The legal industry covers a range of practice areas including the public sector, private practice, and in-house legal work for clients requiring legal advice. As such, there are a number of different legal career paths. These include: solicitors, who provide legal support and advice to clients; solicitor advocates, solicitors with higher rights of audience who can represent clients in higher courts; barristers and advocates, who are self-employed and act as advocates in court and provide written legal opinions; chartered legal executives, qualified lawyers with a role similar to solicitors, frequently specialising in conveyancing, civil and criminal litigation, family law and probate; and paralegals, who support solicitors with legal transactions, mainly in an administrative capacity, with varying levels of responsibility. As a result of the global recession, many law firms have restructured, downsized, merged or closed, and key areas such as banking, finance and property law were affected. Budget cuts have affected public sector work, so voluntary and pro bono work has become increasingly important. The Legal Services Act 2007 has also seen the emergence of new businesses, with the merging of legal and non-legal firms. Growing areas include: energy and environmental law, intellectual property law, international law, alternative dispute resolution, insolvent, shipping, insurance and employment law. Niche firms are on the up, in addition to virtual firms operating on a consultancy basis.
Mini-pupillages are available for those willing to gain a taste of a career at the bar, which could then lead onto a pupillage – the bar’s equivalent of a training contract. A pupillage, however, can only be completed following the Bar Professional Training Course, which in turn requires a law degree or the GDL in order to enrol on the programme. Gaining pupillage and, ultimately, tenancy, is notoriously competitive. It is thus important to make the most of any opportunities for vacation schemes, open days and any other forms of legal work experience. Pupillage candidates need to apply via the Pupillage Portal online. First and second year law students and second and third year non-law should continue to apply for mini-pupillages and attend careers fairs. Law finalists and GDL students apply for BPTC in the autumn and attend pupillage fairs during the spring. Pupillage applications usually open in March and offers will be made during August.
For those choosing to follow the solicitor-based route, the desirable option is that one completes a vacation scheme (or series of), which would ultimately be followed by a training contract. Depending on whether you are a law or non-law candidate, different firms have various opportunities for candidates at varying stages of their university degree. Aspiring solicitors must apply to firms directly, with deadlines varying from firm to firm. For more tips see The Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook 2014, a must-read for any aspiring solicitor or barrister.