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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. 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 legally connected careers. 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 different 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 trainees, 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 sector, 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 all the tasks that most people would find too mind numbingly boring to contemplate.
In theory a paralegal does not need any legal qualifications. 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). Qualifications such as the Higher Certificate in Paralegal Studies are provided by The National Association of Licensed Paralegals. The Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex), in partnership with City & Guilds, a vocational awarding body, also offers qualifications in this field (Certificate/Diploma for Vocational Paralegals and Legal Secretaries).
Competition for paralegal jobs is intense, so the same rules on applying for a training contract or pupillage are equally relevant. Hannah Jackson, who is a senor recruitment consultant at Hays Legal, advises candidates to make sure they include as much information as possible on their CVs, including details of legal and non-legal work experience, vacation placements, voluntary and pro bono work and any awards.
Getting your first paralegal job is always the most difficult, but after that it should become a lot easier. Also, if you have six months experience of working as a paralegal in a City firm, it will give you a much better chance of securing a training contract, explains Jackson.
Salaries are fairly reasonable, in London ranging from around 20,000 to 35,000, depending on experience. Paralegals usually start on around 14,000 and can expect to rake in up to 40,000 a year at large law firms.
If you are looking for a paralegal position there is a number of options of available. 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 give you some tips on how to polish your CV. Second, you can apply to firms directly. And finally, ask your family, friends and other contacts who are working at law firms to let you know if any vacancies come up at their firms. There is no shame in asking them to recommend you. Click here for more details.
Legal executives are legally qualified, but the training is different from that of a solicitor. 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 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.
Legal executives 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.
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*-C, and some junior clerks start the job 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.barristersclerks.com 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 and 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 commissions 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 section of legal magazines and newspapers.
Law firm support services
Law firms would fall apart without help from their support functions, such as IT, human resources, public relations and marketing. Many of these departments also have openings for graduates and even have their own graduate recruitment programmes. Additionally, The Lawyer magazine often carries advertisements for vacancies in law firm support functions. 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.