Using your subject: Law

Learn how to use a degree in Law to enhance your career prospects

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So, you’re studying law – but what is next?

For some, the next logical step is to qualify as a lawyer and practice law. For others, this may not be so clear cut, or you may not want this at all.  This is all fine – luckily law graduates are highly regarded across many sectors and go on to have successful careers across a diverse range of jobs.

So, whether you are clear about what you want, or looking for some help and inspiration, taking time to explore your options and consider plans B, C and D is a great way to help you make informed decisions.

The content below is designed to give you an overview of the types of jobs law graduates do, from work in the legal sector to law-related careers outside the legal sector and careers with no legal context at all.

This list is not exhaustive but is a starting point to show the breadth of options and can be used to kick off your career exploration.

You will also find advice on how to enhance your career development through work experience, further study and how your Careers Service can support you.

Careers in legal practice

For many (but not all) law students a career practicing law beckons. But even if being a lawyer is your dream job, there are still decisions to make.  The first of these is likely to be whether you want to be a solicitor or pursue a career at the Bar (as a barrister/advocate).

Solicitor  

Usually the first point of contact in a legal matter, solicitors are the most prevalent type of legal practitioner in the UK. But not all solicitors are the same.

Careers as a solicitor range from working in state of the art offices at large city/international law firms to small high street firms with just a few staff, with lots in between! Chamber Student has a really helpful guide on types of law firm.

The type of work you do as a solicitor will also vary; there are many practice areas to specialise in, from corporate and commercial law to family law, and criminal law to human rights. You don’t need to specialise until after qualification, but you may want to think about what areas most interest you when applying for training contracts.

Along with the type of work you do, you may also want to consider the size of the firm you work for.  Some lawyers prefer to work for a large firm where you might be exposed to the biggest clients, while others prefer smaller firms where you will get involved in much more of the work from an early stage.  There is no right and wrong here, just a matter of matching your interests, values, skills and personality to the right option for you.  In Scotland in 2020/21 about 34% of traineeships commenced at forms with 1-5 partners and 31% at firms with more than 31 partners.  Latest statistics on Traineeships.

It is not just private law firms you can work in either. It is becoming increasingly popular for solicitors to practice ‘in-house’ and this is the destination for about 15% of Diploma graduates each year in Scotland. This means your sole client is your employer and can either be in the private sector (for example: banks and businesses) or in the public sector (for example: Government, local authorities, NHS, Crown Office).

Qualifying in Scotland 

The most common route to qualify as a solicitor in Scotland following an LLB is through completion of the 1 year Diploma in Professional Legal Practice followed by a 2 year traineeship with a law firm or in-house legal team. The Law Society of Scotland has a clear overview of the routes to qualification.

The process for applying for traineeships varies depending on the type of firm you wish to do your traineeship at.

Large firms (Scotland):  generally those with 10 partners or more, and often large commercial or full-service firms. These firms tend to open their application process 2 years in advance of the traineeship.

Large Scottish firms currently have traineeship deadlines during the summer or in September/October. There are also many large national and international firms with Scottish offices – traineeship deadlines here are usually during the summer.

You will therefore be able to start applying from the end of your penultimate yea of your LLB, or at the start of your 4th year for those firms with September/October deadlines.

There is no central job search engine for Scottish traineeships but, the Law Society of Scotland have produced a helpful Traineeship Hub to help you research firms.

You will also be able to find vacancies through our JobShop, the Law Society of Scotland jobs site, LawScotJobs and for national/international firms at LawCareers.net.

Small/high street firms: tend to recruit according to business needs and therefore do not always have annual recruitment cycles like the larger firms.

Because of this, traineeship applications at small firms are usually closer to the start date.  So, you probably won’t be applying until your Diploma year or beyond. Some might advertise but you may have to take a speculative approach and contact them directly, following up with a CV and cover letter.

The Law Society of Scotland Find a Solicitor tool will help you find details of all law firms across Scotland.

In-house:  recruitment for traineeships within an in-house legal team can occur at various times of the year. These might be advertised on LawScotJobs or through our JobShop.

Some organisations recruit in advance (1-2 years) and some closer to the start date. Popular in-house destinations for graduates include the Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS) and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for Scotland (COPFS) both of which have regular annual recruitment cycles.

Support from external organisations:  to assist you on your legal career journey in Scotland it is highly recommended to become members of organisations designed to support young lawyers – in particular The Law Society of Scotland Student associates and the Scottish Young Lawyers Association (SYLA).  Both are free and provide a wealth of benefits including careers support and networking opportunities.

Qualifying in England 

For those studying the English or Dual-Qualifying LLB and looking at a career in English law, from September 2021 the qualifying process changed to a new assessment called the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).  If you had been studying for your LLB prior to this date you will be able to choose the old route of studying for your LPC and then a two year traineeship, or taking the new SQE option. 

