So you want to be...

A Lawyer?

A career in the legal profession is a favourite amongst students today. According to UCAS figures, there were 11, 210 acceptances to study law in 1997/8, which puts studying for a law degree second in popularity only to business studies. As well as being a respected and well paid career, the legal profession, although perhaps not quite as glamorous as BBC2 drama ‘This Life’ would have us believe, is an intellectually challenging and stimulating one, even if it is stressful at times.

Lawyer’s are either solicitors or barristers. Solicitors work in a firm and have more contact with their clients than barristers, who typically spend a larger proportion of their time in court, usually high court, than solicitors. Barristers work in chambers and are appointed clients through a solicitor. The work of lawyers can be generalised or take on more specialist areas such as patents, tax, intellectual property or medical negligence.

Training for both barristers and solicitors is lengthy and often costly, both for students who have studied law as their first degree and for those who have completed a one-year law conversion course. Prospective barristers and solicitors must complete their training before embarking upon work experience positions in their chosen career path. Early organisation is essential; applications for the Bar Vocational Course and the Legal Practice Course must be made in the autumn preceding the year of entry. This year, the deadline for barristers, who must complete the Bar Vocational Course, is 7 November. Solicitors must apply by 1 December for the Legal Practice Course.

Competition for training posts is fierce, and at present, the number of people in vocational training exceeds the number of places available. However, there are plenty of alternative careers in which legal knowledge is valuable; finance, government and publishing, for example. Successful lawyers must have, amongst other qualities, good communication skills. It is essential to be able to express an opinion clearly, concisely and accurately whether dealing with clients, colleagues or in a court of law. In addition , good organisation, the ability to work under pressure and self confidence are all necessary skills that prospective firms and chambers look for. Gaining a head start in this competitive field is a definite advantage. As well as being an academic whizz kid, would be lawyers are advised to gain legal work experience and demonstrate good interpersonal and organisational skills. Joining clubs and societies at University, for example the debating society, is a good way of doing this.

Above all, the realisation that although the training may be long and tough, becoming a lawyer will assure you of a career which is exciting and rewarding.

For more information on all aspects of the legal profession, The Graduate Law Fair 1997, to be held in The Red Hall, Barbican Exhibition Centre on November 5th and 6th should not be missed. It is organised by The Lawyer newspaper in association with The College of Law and will be attended by representatives from law firms, Barrister Chambers and educational institutes from around the UK. Most careers services will have further information on the legal profession. Suggested further reading if you are interested is AGCAS Careers information Booklet: The Legal Profession, Hobsons Casebook: Law and GTI Careers Journal: Law. Also keep an eye out in your careers service for the JOB Bulletin, out weekly.

Thanks to Roger Hughes, Senior Careers Adviser at QMW College.

Kate Miller

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