Separating fact from fiction in a law career
You may have seen the American courtroom dramas full of feisty young lawyers and hard-faced district attorneys having affairs with each other, but the reality of a legal career is very different. We’ve issued judgment on some of the biggest stereotypes below.
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’It wasn’t me guv and it’s just not true guv!’ Criminal law, with its focus on prosecution and defence, is just one area of practice. In other areas lawyers may well be called on solely to offer advice on a point of law or settle a company dispute. For example, commercial lawyers might spend most of their time looking over the fine print of documents to advise a company on a merger or takeover.
Barristers in criminal or family law may be in court most days. Solicitors and practitioners in other areas may only appear in court occasionally, while some may never need to.
You can study any degree before moving into law and be just as successful. If you don’t study law as your first degree though, you will need to undertake a one-year conversion course as well.
You can also become a lawyer without going to university through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. This takes longer than the standard degree, but allows you to practise law in a different capacity to a solicitor or barrister.
Horsehair wigs look itchy, but not all lawyers wear wigs and robes. This is the popular depiction in British legal dramas, but it is not representative of all the legal professions. Solicitors are unlikely to appear in court in this manner and many barristers in commercial areas of law will have no need to wear wigs and robes unless the court has a special requirement to do so.
The hammers or gavels that are so popular with TV courtroom judges are NOT used in England and Wales. There is, however, a professional etiquette observed by legal professionals that keeps the Jeremy Kyle-style antics to a minimum.
Are you a big fan of caviar and champagne? Well tough. Solicitors are unlikely to get such luxuries at meetings and conferences these days – much of the client and public interaction in a firm now takes place in daytime training sessions or after-work meetings. You’re likely to get all the cups of cold tea that you want though.
Commercial lawyers at big law firms and commercial barristers can earn a fairly substantial sum of money – as much as £100,000 in the first year after finishing training. However, small high street firms have no obligation to pay trainees above minimum wage (although many do) and recent cuts to the legal aid budget mean that times are really tough in the first years of criminal or family law.