What is a career in law?
Laws are official rules that regulate the way we act. If we break them we can be fined, forced to do community service, or even go to prison. Our legal system and the laws that we pass are designed to protect people’s safety, their property and their rights.
Lawyers are the experts who interpret these rules. They represent individual clients and companies over disputes, or in criminal cases, which are brought to court by the government on behalf of the police, otherwise known as the Crown Prosecution Service.
Lawyers also support us through everyday issues like buying a house or getting a new job. They draw up contracts but also make sure the things we sign are fair and don’t have any hidden surprises.
The law is made up of acts of parliament, which are passed by the government or by judges through precedent, which is when the outcome of a particular case sets an example for how things should be judged in future.
What law jobs can I do?
Lawyers specialise in lots of different areas including:
- Criminal law: Representing or prosecuting criminal defendants on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service.
- Family law: Representing clients going through divorce, child custody and cases involving domestic violence or child protection.
- Corporate law: Representing and advising big companies on how they grow or sell their business.
- Sports & media law: Handling contracts and advice for brands, entertainers, artists and sportspeople.
- Commercial law: Handling business disputes.
- Employment law: Handling employment contracts and disputes.
- Intellectual property law: Organising patents and protecting people’s creations.
As a lawyer there are three main job paths:
- Barristers: Represent clients in court, advise them on how strong their case is, examine evidence and make their cases to a jury and judge. Here's how to become a barrister.
- Solicitors: Work with clients directly. They provide legal advice, draft letters and contracts, negotiate on behalf of clients, and prepare evidence to support barristers in court. Check out our interview with solicitor Hayley.
- Judges: Oversee cases in courts and have the power to make a ruling on a case or pass a sentence. Crown court judges deal with serious criminal cases and can pass the maximum sentence.
- Magistrates: Volunteers who pass shorter and "non-custodial" sentences. That means sentences that don't involve going into custody, or prison, such as fines or community service. Rulings take place in magistrates' courts or are referred to a higher court.
Other legal jobs include:
- Legal executives: Have the same amount of training as solicitors, but specialise in one area of law.
- Patent attorneys: Specialists in patent law and help their clients get patents to protect their inventions or intellectual property.
- Legal secretaries and clerks: Provide admin support to lawyers in the office and at court.
- Court ushers: Make sure everything runs smoothly in the courtroom and keep public order.
Is a career in law for me?
If you enjoy a good debate, a law career could be for you.
You'll need great communication skills, as you could be dealing with all kinds of clients as well as other legal professionals.
You will need to spend a lot of time carefully analysing evidence, researching points of law and looking into previous cases, so you need a methodical, analytical mindset with great attention to detail.
Law is a challenging career that requires hard work, patience and dedication. Long hours are often required.
How can I start a law career?
You will usually need a degree and post grad law training to be a lawyer. There are now also a limited number of apprenticeships that train you to become a solicitor, paralegal or legal administrator.
To become a lawyer, you will usually need a degree, but there are a few different routes to take.
To get onto a degree course you’ll need three A-levels. It’s helpful to choose at least one essay subject like history, English, politics or law.
Patent attorneys often have a scientific background, so a degree in engineering is ideal.
You don’t have to study law at university, but, if you don’t, you will need to take a one-year law conversion course after you graduate (the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)).
After uni, graduates who want to become a barrister will need to take a bar vocational course and work alongside an experienced barrister.
Graduates who want to become solicitors will need to take a legal practice course and work in a law firm, but there is also a way to train as a solicitor without a degree (see below).
To become a judge you must usually already be a lawyer and have five to seven years experience.
If you're interested in studying law at university, check out our list of UK universities for more information on which ones offer law as a subject.
We also have an article about what you can do with a law degree if you don't want to become a lawyer.
Vocational and training
Legal executives and people already working in law can sometimes train as solicitors without a degree, through a fellowship with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), which takes about five years.
After GCSE you can gain training on the job as a legal secretary or court usher through work or an apprenticeship.
Magistrates are volunteers (aged 18 and above) and don’t need any formal qualifications. There's a lot of competition for roles but it can be great experience if you are considering training for legal jobs later on.
Arguing with friends and family is one thing… but consider joining a debate club at school or a theatre group to get some practice public speaking. It will look great on job and uni applications too.
Volunteering as an advisor for the Citizens Advice Bureau can also help knock a few months off your solicitor training.
Are you considering applying for a law apprenticeship? If so, check out the discussion on our student careers advice forum.
What law qualifications are available?
As a lawyer you will hold a postgraduate diploma in law, or a bar professional training qualification if you are a barrister.
Legal executives that go straight into work-based training can gain a professional higher diploma in law and practice.
Court clerks, legal secretaries and ushers all have the chance to gain NVQ qualifications and diplomas in legal administration topics.
Did you know these facts about the law?
Pringles saved millions of pounds on VAT after the UK High Court ruled the product is not a crisp. As Pringles aren’t officially crisps, they are exempt from VAT.
Anyone over the age of 18 can be called up to serve on a jury. You will normally complete two weeks' service and will get compensation for your time, but Britain’s longest ever jury trial lasted over two years and broke up in 2005 when a member of the jury went on strike...