In brief, the SQE consists of two exams – SQE 1 which tests your legal knowledge and SQE 2 which is a practical test of your skills.  In theory you could simply book a place and attend to take your exam but in practice it is likely that you would benefit from one of the many courses to help you prepare.  There are many providers offering different options and you will need to research this carefully.  Check out the Legal Cheek SQE Providers List.

As in Scotland – the recruitment process used and the timing of applications depends if you are applying to large firms (2 years in advance) or high street firms (close to start date).

LawCareers.net has a really handy guide to all the traineeship deadlines across the country – a great way to plan your application schedule!

You can find a solicitor through the Law Society and find information on firms through Chambers Student and the Legal 500.

Careers at the Bar 

A career at the Bar is less common than becoming a solicitor but the draw of the courtroom makes this career path attractive for many. Usually self-employed, you will need outstanding skills in oral advocacy and research to shine in this field.

Advocate (Scotland):  requires completion of the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice and a traineeship (as with a solicitor) before applying for training at the Bar through the Faculty of Advocates.

Many advocates spend several years working as a solicitor before being called to the Bar, so it may be something you do early in your career or much later.

Barrister (England and Wales):  similarly to the SQE, training for the Bar has recently undergone several changes. 

Potential barristers must first join one of the four Inns of Court.  Around half of sets recruit their pupils via the Pupillage Gateway, a centralised online application system, others recruit directly.  The deadline for applications made via the Gateway in 2021 was in early February and it remains broadly similar each year. 

You must also complete one of the Bar Courses – these are known by different names at different institutions: Bar Training Course, Bar Practice Course, Bar Vocational Course and Bar Vocational Studies.  Useful comparison of the Bar Courses.

Upon completion of your Bar Course, you will then undertake a year of recognised training with your set called a pupillage, essentially the equivalent of a solicitor’s training contract. 

The Bar Training courses are delivered over 1 year and while they all have different fees, you can expect to pay upwards of £12,000.  You should also be aware that becoming a qualified barrister is fiercely competitive – the majority of Bar Course graduates do not secure a pupillage. Being aware of the challenges and preparing thoroughly, starting as early

Alternative careers in the legal sector

Don’t want to train to be a lawyer but want to use your degree within the legal sector?  The good news is there are lots of opportunities out there for you! 

  • Paralegal:  legal professionals that have an important role in supporting solicitors and barristers, often perform tasks equivalent to a trainee solicitor – they may be employed by law firms, chambers or non-legal organisations. Find out more at the Institute of Paralegals and Scottish Paralegal Association websites.
  • Legal Analysts:  a growing area of legal professionals particularly amongst law firms offering alternative legal services such as Ashurst and Herbert Smith Freehills. Graduate legal roles but you don’t need a Diploma or traineeship.
  • Legal Technologists:  legal technology is a massive growth area in the legal sector and if you have an interest in tech and want to combine it with your love of law – this could be for you! Find opportunities at legaltechjobs.com.
  • Chartered Legal Executive:  qualified lawyers who specialise in a particular area of law in England and Wales. Qualification through CILEx.

Find out more at:

Need to discuss your options further? Why not come along and discuss with your careers adviser.

Jobs with law context - outside legal sector

If working in the legal sector doesn’t interest you, but you would like to use some of the skills and knowledge gained from your degree, you will find a vast array of careers popular with law graduates.

Justice system

A common pathway for law graduates to pursue after graduation is in law enforcement and criminal justice – in particular in the police, probation or prison service.

Other popular careers related to the justice system include family mediator or working for social justice charities such as SACRO, NACRO or Victim Support.  For related jobs in the charity and 3rd sector in Scotland check out Good Moves.

Human rights related work

Working in human rights is often a very popular pathway for law students – but careers here don’t need to be restricted to practicing human rights law as a solicitor or barrister.   There are many other options including policy advisors, caseworkers, researchers and project officers.

Human Rights Careers has lots of information on jobs and study while employers include public bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Human Rights Commission or the UN.  Also look out for NGOs such as Amnesty International.

Business and corporate related work

A law degree means you are perfectly placed to pursue varied and interesting careers across the business world.

Popular career choices include corporate governance roles of a company secretary, the fast growing area of compliance in the financial sector, developing staff policies and development within an organisation within human resources or using your knowledge of tax legislation to provide advisory and consultancy services to clients as a tax adviser.

Government related work

Government, both local and national, offers many options for the skills and legal knowledge of a law graduate.

If you loved your tax module then you may consider working as a tax professional with HM Revenue and Customs, while your knowledge of the law will be needed when working as an immigration officer. Your legal knowledge will also come in handy when working for the Ministry of Justice, careers as a trading standards officer or health and safety inspector.

