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Alternative careers

Being a solicitor is not the only career in the legal profession. There are several other options and a large proportion of law graduates go on to pursue different roles. There are also opportunities in support roles for those that don't want to continue to full qualification but still wish to work in or around law.

For those wishing to move into fields outside the legal profession there are many jobs that make good use of a legal education.

Alternative roles within law

Barristers

Barristers are legal advisers and court room advocates. Barristers put legal arguments to judges, magistrates and juries. They cross-examine witnesses and otherwise attempt to sway the outcome of a court case. Barristers typically have no direct contact with the public. They appear in court when instructed by a solicitor. Only barristers or qualified solicitor advocates may represent clients in the higher courts.

Visit The Bar Council website

Legal executives

Being a chartered legal executive can be a career in its own right. Both graduates and non-graduates can work in a legal office, with the option to later qualify as a solicitor through further vocational training. The process is arduous, but it enables non-graduates to earn while they learn.

Visit the CILEx website

Judges

Both solicitors and barristers may be appointed as judges. The Judicial Appointments Commission selects candidates for judicial office on merit.

Further information:

Ushers

Law graduates may find working as a court usher of interest. Ushers' duties include escorting judges to and from court, preparing and closing courtrooms. A large part of the job is the carrying out of court duties, this includes obtaining names of legal representatives, preparing court lists, maintaining order in the courtroom, administering oaths in court, and handing round exhibits. Vacancies are advertised on Her Majesty's Court Service website.

Visit the HM Courts & Tribunals Service webpage for more information

Researcher at the Law Commission

Every year the Law Commission recruits an intake of research assistants to work on legal review and reform projects. Posts are temporary and last for twelve months.

Visit the Law Commission website

Paralegal

Paralegals assist lawyers in their work. They undertake some of the same work as lawyers but do not give advice to consumers of legal services.

The paralegal is a relatively modern phenomenon in British legal circles. The role has transferred across from the US where paralegals have operated in a support role in law firms for many years.

The duties of a paralegal will vary according to the type of firm and practice area that is worked in. Generic paralegal tasks may include research and drafting documents, attending client meetings and document management. They might prepare reports to help lawyers prepare their case. Some paralegals help to write contracts and mortgages and some help to prepare income tax returns and other financial documents.

Firms usually look for law graduates or non-law graduates who have completed the Common Professional Examination or Graduate Diploma in Law to fill paralegal roles. Some of the larger firms, however, will look for graduates who have also passed the Legal Practice Course.

Paralegal vacancies are generally not well advertised so a good approach is to submit your CV to firms or organisations which you are interested in working for. Publications such as the Law Society Gazette run advertisements for these positions.

For further information, visit the Institute of Paralegals website or the National Association of Licensed Paralegals website.

Law costs draftsmen

Law costs draftsmen ensure that a firm's clients are properly charged for work undertaken on the clients' behalf. They also help apportion costs between the two sets of legal advisers at the end of long and complex cases. In some instances, they represent clients in court when there is an issue over costs. Many law costs draftsmen are school-leavers. Completion of a two-year, learn-while-you-earn course is required to qualify.

Visit the Association of Costs Lawyers website

Legal cashiers

Legal cashiers usually work in solicitors' practices. They keep financial records and keep solicitors informed of the financial position of the firm.

Visit the Institute of Legal Finance & Management (ILFM) website

Legal secretaries

Legal secretaries provide secretarial and clerical support to solicitors, barristers and the law courts. They deal with large quantities of correspondence and help prepare documents such as wills, divorce petitions and witness statements. Legal secretaries are specialists because legal documents are composed differently from other commercial documents. Positions can usually be found by contacting firms directly or checking with local recruitment agencies.

Visit the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs website

Careers outside the law

A career outside of law practice can be as rewarding as those within the profession and there are many opportunities for you to transfer the skills acquired in the study of law into other employment areas.

Transferable skills include:

  • the ability to research
  • the ability to collect and analyse large amounts of information
  • the ability to weigh-up points and counter points
  • the ability to create a logical argument and reasoned conclusion from a set of facts
  • the ability to communicate clearly with the public and the profession alike
  • discretion
  • the ability to handle and work under pressure
  • a first-class memory

Legal training is therefore an extremely valuable commodity in the general market and Law graduates are sought after by a wide variety of employers. There are many career paths to choose from, a small selection of the possibilities are outlined below.

The Civil Service fast stream

The fast stream is an accelerated recruitment route into the Civil Service. Applicants can choose from the many governmental departments in which positions are made available. The fast stream requires at least a lower second class honours degree in any subject.

Visit the Civil Service Fast Stream website

Work for an MP or political organisation

A career in politics is an obvious path for law graduates, however, if the Civil Service route does not appeal, law students will find their skills match perfectly to the work in research and policy for the wide range of governmental and non governmental organisations that exist. The W4MP is a good website on which to search for vacancies, since it regularly updates vacancies for internships as well as full time permanent posts for these organisations all around the country.

Visit the W4MP website

The police service

The police service offers a diverse range of careers.

See further information on Police recruitment

The company secretary

A position in which graduates can apply their legal knowledge is in the position of company secretary. A company secretary manages the processes involved with developing and implementing company legislation, regulation and best practice. They are essentially responsible for ensuring good governance of a company

Visit the isca website for further information

The City

The City attracts a hive of graduates from all disciplines, but it is especially attractive to law graduates. Financial institutions and accountancy firms will value the thorough legal knowledge that a law graduate can bring. The best approach is to look for the graduate recruitment opportunities available within individual institutions.

Teaching

Many law graduates go on to pursue successful careers in teaching. A further option is to consider participating in the Teach First programme, which allows for students to pursue two years in teaching before being given the option to then qualify into the solicitors' profession. Completion of the programme automatically puts a candidate through to the first round of training contract interviews with firms that are involved in the scheme.

Further information on teaching