Legal services

Statue of Lady Justice

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Law is a popular and competitive sector for graduates. As well as being a solicitor or barrister, there are other roles to consider, such as:

  • Patent examiner, patent attorney or trade mark attorney
  • Chartered legal executive
  • Licensed conveyancer
  • Barristers’ clerk
  • Paralegal.

Find out about legal services

Key resources

Research the sector and keep up with current issues by reading:

  • Guide to starting a career in law from LawCareers.net
  • law news, careers advice and guides to firms, chambers and qualifications from Legal Cheek
  • reference books in the Careers info room, including:
    • The training contract and pupilage handbook
    • Chambers student : a guide to law firms and the bar.

What skills do I need?

Many jobs in legal services involve long hours and heavy workloads. On top of this, you’ll be expected to have these skills:

  • business/commercial awareness
  • analytical
  • problem-solving
  • communication
  • accuracy
  • time management
  • organisation
  • interpersonal/people skills
  • integrity and an ethical approach.

Do I need a law degree?

You don’t need an undergraduate degree in law to become a solicitor or barrister, but you will need to complete a law conversion course after you graduate, known as a graduate diploma in law (GDL). This takes one year to complete. After this, you have the same level of law qualification as someone who studied an undergraduate degree in law.

To become a solicitor you will then have to:

  • complete a legal practice course (one year)
  • undertake a two-year training contract with a firm, or gain the equivalent legal experience (for example, by working as a paralegal) - training contracts are advertised two years in advance, and many firms pay the costs of the legal practice course if you are accepted. If you're studying a non-law degree, you need to consider applying for contracts in your final year of your undergraduate degree.

In 2020, the way you become a qualified solicitor is changing. Read more about the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) from LawCareers.net.

To become a barrister after your law degree or conversion course you have to:

  • complete the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) (one year)
  • complete a pupillage in a barristers’ chambers (one year).

It can cost a lot to become a qualified lawyer - read about ways to fund your studies.

Routes into other legal careers are less structured and don’t normally require a law degree, but it is likely you’ll have to undertake further qualifications on the job:

  • Chartered legal executives have to complete CILEx qualifications.
  • Licensed conveyancers have to take a Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) qualification.
  • Patent attorneys usually study a STEM subject, and need to pass professional examinations to be accepted on the UK Register of Patent Attorneys, see IP Careers for more information and their career guide.
  • Barristers’ clerks do not need a degree, but may be encouraged to study for a BTEC in chambers and administration for barristers’ clerks.

Work experience

If you’re interested in becoming a solicitor or barrister, gaining work experience through these routes will help you:

  • Open/insight days - run by most large firms, insight days give you a chance to find out about the work a firm does. Employers also use them to screen students for vacation schemes and future jobs, so it’s important to prepare.
  • Vacation schemes - work placement schemes run over Christmas, Easter and summer, allowing you to develop your skills and impress potential employers. LawCareers.Net has a useful list of application deadlines.
  • Mini pupillages - short (typically between 1 and 5 days) work experience placements in chambers for aspiring barristers. Some are assessed. They are essential if you want to become a barrister.
  • Volunteering - consider pro bono work and volunteering for advice services such as Citizens Advice.

If you’re interested in another area of legal services, also consider:

  • making speculative work experience applications to local legal firms specialising in the area you’re interested in.

There are a number of schemes in place to support students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the sector. Aspiring Solicitors offers events, mentoring, competitions and job advice. The Law Society Diversity Access Scheme provides funding, mentoring and work experience opportunities.

Finding jobs

Aspiring solicitors can find training contracts on:

Aspiring barristers can find pupillages on:

Students wanting to build up legal sector experience through paralegal work can find jobs and careers advice on:

Use specialist job websites to find vacancies in specific sectors:

Recruitment process

Recruitment with a large legal firm may include any or all of the following:

  • Online application
  • Telephone/video interview
  • Face-to-face interview
  • Assessment centre

Pupillage recruitment is usually more traditional, with a single or multi-stage interview process and an assessed task on the day. Read TargetJobs’ advice on preparing for your pupillage interview.

What can I do at York?

There are many things you can do while studying at York to prepare for a career in legal services: