Becoming a Lawyer
Working as a qualified legal advisor, whether at a private practice or in-house (for a large company or the public sector), is regarded as an admirable career path for any person to undertake. Although the job and duties of legal professionals have long been portrayed in TV and film media as glamorous and melodramatic, the reality is most likely more intense, labour-intensive and Stressful, but still ultimately rewarding.
ServicesAs a solicitor you'll be expected to deal with both individuals and small businesses, with the chance to involve yourself in legal aid if you choose to. The work itself will involve offering a range of services, from dealing with matrimonial legal affairs, probates and wills, to cases of litigation. Solicitors are also commonly involved with the legal aspects of property ownership and tenancy.
This sort of work means that you'll be expected to employ a multitude of skills. Owing to the amount of documentation-like surveys, legal, police and medical reports that solicitors handle, you'll have to have an aptitude for analysing information, as well as having competent English language, IT, administrative and organisation skills. Interpersonal skills are important, as you'll be expected to not only provide your clients with services, but also deal and liaise with other professionals, departments and team members. As you'll be dealing with financial fees and possibly estimating damages, you'll also have to possess good numeracy and negotiation skills.
Entering the ProfessionEntry into this sort of career change is particularly competitive. As a graduate with realistically at least a 2:1 honours degree and good A-Levels you'll basically be in a stronger position, particularly if you have studied law. A 2:2 may be accepted if you have a plethora of relevant experience and skills to offer.
If you have a non-law degree, you may still be able to start training but you'll have to take a conversion course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), or the Common Profession Examination (CPE). There's also the optional route of working as a legal executive as per the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX).
It's worth taking into consideration that in some instances, if you're unable to study full-time, you might be able to take a part-time GDL/CPE course over a period of 2 years. The normal course length, however, is one year of full-time study.
All graduates then also have to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) – for full-time students this takes a year, but can also be taken part-time over the duration of two or three years. The fees for the LPC be as high as £13,000. You may be lucky enough able to find sponsorship for the LPC, but this tends to be the case only with the larger firms. Ideally, beyond the LPC you will then secure a two-year training contract, during which time you should train within the 4 areas of law.
Be RealisticBecoming a solicitor is a massive career change, thanks in part to the amount of training that has to be undertaken in order to practise. You should consider that if you can't secure a sponsor, you may also have to pay out for your own fees, which can be particularly difficult if you have any dependents or financial responsibilities (see our article How To Finance A Career Change).
Age is also a consideration – although age discrimination is illegal, as a mature applicant realistically you may have to work harder to be selected by an employer. Lack of experience will definitely be a turn-off, so it's worth taking the time to build up your work experience and any specialisms. This can be done via voluntary work, which is advisable anyway as it'll give you a really good grounding, as well as an idea of your suitability to a career as a lawyer.