Legal Jobs and Careers in the UK
In the UK, the term 'lawyer' encompasses the professions of both solicitor and barrister.
A solicitor is usually the first point of contact for a person or organisation seeking legal support or representation, while a barrister specialises in litigation within the UK court system. Lawyers can work in many situations and specialise in many areas of law.
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The economic downturn led to a change in the legal profession's employment patterns. Many law firms restructured, downsized or merged. Areas affected include banking, finance and property law. Meanwhile, areas experiencing growth are insolvency, employment law, intellectual property law, international law, energy and environmental law, and dispute resolution.
Demographics also affect the continued need for lawyers: a growing population means that many areas are increasing, particularly in business and commerce. Here, we look at a few of the areas that you can specialise in as a lawyer.
As advocates, lawyers (or solicitors or attorneys) represent one of the parties in criminal and civil trials. They present evidence and argue their client's case in court. As advisors, they discuss legal rights and obligations with their clients, suggesting courses of action in personal and business affairs. Whichever capacity they're working in, lawyers must draw on research of legal and judicial decisions, and apply the law to the specific case they're working on.
- Barristers are usually in private practice in 'chambers' and are hired by solicitors to represent more complex cases in court.
- They provide an independent source of legal advice. Their specialist areas may be criminal law, commercial law, common law (which includes housing, personal injury and family law) and chancery (which concerns estates and trusts).
- Barrister's Clerks are responsible for the administration of a barrister's chambers, being responsible for its financial affairs, co-ordinating the workload and activities, and marketing the barrister's services.
- These managers need to have a level of legal expertise in the same areas as the barrister they support.
- Solicitors in private practice focus on civil or criminal law, representing the private individuals, groups, companies or public sector organisations who are their clients.
- In civil law, they pursue private law suits or litigation, or deal with wills, contracts, trusts, mortgages, leases, etc.
- In criminal law, they argue their clients' case in court, when their clients have been charged with crimes. Some only handle larger, public interest cases that have wider social importance.
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- Legal Executives are qualified to the same level as solicitors and specialise in certain areas of law, such as conveyancing, civil litigation (personal injury, debt recovery, housing, employment), criminal litigation (defence or prosecution), family law and probate.
- They may also be involved with public law work (working in a local authority or in a governmental department).
- Corporate (Company or Commercial) Lawyers are concerned with the interactions of shareholders, directors, employees, creditors and other stakeholders in a corporations' activities, such as consumers.
- These lawyers work for law firms who represent companies as separate legal identities in matters such as ownership and stock issue, legal liability, management and directorship.
- Company Secretaries work for a corporate client or employer and advise them on legal issues around their business activities.
- They are trained in law, finance, accounting, strategy and governance, being concerned with the correct conduct and compliance in all areas of business.
Intellectual Property Lawyers
- Intellectual Property Lawyers help to protect clients' claims to copyrights, creative work under contract, product designs and computer program design.
- Insurance Lawyers advise insurance companies about the legality of insurance transactions, writing policies that are legally correct.
- They also help to protect companies from unwarranted action by reviewing claims and representing the company in court.
- Environmental Lawyers may represent pressure groups, interest groups, and companies whose work touches on environmental issues, such as construction, geological and waste management firms.
- These lawyers help their clients to apply for licenses and applications for activities which may affect the environment, or defend their clients if prosecuted by the authorities over environmental breaches.
- Government Lawyers work as prosecutors and defenders on behalf of the state within the justice system.
- Some help to draft and interpret laws and legislation on behalf of the government.
- Conveyancers, as mentioned above, specialise in the transfer of property ownership.
- They may be solicitors or legal executives qualified to the same level to undertake all the legal and administrative work associated with transferring the ownership of land or buildings from one owner to another.
Other Areas of the Law
- Other Areas where lawyers work and specialise include taxation, bankruptcy, international law, teaching in law schools and non-academic environments, charity law and legal aid.
Would a Career in Law Suit You?
Working in the legal profession brings a career that is ever challenging and rewarding in equal measure. There is variety and self-employment brings autonomy for those in private practice. Barristers share chambers but are self-employed, while solicitors often work in partnerships. For this reason, there is frequently a degree of teamwork involved in the work.
If you are especially interested in advocacy and are fortunate enough to be articulate and confident, then a career working in court cases may be an option. If you are interested in greater client contact, a solicitor's career may beckon. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are vital.
Good levels of academic achievement are essential. To achieve qualification as a solicitor or legal executive, you have to be prepared to study rigorously for a 4-year degree, followed by up to 3 years postgraduate training in a legal office and a written bar examination. Competition for places in the top law schools is fierce.
Employment is generally no less demanding. Lawyers in private practice may have very irregular hours, especially when researching cases or preparing documentation for court deadlines. Many work hours well beyond the usual working week. There may be periods of intense pressure as court cases take place.
Continuing professional development is essential. Additionally, lawyers must be constantly updating with news of the latest judicial decisions and changes to laws. Those specialising in areas such as taxation will also be subject to the annual pressures associated with the end of the tax year.
Getting Started in the Legal Profession
If you are looking at corporate law or employment as a company secretary, employers usually expect at least a 2.1 degree. The quickest route is to gain a university law degree with an accredited institution, before going on to postgraduate training.
Upon completion, those seeking a career as a barrister undertake the 1-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), then go on to spend at least a year in chambers, learning more about the role. Those seeking to be solicitors study for the 1-year Legal Practice Course (LPC), before going to a 2-year training position with a solicitors' firm or in a company legal department.
With competition being fierce for the best positions in legal jobs, many law graduates find themselves temporarily working in areas outside their field. It is worth being prepared for this eventuality in the current economic climate.
Willingness to relocate in the early stages of your career will be extremely useful in the early stages, when it may be worth moving to a less attractive area in order to gain essential experience in your chosen specialist area.
Job Sites for Legal Jobs
- Totally Legal is a job site for legal professionals - www.totallylegal.com
- Simply Law Jobs offers openings - www.simplylawjobs.com
- Search for Practice jobs at all levels - jobs.thelawyer.com
- Apply for legal jobs through - jobs.theguardian.com
- International legal jobs are advertised at - www.garfieldrobbins.com
- Law and Legal has details of companies that deal with all disciplines and offers pages of tips for job applications and careers - www.lawandlegal.co.uk
- The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives website - www.cilex.org.uk
- The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators site - www.icsa.org.uk
- Law Careers is a comprehensive online resource, with editorial on becoming a lawyer, directories of employers, news and features - www.lawcareers.net