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The realities of being a lawyer

What are some of the things that you need to know ahead of choosing a career as a lawyer?
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© Prospects.ac.uk

How competitive is it to get a job?

After you graduate it can be competitive to get a job in the legal industry. Larger firms tend to have more training contracts on offer, but they often receive many applicants.

You need to be organised in your job search. Think about which firms you might like to apply to (and why) well in advance to stand the best chance of making a successful application.

It can be difficult to secure a training contract initially, so do not be disheartened if you receive some rejections. Once you’ve qualified there are likely to be more job opportunities for newly qualified solicitors, even if the firm you trained with are not able to retain you. It is worth bearing in mind that vacation schemes and internships can often be direct routes to a training contract too.

What’s a typical working day like?

A likely starting point is 9am to 5pm, but evening and weekend work isn’t uncommon in the legal industry. The hours you work can be unpredictable, with flexibility around client needs necessary in many roles.

Some firms and practice areas may be more predictable than others so it’s worth considering this before choosing an area to specialise in. For example, working on corporate transactions is fast moving, with peaks and troughs in general busyness. However, advisory legal work is more predictable and steady.

You won’t always be tied to a desk, typical daily tasks for a lawyer range from meetings and calls with clients, drafting and circulating legal advice via email, researching specific points of law, presenting in court and liaising with colleagues as to the best way to manage cases and transactions.

Depending on the firm they work for, solicitors often have financial and billable hours targets. These are monitored through recording how your time is spent every day in time sheets.

What is the culture like?

Within law firm’s, cultures vary widely and it’s important to think about what type of culture best suits you. Some firms are more traditional and hierarchical, whereas others strive to be less traditional and have in place relaxed policies on things such as dress code and working from home.

It’s also a good idea to check firm policies on matters such as diversity and the environment to ensure that the firm’s attitudes align with your own.

Vacation schemes and internships are also a great way to help establish whether you think a firm might be a good fit for you. Opportunities like this provide essential information that’s hard to gather from online searches. Although you will be keen to secure a job, it’s important to remember that you’re also establishing whether somewhere is the right fit for you from your perspective, too.

What are the salaries like?

A career within law may appeal to you because of its reputation of being a relatively well-paid and lucrative sector. However, how much you earn depends on several factors, including the type of law you practise, where you are in your career, the size of the law firm and the location.

Whether you choose to pursue a career as a barrister or a solicitor will also affect how your salary is paid. As a barrister, you are self-employed, which may mean that your income is less regular and that you do not receive holiday or sick pay. As a solicitor, you’re usually employed by a law firm and receive a monthly salary.

A newly-qualified solicitor working in a smaller commercial or regional firm may earn anywhere between £25,000 and £50,000, which could rise to anywhere between £65,000 and £160,000 in the City, depending on which firm you qualify at – with top US firms paying the highest salaries to newly-qualified solicitors in London.

What are the opportunities for promotion?

Promotion from associate level to senior or managing associate will take a minimum of four years, but this could be longer. The time it takes varies depending on the firm and its internal promotion structure.

Appointments are made on merit, as well as level of experience.

© Prospects.ac.uk
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