Alternative careers in law
8 September 2008 | Updated: 18 September 2008 11:32 am
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A career in the legal profession is not the exclusive preserve of those wishing to climb the greasy pole to partnership at one of the top City firms.
A career in the legal profession is not the exclusive preserve of those wishing to climb the greasy pole to partnership at one of the top City firms. Should you decide that the corporate world of a law firm does not appeal, or your search for that elusive training contract has reached an impasse, there are plenty of other avenues to explore in careers related to law. Indeed, law graduates are highly regarded by employers, because it is generally considered a tough discipline to master. So you should find that it will open many doors both inside and outside the legal profession.
Turning away from the law can happen at any point in a legal career. Some people take law degrees before deciding that qualifying is not for them. Others complete all the educational requirements, or even qualify, before moving on to other professions. So what are the choices?
Although becoming a paralegal is probably not something you would want to do for life, it is a good way of finding out what being a lawyer involves without necessarily doing all the training. You might also want to consider working as a paralegal on a temporary basis if you missed out on securing a training contract with a law firm. The benefit of doing this is that it will give you an excellent insight into a career in the law and will, of course, look fantastic on your CV.
Like solicitors, most paralegals specialise in particular practice areas. The tasks they have to do are also similar to those undertaken by trainee solicitors, including document management, proof-reading, research, due diligence and elements of discovery. While the following is not an exhaustive list, given the nature of the work, the departments most likely to recruit are litigation, corporate, commercial property and banking and finance. Other areas likely to recruit paralegals are employment, insolvency, IT/e-commerce, media, construction, EU/competition and telecoms. In addition to law firms, paralegal opportunities are also available in-house, notably in the banking and financial services industry, local government and the public sector.
The exact type of work paralegals handle will depend on the firm and department. Some firms will employ their paralegals in similar roles to trainees, while others will load a paralegal with the tasks most people would find too mind-numbingly boring to contemplate.
In theory a paralegal does not need any legal qualifications, as is the case with Michael Silvain, the paralegal who is profiled in this guide. In practice, though, candidates are usually required to be law graduates (or those who have converted to law) who have also completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar Vocational Course (BVC).
The Institute of Paralegals,in conjunction with BPP Law School and Cambridge University, has in recent months launched a series of courses leading to formal qualifications for paralegals. But Hannah Jackson,
a senior recruitment consultant at Hays Legal specialising in placing paralegals, questions the need for such qualifications. She argues: Hands-on experience far outweighs any formal paralegal qualification. Ive never had a firm turn down a candidate because they havent got a certificate in paralegalling.
The main elements employers look for are strong academics from the LLB and LPC and relevant legal experience. A paralegal qualification will make little difference to a candidates chances of securing a paralegal position. If students are wavering between the LPC and a paralegal qualification, Id recommend the former, as it carries more weight with City firms.
Paralegal salaries are fairly reasonable in London and at larger City firms can start from 20,000 and rise to 30,000 after six months. US firms and investment banks are more generous and offer starting salaries of around 25,000 plus overtime.
If you are looking for a paralegal position, there is a number of options. First, it is worth registering with a couple of reputable recruitment consultants, as they should have teams dedicated to placing paralegals. They will also be able to advise you on polishing your CV. Second, you can apply directly to firms. And finally, ask your family, friends and other contacts who are working at law firms to let you know if any vacancies come up. There is no shame in asking them to recommend you. See www.instituteofparalegals.org for more details.
Legal executives are legally qualified, but the training is different to that of a solicitors. Qualified solicitors can become legal executives and there are opportunities for legal executives to qualify as solicitors.
There are routes into being a legal executive from GCSE and up, with exemptions for those with A-levels or degrees. Salaries for school-leavers start low, between 10,000 and 15,000, but experienced executives in London can earn around 40,000. To qualify as a legal executive you will need to have at least five years experience of working under the supervision of a solicitor in private practice or an in-house solicitor in a private company or local or national government. Only fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex) can call themselves fully fledged legal executives.
Legal executives handle a variety of legal matters, including property transfers, formations of companies, High Court or county court disputes, or drafting wills and family legal issues. They are technically fee-earners, meaning their work is similar to that of assistant solicitors. A number of legal executives focus on conveyancing, family and private client matters. Recently legal executives were given the chance to become advocates, giving them rights of audience in court, and in future they may also become magistrates court judges.
If you want to be a lawyer, but want a slightly more relaxed route in, then being a legal executive could be the option for you. See www.ilex.org.uk for details.
Despite its namesake, the role of a company secretary is not a clerical or secretarial one. It is in fact a senior position in a private company or public organisation, normally in the form of a managerial position.
