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Legal Jobs and Careers in the UK

In the UK, the term 'lawyer' encompasses the professions of both solicitor and barrister.

A solicitor is usually the first point of contact for a person or organisation seeking legal support or representation, while a barrister specialises in litigation within the UK court system. Lawyers can work in many situations and specialise in many areas of law.

The economic downturn led to a change in the legal profession's employment patterns. Many law firms restructured, downsized or merged. Areas affected include banking, finance and property law. Meanwhile, areas experiencing growth are insolvency, employment law, intellectual property law, international law, energy and environmental law, and dispute resolution.

Demographics also affect the continued need for lawyers: a growing population means that many areas are increasing, particularly in business and commerce. Here, we look at a few of the areas that you can specialise in as a lawyer.

Specialist Areas

As advocates, lawyers (or solicitors or attorneys) represent one of the parties in criminal and civil trials. They present evidence and argue their client's case in court. As advisors, they discuss legal rights and obligations with their clients, suggesting courses of action in personal and business affairs. Whichever capacity they're working in, lawyers must draw on research of legal and judicial decisions, and apply the law to the specific case they're working on.

Barristers

Barrister's Clerks

Solicitors

Legal Executives

Corporate Lawyers

Company Secretaries

Intellectual Property Lawyers

Insurance Lawyers

Environmental Lawyers

Government Lawyers

Conveyancers

Other Areas of the Law

Would a Career in Law Suit You?

Working in the legal profession brings a career that is ever challenging and rewarding in equal measure. There is variety and self-employment brings autonomy for those in private practice. Barristers share chambers but are self-employed, while solicitors often work in partnerships. For this reason, there is frequently a degree of teamwork involved in the work.

If you are especially interested in advocacy and are fortunate enough to be articulate and confident, then a career working in court cases may be an option. If you are interested in greater client contact, a solicitor's career may beckon. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are vital.

Good levels of academic achievement are essential. To achieve qualification as a solicitor or legal executive, you have to be prepared to study rigorously for a 4-year degree, followed by up to 3 years postgraduate training in a legal office and a written bar examination. Competition for places in the top law schools is fierce.

Employment is generally no less demanding. Lawyers in private practice may have very irregular hours, especially when researching cases or preparing documentation for court deadlines. Many work hours well beyond the usual working week. There may be periods of intense pressure as court cases take place.

Continuing professional development is essential. Additionally, lawyers must be constantly updating with news of the latest judicial decisions and changes to laws. Those specialising in areas such as taxation will also be subject to the annual pressures associated with the end of the tax year.

Getting Started in the Legal Profession

If you are looking at corporate law or employment as a company secretary, employers usually expect at least a 2.1 degree. The quickest route is to gain a university law degree with an accredited institution, before going on to postgraduate training.

Upon completion, those seeking a career as a barrister undertake the 1-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), then go on to spend at least a year in chambers, learning more about the role. Those seeking to be solicitors study for the 1-year Legal Practice Course (LPC), before going to a 2-year training position with a solicitors' firm or in a company legal department.

With competition being fierce for the best positions in legal jobs, many law graduates find themselves temporarily working in areas outside their field. It is worth being prepared for this eventuality in the current economic climate.

Willingness to relocate in the early stages of your career will be extremely useful in the early stages, when it may be worth moving to a less attractive area in order to gain essential experience in your chosen specialist area.

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