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Law careers

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Discover other sectors

This sector not for you?  Don't worry, there are plenty of others to explore.

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 law careers

Key resources

Research the sector, keep up with current issues and find out about online law fairs from Legal Cheek.

Listen to our What do you actually do? podcast:

Solicitors Qualifying Exam

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam is now the final, centralised assessment for qualifying solicitors (Law and non-Law graduates). You will also have to complete a total of two years' qualifying work experience (QWE). Find out more about the SQE on LawCareers.Net. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) provides detailed information about the SQE, including dates and costs.

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

Think about how you can demonstrate these skills, using examples from your own experience. If you feel you need to develop any of these skills, go the What can I do at York? section on this page.

Do I need a law degree?

You don’t need an undergraduate degree in law to become a solicitor or barrister, but you are likely to need to do some kind of conversion course or extended preparation before taking the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) to be a solicitor, or the Bar course to become a barrister. To become a solicitor, you also need two years' Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) which may be completed before, alongside or after the SQE. This offers some flexibility, but you must complete both the QWE and SQE before applying to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for admission as a qualified solicitor. Both Law and non-Law graduates now need to take the two part SQE exam and have two year's QWE (which could be a training contract with a law firm, or alternatively a total of two year's legal experience).

Read more about the Solicitors Qualifying Examination from LawCareers.Net.

It can cost a lot to become a qualified lawyer - read about ways to fund your studies. Some law firms will sponsor your training, and qualifying Masters courses may be eligible for the government's postgraduate student loan. LawCareers.Net produce a guide on the costs of law course fees

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
  • Barristers’ clerks do not need a degree, though some do have qualifications in a law-related subject.

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. Law firms recruit a large number of trainees from their vacation schemes
  • Vacation scheme insiders - get a sense of what different firms' schemes are really like
  • Government Legal Profession HQ - highlights current opportunities across government organisations, works with various diversity schemes for vacation programmes
  • 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
  • Virtual work experience - a number of law firms are now offering virtual work experience and an online learning programme, a great way to gain an insight into law and something you can include in your applications and CV. Find examples on Forage and the Lawyer Portal
  • Volunteering - consider pro bono work and volunteering for advice services such as Citizens Advice
  • Law firms are interested in all work experience, so don't forget to talk about your experiences outside of the legal sector when you apply

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 resources and schemes in place to support students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the sector.

Finding jobs

Aspiring solicitors can find training contracts on:

Make sure you check the deadlines for training contracts. Many commercial firms recruit two years ahead, though smaller regional law firms may recruit one year in advance. Law students can apply from second year onwards; non-law students apply during your final year. See key dates from TargetJobs.

Aspiring barristers can find pupillages on:

Work experience may be via vacation or insight schemes, virtual work experience programmes, or experience in other sectors, see Prospects: law work experience

Use specialist job websites for legal vacancies:

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

See the Applying and interviewing pages for further information.

Pupillage recruitment is usually more traditional, with a single or multi-stage interview process and an assessed task on the day. Read TARGETjobs’ How to ace your pupillage interview.

Art and Law careers

Combining your love of Art and cultural history with an interest in Law or business could lead to a number of different careers within the legal field.

This is a niche area, so you can't train specifically as an "Art Lawyer" in the UK - it's likely you would specialise in property, intellectual property, copyright or tax law and then work in a law firm which has art-related clients (like museums/galleries/private investors). A starting point for this could be to look at law firms affiliated with the Institute of Art and Law 

  • Try to get exposure of both worlds; gaining work experience in a legal setting as well as a gallery/museum
  • Keep up to date with key issues by reading journals like Museums Journal and Arts Professional and The Art Newspaper or follow them on twitter. For Law see and a brief summary of art law on AllaboutLaw
  • Other potential employers to explore: in-house legal departments of the larger museums and galleries; legal departments in auction houses; bodies like Arts Council England; Historic England and National Trust

Art Insurance, Auction Houses

There are specialist companies who work specifically with private collectors, museums, galleries, local authorities or commercial companies. You could help ensure collectors, buyers and sellers work responsibly by working for them. Looking for junior underwriter positions, ideally within a fine art department, may be the best way to get into this area of work:

Policy making and Arts funding

Organisations that implement (and potentially influence) government policy, make decisions on funding applications from museums, galleries and artists. Some examples:

  • UNESCO - is known as the "intellectual" agency of the United Nations and has responsibility for protecting creative and cultural heritage. UNESCO offers some unpaid internships
  • ICOM- International Council of Museums, create policies and tools to support museums to prevent trading in illegal antiquities: For example, see The Red List database 
  • Historic England - the public body that looks after England's historic environment.
  • Arts Council England - The custodian of public investment, committed to championing and developing the arts, museums and libraries in England
  • National Trust - protect and open to the public over 350 historic houses, gardens and ancient monuments in the UK
  • Heritage Fund - use money raised by National Lottery players, and other funding, to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect heritage

Restitution/fraud investigation

Private companies, government bodies, local and national law enforcement organisations help advise on crime prevention and research restitution issues. Some examples:

  • The Commission for Looted Art in Europe is an international expert and non-profit representative body which researches, identifies and recovers looted property on behalf of families, communities, institutions and governments worldwide
  • The Art Loss Register is the world’s largest private database of lost and stolen art, antiques and collectables. Its range of services includes item registration, search and recovery services to collectors, the art trade, insurers and worldwide law enforcement agencies. They offer paid internships at intervals throughout the year.

Law enforcement/security

Working at a local, national or international level:

Research related

  • ARCA - The Association for Research into Crimes against Art is a research and outreach organisation which works to promote the study and research of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Find out about ARCA Postgraduate certificate (based in Italy) and ARCA internships (mixture of paid and unpaid)
  • Arcadia - cultural heritage and environmental protection research and funding body. They work with different universities and organisations. (Sometimes offer paid internships)
  • Academia - some universities investigate and report on these kinds of issues. For example, Oxford, Leicester and Durham Universities are delivering a research project into Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa

Work experience

  • Many of the above organisations offer formal internships or you could try making a speculative application for work experience. Visit our web pages for help with writing CVs and applications
  • At York we have the Student Internship Bureau which often has relevant paid opportunities, such as research projects and there are also a lot of heritage related volunteering projects available
  • It can also be possible to do some virtual work experience in both arts and heritage related and business-related career areas. See our blog on virtual volunteering for more details

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:

More resources: networks and blogs

Networks, accounts to follow and blogs

Find out more about the sector from theses multimedia resources.

Connect with York graduates on York Profiles and Mentors

Other law professionals' profiles

Blogs and podcasts

Videos: careers in intellectual property

supplied by Withers & Rogers LLP

Practice interviews

You can use Shortlist.Me to prepare for job interviews. Try these interviews with employers working in legal services:

Find out more about interview prep on the Applying and interviewing pages.