Matthew Lawson from Hays Legal says a company secretary acts as the “legal conscience of a board” ensuring that the decisions it takes are properly reasoned and are in the best interests of the organisation and its stakeholders.
Students who join a company at assistant company secretary level first have to qualify as a chartered secretary in order to gain all the responsibility thatcomes with the role.
To qualify you first need to register with the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and administrators (ICSA), which is the governing body for the profession.
Law graduates and LPC students will then spend approximately the next two years studying for ICSA’s International Qualifying Scheme examinations.The modules cover a range of topics including corporate administration, financial management, governance and secretaryship.
Many students choose to study through a mixture of distance learning or part-time study at a registered college.
Qualifying is not cheap and at £600 per module if you haven’t already secured a position as an assistant whereby your employer covers your study costs you may have to start talking nicely to your bank manager.
However, if you have managed to secure a company secretary assistant role, you can expect to start on a salary of £30,000 to £35,000. And the average salary of a company secretary working in a FTSE 100 organisation is £180,000.
Former LPC student Laura Jackson, who is an assistant company secretary at FTSE 100 organisation Trinity Mirror, says she loves her role as she gets to practice a variety of areas of law and really get involved with the day to day running of the business.
She says: “As a company secretary you have to be able to juggle a lot of things at once, so being able to multi-task is an important skill. Aside from the variety and exposure to different areas of the business, there is an element of annual reporting which is routine so you really get to know your job and other key departments such as finance, treasury, tax, HR, pensions and insurance.”
One of the oldest and most traditional of the legal support professions, that of the barristers clerk, is essential to the smooth running of any set of chambers and to bringing in the work. Clerks manage barristers diaries, arrange and collect fees and build relationships with clients. The Institute of Barristers Clerks recommends at least four GCSEs at grades A* to C, and some junior clerks start straight from school. However, it is increasingly common for new clerks to be graduates indeed, many are former solicitors and are legally trained.
Senior clerks and chambers chief executives often have decades of clerking experience and tend to know their chambers inside out not to mention being extremely knowledgeable about the rest of the bar. Clerks often have to work late with every set having out-of-hours cover, a dispute can arise at any time. On the upside, the work is rewarding and interesting and clerks get to work within small teams in the peaceful surroundings of the Inns of Court. The institutes website has details of work experience opportunities and current vacancies. See www.ibc.org.uk for details.
Patent attorneys advise clients on applying for new patents with the UK Patent Office. Experienced attorneys will also manage patent portfolios internationally, helping clients to get the most commercial advantage out of a companys patents and fighting off disputes.
The job is very technical and typically requires a science degree. The work is often very specialised as well. Patent attorneys usually concentrate on particular types of patent, such as pharmaceutical, engineering or electronics. It can be a challenging job and there are only 1,500 such attorneys in the UK. But their advice is highly sought after and attorneys often enjoy a more open and relaxed working culture than their solicitor counterparts.
Although some patent attorneys work in law firms, they cannot be a partner in business with a solicitor. This is because patent attorneys qualify with the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (Cipa) rather than with the Law Society. As a result patent attorneys tend to work in-house in large technology or pharmaceutical companies, or in niche patent attorney firms such as Boult Wade Tennant or Marks & Clerk.
Experienced patent attorneys can earn upwards of 100,000 to reach as much as law firm partners. They also command positions of authority in companies such as Siemens or GlaxoSmithKline, which rely heavily on R&D departments.
Legal recruitment is busier than ever, with solicitors increasingly switching firms in search of those perfect jobs. There are many different recruitment consultancies, some specialising in legal recruitment and others also overseeing areas such as accountancy or public bodies.
Being a recruitment consultant is hard work. Many are paid base salaries and then bulk up their pay with commission based on the number of jobs they fill or the number of clients placed in new jobs. The hours can be long. But the plus sides are that there is plenty of face-to-face contact with different people and the chance to really make a difference to peoples lives.
Knowledge of the market helps, so it is not uncommon for a solicitor to move to a recruitment consultancy after a few years in practice. Because the competition for jobs as recruiters is fierce, good academic qualifications are required, with most new consultants being graduates.
To get more information about recruitment, look through the jobs sections of legal magazines and newspapers.
Law firm support services
Law firms would fall apart without help from their support functions, such as IT, HR, public relations and marketing. Many of these departments also have openings for graduates and even have their own graduate recruitment programmes. Additionally, The Lawyer often carries advertisements for law firm support function vacancies. But remember, some of these jobs are careers in their own right and will also have very structured training paths, so we recommend you do plenty of research before you start your job hunt.