Academia

If you loved your law degree and want to carry out research and teach the next generation of law students then you could always follow an academic path.  You will need a postgraduate degree to do this – most often a PhD.

Find out more at:

Need to discuss your options further? Why not come along and discuss with your careers adviser

Non-law related jobs

Not too bothered about using your legal knowledge?  Perhaps you want away from law entirely!

This is fine – over half of graduate employers don’t look for a specific degree and a law degree is highly valued across many sectors for the transferable skills you will have gained.

There are graduate jobs open to you from graduate schemes at large employers down to SMEs.  In addition, you could always do a conversion course into another subject area.

There are a huge number of options here but popular career paths for law graduates include banking/finance, Civil Service Faststream, professional services firms, social work or working for central or local government.

For more general research into graduate careers and to view opportunities see Prospects and TARGETjobs.

Want to find out more? Research specific jobs at Prospects job profiles and remember, you can come and discuss further with your careers adviser.

What skills do I gain with a law degree?

Your law degree equips you with more than just subject knowledge – you will gain a range of transferable skills sought by employers across sectors.

Key skills developed include:

  • Research and analytical skills
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Professional written and oral communication
  • Attention to detail
  • Commercial awareness
  • Time management

Together with acknowledged intellectual capability, this makes law students highly employable – but remember that employers will be looking for you to demonstrate these skills not just from your degree but from work and extra-curricular activities too.

Work experience

No matter what your career goals are, employers love to see evidence of work experience. Not only does it allow you to develop essential skills but it gives you an insight into specific jobs, working life and in some cases can lead to securing a graduate job.

Solicitor

If you are planning on following the solicitor qualification route there are certain things you can do to enhance your chances of securing that coveted traineeship.

Vacation schemes:  short periods of legal work experience within a law firm (usually 1-4 weeks) that usually take place over the summer between your penultimate and final year. Winter and spring schemes are often run by some law firms too.

Not only do these schemes give you an insight into a firm, provide fantastic content for your CV and help you build professional networks, but at some firms it is the only route to securing a training contract.

Applications for vacation schemes usually open during the first semester at university with deadlines around January to March.

For English/national/international firms LawCareers.net provides a helpful breakdown of deadlines.

Large Scottish firms usually advertise on their own website or on UoD Careers JobShop.

Speculative applications:  smaller high street firms don’t advertise formal work placements but you can still gain work experience or work shadowing by directly contacting them and asking for opportunities. You will need a tailored CV and cover letter. You can find a list of all Scottish law firms at the Law Society of Scotland Find a Solicitor.

Insight/open days:  first and second year students (on a 4 year degree) usually can’t apply for vacation schemes but many law firms run open days giving you the chance to experience life in a large law firm.  Chambers has a handy list of dates and deadlines.

Volunteering:  many law students develop key skills through volunteering opportunities such as working at the Citizens Advice Bureau, Dundee Independent Advocacy Support or getting involved in the Street Law programme at the Law Society of Scotland. Through the Careers Service you can search for opportunities through our JobShop and meet providers at our Volunteering Fair (check our Events page for details).

Work experience for the Bar

If you are looking to follow the route to become a barrister you will almost certainly have to try and obtain mini-pupillages as a source of experience. A handy list of vacancies can be found on Chambers Student.

Work experience for other sectors

In other sectors employers offer the chance to undertake formal internships and work placements as well as more informal opportunities. See our Work Experience section for more info.

Further study

Postgraduate study is becoming an increasingly popular choice for law students – whether to enhance their knowledge of a specific legal topic through a Master of Laws (LLM) or to move career direction by gaining a qualification in a different subject.

It should be noted that completing an LLM will not usually, on its own, give you an advantage in securing a traineeship. You will still need to show your skills and attributes through work experience and extra-curricular activity. However, you can use the skills and knowledge gained from a Masters to enhance your application.

You can find out more about further study on our Postgraduate pages.

 

How can your Careers Service support you?

There are several ways that the Careers Service can help provide support for your career development, whether that is in law or elsewhere.

  • One-to-one careers advice and guidance:  whether it is discussing your options or getting an application reviewed, there are several ways you can get in touch! See our Ask an Adviser page for more details.
  • Follow your specialist adviser on LinkedIn to hear about the latest job opportunities.
  • Legal Recruitment Fair:  an annual event giving you the opportunity to meet law firms and legal education providers and learn about their traineeships and vac schemes. Check our Events page for details.
  • Law careers events:  run throughout the academic year these events are delivered by professionals from the legal sector on a variety of topics. Details through our Events page.
  • Creating Your Future: Innovation, Careers and Enterprise module:  currently delivered in semester 2 to 2nd year Scots Law students.

These are just some of the ways the Careers Service can help and support you – we look forward to meeting you all!

Careers adviser