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How do you become a solicitor?
If you are considering a career as a solicitor, you’ll give yourself an advantage in this competitive sector if you start planning early. You don’t need to study a law degree to become a lawyer: 40 per cent of trainee solicitors have non-law degrees. In fact, many firms will find graduates with a strong background in, say, languages a bonus – if they have a global practice with international clients. It’s far more vital to demonstrate the skills needed to be a good solicitor than to have a law degree. Practising law requires a certain level of intellectual ability so firms look for a strong, consistent academic record (time to knuckle down and get those good A level results!) and a commitment to getting a 2.1 or above in whichever degree course you opt for.
The route to a legal qualification
There’s a set entry path to a career as a solicitor, taking a minimum of five years from freshers week to qualified solicitor for law students; six years for non-law graduates. To start with, if you are not studying for a law degree, you will need to complete a law conversion course once you graduate. This is often known as the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Once you complete this, you will be eligible to move on to the next stage along with graduates who studied law.
The next step is the legal practice course (LPC). This is a vocational course designed to help you apply law to practical issues. Following all this study it will be time to undertake a training contract; an on-the job ‘apprenticeship’ usually with a solicitor’s firm. Now here is where things begin to get exciting as you will be called a trainee solicitor! And once your training contract is successfully completed you will be allowed to call yourself a qualified solicitor.
So where do you start to look for a training contract?
Most training contracts are with law firms although there are some other legal organisations (such as the Government Legal Service) that also offer them. Many law firms tend to recruit their future trainees earlier than other graduate recruiters, such as banks, engineering and accountancy firms. Closing dates for training contract applications fall in the summer between your second and third year of a law degree; the end of your third year on a non-law degree. Gaining work experience at a law firm (known as a vacation placement or vacations scheme) is an important step in getting your first job in law, to demonstrate your suitability for the job and show that you’ve thought about the type of firm you’ d like to work for. The bigger, City law firms are now offering ‘insight days’ to first-year law students.
When choosing which law firm to train with you’ll need to think about things like size, location and client base. Some firms take on more corporate clients; others offer legal services to private individuals. The choice of firm – from big City law firm to small high street practice – impacts on the working culture so you will need to consider this as well as your personal preferences. These factors need to be considered well in advance. Make sure you take your time to make your decision. You will be spending a lot of time training at the firm, so it is important that you share the same values and enjoy the work.
Now you know where you want to train how do you go about getting the training contract?
Unfortunately there is no denying that competition for a training contract is fierce but you can keep one step ahead by knowing exactly what it is that recruiters want to see in applications and by following their advice when applying. This may sound obvious, but it’s so important it’s worth emphasising: make sure you know each firm’s application deadline so you don’t rush your applications, and check for typos (recruiters will want to see evidence of strong attention to detail, written communication skills and accuracy – just some of skills needed to be a good lawyer). The best way to improve your chances of getting the contract is to not skimp on your research.
How can you improve your chances now of gaining a training contract later?
Being part of a school or university sports team is an excellent way to demonstrate your teamwork skills and the ability to manage your time and various commitments. If sport isn’t your thing, think about putting yourself forward for your school or university debating society to show your presentation skills, or university law society committee to emphasise your leadership and organisation skills. Writing for your school or student newspaper can show good written communication skills, attention to detail and ability to meet competing deadlines. Make use of recruitment events and your university careers service when you get there, work hard at your studies, and be organised about securing legal work experience.
Best of luck!
This content was created by TARGETjobs Law. For more information on graduate jobs in law, law career advice and much more please visit TARGETjobs law.