Careers in law
There are many opportunities to work within the legal profession in England and Wales, some
needing few qualifications, others requiring a degree followed by further training. This leaflet
gives a brief outline of many different jobs, together with a list of other leaflets that provide more
details of these - and other - law-related careers.
For all jobs related to the law you will need:
• to work methodically and accurately
• to be trustworthy and reliable
• to respect confidentiality
• excellent communication and problem-solving skills.
Solicitors and barristers
Solicitors have day-to-day contact with the public, giving advice and help on all kinds of legal
matters. They represent clients in the county courts and magistrates' courts (and, in certain
circumstances, in the higher courts). Solicitors give instructions to barristers for the cases which
barristers present in court. Solicitors need a wide knowledge of the law, but may specialise in
areas like property sale and purchase, company law, family law or criminal law. To qualify as a
solicitor, you usually take a law degree, followed by further training. However, there are other
Barristers work in the courts defending and prosecuting cases referred to them by solicitors and
other professionals. They may also represent clients at public enquiries and tribunals. Some
barristers work as legal advisers and consultants. Queen's Counsels and judges are selected from
the ranks of barristers. To become a barrister, you need to have at least a second-class honours
degree in law (or a degree in another subject plus a conversion course), followed by further
training and experience.
Legal executive and paralegal work
Legal executives are qualified lawyers who work alongside solicitors, carrying out specialist
legal work. There are opportunities in private practice as well as in public services. With
experience, legal executives take on a lot of responsibility. They may specialise in the legal side
of property deals, prepare cases for the civil or criminal law courts, or work in probate – dealing
with the property of people who have died, for example. The recommended minimum entry
requirements for training are four GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English, but many entrants
hold higher-level qualifications. Alternative qualifications may be acceptable for entry. Applicants
without formal qualifications but with suitable experience may be accepted for training.
Paralegals deal with legal work in all sorts of settings, but are not qualified lawyers. Paralegals
work in law firms, in business and commerce and in the public sector. The duties and levels of
responsibility of paralegals vary greatly, from basic clerical work to legal research. Paralegals
tend to qualify as generalists, and then specialise in a particular field of legal work.
Barristers' clerks organise the running of barristers' chambers where a group of barristers
practise. They manage staff and finances, allocate cases to barristers and negotiate fees. Most
start as junior clerks, undertaking routine duties such as dealing with the post, making court
bookings and assisting the senior clerks. Opportunities are limited to London and other large
cities. For entry, you normally need at least four GCSEs at grades A*-C (including English and
maths) or the equivalent.
There are many jobs involved with the running of magistrates' courts, as well as county and
Crown courts. Justices' clerks, who are experienced solicitors or barristers, give legal advice to
magistrates. They are aided by assistant justices' clerks, who attend court on a day-to-day
basis to advise magistrates and undertake administrative work; they are also qualified solicitors
or barristers. Ushers prepare the courtroom and maintain order in court. Bailiffs collect fines
and fees. There are also administrative and financial posts in court services.
Court reporters take down all the court proceedings, normally using a computerised system, to
provide an accurate account of what occurs during a court case. They may be freelance or work
for private specialist agencies.
The Government Legal Service employs almost 2,000 solicitors and barristers in about 40
government organisations. Duties vary according to the post, but work includes advising on and
drafting legislation, and advising Ministers.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), also part of the Civil Service, is responsible in England and
Wales for prosecuting people who have been charged with a criminal offence in the magistrates'
and Crown Courts. The CPS employs around 2,500 lawyers and is the largest employer of
solicitors and barristers in the country. Prosecuting lawyers are assisted by caseworkers, who
help prepare the cases. There are also administrative jobs at all levels.
Conveyancers deal with the transfer of property or land from one owner to another. They may
work with, or for, solicitors, estate agents or other conveyancers, or run their own practice. To
start training you need a minimum of four GCSEs at grades A*-C in approved subjects, including
English, or equivalent qualifications.
Notaries prepare and authenticate legal documents, often for use overseas. Most are experienced
solicitors or barristers. This is an old-established role, recognised internationally more than within
Legal support work
Legal cashiers and law costs draftspeople are trained to work in solicitors' offices and other
legal environments. They provide support and back-up for legal professionals. They may
specialise in costing clients' accounts or look after clients' trust funds. Others are more general
administrators, organising the day-to-day running of the practice. Legal secretaries need to
be familiar with legal terms, and to understand how to deal with specialist legal documents.
Some large firms of solicitors employ outdoor clerks. They deliver legal documents, visit court
to pay fees and undertake other routine duties.
Legal library and information work is another possibility. People working in this area have
various job titles and levels of responsibility. The work is as much about using ICT as about legal
documents and reference books. Most jobs are for qualified librarians and other information
Thinking about a law degree?
Most universities offer law degrees, so you will need to research the course content carefully. If
you haven't studied law before, do some background reading to make sure you have a realistic
idea of what the subject involves. You don't need to have taken A level law for entry to a law
degree course – in general, law A level is treated like any other subject, so that offering law is
In England and Wales, law degrees usually include common compulsory subjects, covering the
basics of English law. There are also optional subjects – more likely to be available later in the
course – and these vary between courses. In fact, some course titles reflect their particular
emphasis e.g. business law, European law or criminal law. You can also combine law with a wide
range of different subjects, including foreign languages. Some courses offer a period of study
abroad. If you want to keep the option open of proceeding directly to further professional legal
training, you must check with professional bodies that courses of interest contain sufficient law to
be qualifying courses for their profession. Otherwise, you will need to take a 'conversion' course,
e.g. a graduate diploma in law, before you can proceed to further professional legal training.
Generally, three A levels at high grades (or the equivalent) plus supporting GCSEs, including
English language, are the entry requirements for a law degree. It is important to check the
exact course requirements at individual institutions carefully. N.B. Ten universities have
introduced the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) to help them to select candidates – you
can find out more about this at:
If you are interested in studying law, but are not sure whether you want to be a lawyer after you
graduate, there are many alternative career options open to you. In fact, well over half of
graduate jobs are open to graduates of any degree discipline, including law. The skills you
develop through a law degree will be relevant to a range of career areas, while a knowledge of
the law is useful for many careers in business and in the public sector. Of those who graduated in
law in 2006, while just over 40% went onto further study and training, such as the Legal Practice
Course or Bar Vocational Course (needed for entry to working as a solicitor or barrister
respectively), just over 30% went directly into employment. Of those entering employment,
while some went into legally-related work, others entered employment in business, finance,
industry and the public sector in a wide range of positions.
In your research, you are likely to come across degree titles that are related to law, such as
criminology, criminal justice and consumer law. Such courses might not contain sufficient law to
be designated as qualifying law degrees by professional bodies, so, if interested in such subjects,
you need to check their status should you decide to pursue a professional legal career.
For further information
Hide further information...
Useful careers information can be found on the following websites:
The Law Society – 113 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PL. For queries on training and
qualifications, tel: 0870 606 2555 (select option 2).
For more information about qualifying as a legal executive or paralegal, see:
For more information about notaries, view:
Working in Law – published by DfES (now DCSF). Can be viewed on: