Would a career in law suit me?
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If you’re going to make the commitment to become a lawyer, you need to think long and hard about whether law is the right choice for you. There are a number of skills and attributes that you may already possess that would help you on your way to a career in the profession, but make sure you read our article on Separating fact from fiction in a law career before you test your mettle here.
- Academics – law employers seek individuals with top grades when recruiting. If you’ve obtained A*s and As at GCSE, and are predicted As and Bs at A level, then you’re part-way towards your career in law already.
- Communication – the devil is in the detail. A lot of lengthy legal papers will require an excellent grasp of spelling and grammar. You will also be expected to respond to arguments and requests in a concise manner.
- People skills – solicitors and barristers interact with a wide range of people who may be in an emotional state or have major business interests riding on the outcome of a deal. You will need to be friendly, professional and able to talk to individuals from all walks of life.
- Ability to digest information – the ability to pick out the essential points from a sheaf of papers as thick as a novel is key. Lawyers need to process facts quickly and competently and need to be able to see how the law applies to each point.
- Organisational skills – lawyers need to be able to manage their time, whether they're self-employed or working at a law firm. Long hours and high workloads are part of the job so you’ll need to be as efficient as possible.
- Commitment to law – law is a vocation and firms and chambers will expect you to be committed to the idea of law as a governing force for society and justice. Read the section on your values and a career in law to find out more.
- Resilience – legal cases can decide the fate of individuals or vast sums of money. The pressure will be on you to ensure the best outcome for your client.
When you first apply for a job in law, you will be asked about your motivation for choosing this career. Your answer will probably depend on who you are as a person, which will directly influence what area of law you intend to practise during your working life. This will not only affect your chances of getting a job, but also whether you will enjoy your job. Below are two very different areas of law with different aims:
- Commercial law – money is exceptionally important in this area of practice. You will need to be a driven person to meet targets and secure the best financial outcome for your client.
- Criminal or child family law – criminal and family lawyers also need a commitment to the client but for different reasons. You need to be motivated to help people, stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and have a relentless belief in the justice system.
These are just two examples; there are many different areas of practice that you can work in. You’ll need to learn more about each area and demonstrate the values relevant to each one. If you want to spend your time uniting broken families and making sure children have good homes, you’re unlikely to function well in the sometimes-high powered arena of commercial law. Likewise, if you’re fascinated by money and the inner workings of institutions, taking on immigration cases may not be your cup of tea.
It’s safe to say that if you want a career as a lawyer you have to work hard. You already know that you’ll need the top grades in the class to enter the profession and that required level of excellence persists throughout. Here are a few things that you should be aware of:
- Long and irregular hours – in some areas of law, particularly once you are established, you may not work a nine-to-five day. Weekend working can also be commonplace.
- Predictability – in some areas of law such as criminal and family, you may receive work unexpectedly or at short notice. Plans with friends will frequently need to be rearranged, and you may have to give up weekends and evenings in order to deal with the workload.
- Travel – you will almost certainly need to travel to some degree, whether to offices around the country or even around the world. Some barristers may need to travel to courts around the country on a regular or daily basis.
- Money – commercial areas of law, both as a solicitor and a barrister, tend to pay the fat pay packets that many associate with lawyers. In other areas, recent funding cuts have meant that wages have dropped significantly. In 2014, the minimum wage benchmark for trainee solicitors was also dropped to match the national minimum wage. As a general rule, the larger the firm or chambers, the more you are likely to be paid. High street firms and smaller legal aid funded employers are likely to pay much less.
- Rent – City lawyers tend to live as close as they can to work and living costs are exceptionally high in and around the City of London. Living further away from the City can mean lower rent, but also means higher commuting costs. Working outside London can mean cheaper living costs and commutes.
Will I fit in?
The choices you make will ultimately decide whether you fit in and feel comfortable. If you have developed a taste for theatrical advocacy, public speaking and helping people, you may fit in well as a criminal or family barrister, but would feel out of place at a commercial law firm taking phone calls from major banks. If you have more of an academic soul, why not look into areas of law that are research heavy? It becomes easier to discover where you’ll fit in as you progress through your studies and career, but there’s nothing to stop you taking the initial steps now. Go and sit in the public gallery of a courtroom, ask to visit a law firm, or offer to make the tea at the Citizens Advice Bureau. The more experience and exposure you get, the easier it will be to make the decisions later on and to feel comfortable at work.