Besides solicitors, barristers and judges, there is a massive array of other lawyer and non-lawyer career paths you can take within the law sector, from legal journalists, legal secretaries, paralegals and legal executives to solicitor advocates, coroners, lecturers and court clerks. If you are academically impressive, have good commercial awareness (stay up-to-date on developments in the business and commercial world), great interpersonal skills and a keen interest in legal issues, this could be the industry for you.
Solicitors – a type of lawyer – are the first point of contact for clients. It’s their job to listen to their client’s grievance and side of the case, and provide general legal advice in the first instance. If and when a case escalates and proceeds to court, a solicitor will liaise with both the client and representing barrister throughout the case, carrying out varying tasks such as undertaking legal research, and collecting evidence, and instructing the barrister ahead of court hearings and trials. Some solicitors (solicitor advocates) also have rights of audience, which means they can represent their client in court as a barrister does.
Barristers (another type of lawyer) are usually self-employed and hired by solicitors to represent cases in court. The role of a Barrister is to: "translate and structure their client's view of events into legal arguments and to make persuasive representations which obtain the best possible result for their client."
Barristers usually specialise in particular areas of law such as criminal law, chancery law (estates and trusts), commercial law, entertainment law, sports law and common law; which includes family law and divorce, housing and personal injury law.
Legal secretaries & paralegals
Legal secretaries provide a high level of administrative support for lawyers and legal executives. They help with the day-to-day tasks involved in running a legal services or law firm. A legal Executive is a lawyer who has followed one of the prescribed routes to qualification set out by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Despite being slightly different to solicitors, they are eligible to become partners in law firms and to share in the firm's profits.
A paralegal isn’t a lawyer, it is more of a complementary role, carrying out the course of action suggested by the lawyer: interviewing witnesses; researching questions; incorporate that company; complete and file that legal document.
There’s a lot of scope for career progression in this sector. You could end up sitting in the Supreme Court, or you may progress from a novice paralegal position to become an associate solicitor. The possibilities are as wide-ranging as the different areas of law one can specialise in.
School leavers wanting to work in this sector could do an Intermediate Apprenticeship (Level 2) after taking their GCSEs, and train in Legal administration.
They could then do an Advanced Apprenticeship (Level 3) in roles like paralegal officer, paralegal assistant
and legal adviser. School leavers with A-levels could also access these schemes.
For those with a good set of A-level results, or those who have completed Advanced Apprenticeships, there are Higher Apprenticeships, in roles like senior claims handler, senior paralegal officer and senior litigation executive.
Those wanting to work in law could also consider a school leaver programme as a chartered legal executive: schemes on which trainees work for a company (and are paid a salary) while also studying towards professional qualifications.
School leavers could also look at the law courses on offer at further education college and university.