for example, good previous and/or subsequent academics, relevant work experience or knowledge of a firm’s clients from a previous career or experience and so on).

For students seeking pupillage, a 2.2 does pose a serious obstacle. Although some chambers will accept students with a 2.2 degree, they will expect you to be a truly exceptional candidate in all other respects, for example with a successful previous career behind you.

2. Work experience

Work experience is vital for three main reasons. Firstly, it gives you the best possible insight into the legal profession, ensuring that you are making an informed career choice. Secondly, it tells a prospective employer that you are committed to a career in law. Thirdly, recruiters are increasingly viewing work experience as an integral part of the selection process, and some law firms recruit the majority of their trainees through their work experience programmes: and some chambers through assessed mini pupillages.

i) Legal work experience

If you are interested in the larger firms or chambers, you are strongly advised to apply for vacation schemes and mini pupillages respectively.

In addition to the ‘formal’ vacation schemes and placements, many firms are prepared to offer informal work experience or work shadowing opportunities if you ask them. Other avenues include for example voluntary work, pro bono work, firms’ open days and observing court proceedings from the public gallery.

ii) Non legal work experience

Non-legal experience allows you to show evidence of core skills and competencies, and/or relevant sector experience.

For example, at one end of the scale, working in a bar or in sales during the holidays may enable you to demonstrate your team working and problem solving skills as well as your commercial awareness. At the other end of the scale, you may be a career changer and have many years’ experience of a sector and clients that would be of interest to a legal employer working in the same area: for example, if you have worked in insurance, and are now interested in practising as an insurance litigator.

3. Skills and competencies

To be a good lawyer, you will need a range of skills and competencies, including communication skills, researching, interviewing, negotiating, team working, analytical ability, advocacy, problem solving, commercial awareness, self-awareness and so on.

Assessing and improving your employability

Once you have identified any weak aspects of your application, you can start to improve your employability through taking actions to address these areas, and building up useful content for your applications.

For more information on how to do this, go to Step 2 ‘Assessing your employability’ on The College of Law’s free website for aspiring lawyers:  where you will find detailed information on what employers are looking for, the skills and competencies required, and how to gain them in the resource book.

You can watch an online workshop on employability, find answers to your questions in the frequently asked questions section, and complete a skills checklist activity that will allow you to assess how strong your abilities are, and identify any actions you may need to take before making applications.

Words: Rachel Harris
Director of Employability, The College of Law

Main Image: Shutterstock

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