What types of jobs and employers are there in law?
Lawyers are involved in almost all aspects of people’s lives. Wherever people are doing business, disputing their rights or choosing somewhere to live or work, there’s the potential for legal involvement.
What types of jobs are there in law?
The word ‘lawyer’ is a handy umbrella term for anyone who practises law. Most UK lawyers choose to work as either a solicitor or as a barrister.
- Individuals or companies usually approach solicitors for legal advice in the first instance. There are over 120,000 solicitors in the UK. Most solicitors work for a law firm or partnership and, unlike other industries, not for a company. Firms, including law firms, are managed and owned by partners and senior partners; companies, on the other hand, are run by directors and owned by shareholders.
- Solicitors bring in a barrister for specialist advice or representation in court if needed. Barristers need to be good at thinking on their feet and persuading a judge in court why they should decide in favour of a client. The barristers’ profession is much smaller and more competitive to get into than the solicitors’ profession; there are only 15,000 barristers in the UK – and most of them are self-employed.
- A minority of qualified solicitors and barristers choose to work for the government or as an in-house lawyer in a local authority or company’s legal department. All big companies, such as Vodafone, Amazon and BT, have in-house legal departments. In-house lawyers advise colleagues in their company rather than external clients off the street.
- Paralegals assist in law firms and carry out various legal tasks, from admin support to research. They are not able to give legal advice but have some interaction with clients. Law firms take on teams of paralegals to support their solicitors on big cases or deals.
- Chartered legal executives are qualified lawyers, specialising in particular areas of law. The number of legal executives is growing. Many study the qualifications needed to be a chartered legal executive while working as a paralegal. Legal executives are able to give legal advice to clients.
- Legal secretaries provide admin support to solicitors. They help produce legal documents such as wills and contracts.
- Judges decide cases in a law court. In the UK, you have to practise as a solicitor or barrister for several years before becoming a judge.
Where do solicitors work and what types of work do they do?
The type of work solicitors carry out – and the salaries they get – varies enormously. Solicitors working in small, local offices in towns and cities across the UK tend to give advice to individuals and small companies. Their bread and butter work involves writing wills, drafting the legal documents that allow people to buy or sell a house, representing clients at police stations, and settling divorce and employment disputes.
The bigger law firms usually have offices all over the world – particularly in China, the US, the Middle East and across Europe. They tend to act for companies rather than individuals and deal with transactions worth millions of pounds. When Kraft bought Cadbury in 2010 for £11.5 billion, both companies sought advice from big commercial law firms. The lawyers made sure that they recorded what was agreed between the two companies in paperwork to avoid a misunderstanding later.
Solicitors usually specialise in one legal area such as family, employment or tax law. Solicitors and barristers advising companies tend to earn a lot more money than their counterparts working in criminal and family law – it boils down to the type of clients they represent and the money those clients are prepared to spend on legal matters.
Where do barristers work and what types of work do they do?
The offices where self-employed barristers work are known as ‘chambers’. Most sets of chambers are in London and other major cities across the UK, such as Birmingham, Cardiff and Manchester. Each set of chambers employs admin staff known as clerks.
Barristers argue cases on behalf of their clients in court or give written advice from chambers. They specialise in one or two practice areas, such as shipping law or family law, and are experts in those particular areas of law. As with solicitors, barristers’ earnings vary hugely depending on the area of law they choose to specialise in and the clients they represent. Barristers advising big companies make a lot more money than barristers representing defendants in the criminal courts.