What types of jobs 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. You might think of lawyers as just defending people in court, but there are many different job roles that you could do in the legal profession.
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 140,000 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 (instead of being owned/run by directors and shareholders).
Barristers are consulted by solicitors when specialist advice or representation in court is 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 16,000 barristers in the UK – and most of them are self-employed.
Solicitors and barristers don’t have to work for law firms and chambers. 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.
Chartered legal executives
Chartered legal executives are qualified lawyers, specialising in particular areas of law, who can give legal advice to clients. There are many routes to becoming a legal executive, and you can qualify with or without studying a degree – qualification is done through an professional body called the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Many legal executives choose to qualify while working as a paralegal.
Paralegals assist in law firms and carry out various legal tasks, from admin support (such as preparing documents or general helping around the office) 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.
As you might be able to tell from the name, legal secretaries provide admin support to lawyers. This can include typing up legal documents (such as wills and contracts), scheduling meetings and organising the work of a group of lawyers and general office administration tasks. While legal secretaries will not advise clients, they will usually be the first point of contact for clients, especially at smaller law firms, so strong people skills are necessary, alongside analytical and organisational ability. There are no specific qualifications or requirements to become a legal secretary, though they can be beneficial; with the right training, secretaries can progress to be paralegals or legal executives.
Judges decide cases in a law court. In the UK, you have to practise as a solicitor or barrister for at least five or seven years before becoming a judge. Becoming a judge is incredibly competitive, with applications for judicial positions far outweighing the number of appointments made.
Not all of the positions are immediately open to school leavers, some require you to have first gone to university or to have already practiced in law for a number of years.
To help you in making your decisions about your first steps into the legal world, read our article on the different routes into the law profession for school leavers. It details which paths are available to school leavers (such as apprenticeships) and how you can start your legal careers.