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legal careers guide

3. Planning your legal career

With long recruitment cycles and significant competition for graduate roles, planning is essential to career success.

Updated Resource Book coming soon

Three things to think about when career planning

To qualify as a lawyer, you will spend around eight years in education and training after GCSEs, it is therefore essential to plan your route through those years.

You will need to organise your time around education, experience and recruitment in order to maximise your chances of success.

1. Legal education needed

You need to make considered decisions at every stage, from choosing A-levels (or equivalents) to deciding on your law school - so you need to find time to gather the information you need. As education becomes increasingly costly, you should consider different ways to fund your studies.

2. Legal experience needed

Think about the other opportunities you have for gaining experience (extracurricular activities) and when that experience needs to be completed to go on your CV, so that you can use it to your advantage in the recruitment process.

3. Recruitment lead time

Law has a much longer lead time (the time between when you have to make an application and when you start work) than many other graduate careers.

The larger law firms and chambers can begin recruiting almost three years before you plan to start work. Applications for work experience must be made even earlier, so planning ahead in this case is really important.

The following timeline is an example of a typical route for a full-time student who wants to become a solicitor – your timetable may differ depending on the route you take and what your career plans are.

A-Levels (2 years)

  • Apply for university in final year
  • Try to secure work experience and, if possible, arrange legal experience

Degree (3 years)

Law degree.

  • Take part in law related activities, pro bono, commercial awareness activities and obtain positions of trust or responsibility.
  • Get some vacation/ work placements and experience – either law-related or experience that’s transferrable.
  • Deadlines for applying to training at City firms can be as early as January (penultimate year for law students).

Apply for postgraduate law courses in your final year if you intend to study for your SQE.

LLM Legal Practice (SQE1&2)

There are now many different study routes for those wanting to qualify as solicitors – you can find out more through our SQE course guide. If you studied our LLM Legal Practice course for 1 year, full time, you could:

  • Take part in pro bono, mentoring, and other extracurricular activities
  • Apply for vacation/ work placements and experience
  • Continue to apply for training opportunities

Qualifying Work Experience (2 years)

For those who have recently embarked on their legal studies, the ‘training contract’ requirement has been replaced by a period of Qualifying Work Experience. You can find more information about this change elsewhere on our website. But, for your career plans, you still need to factor in 2 years of training, often in a law firm, albeit some of the previous requirements have now been lifted.

How to plan for your legal career

The above gave a brief overview of the steps an aspiring solicitor might need to take if they studied a law degree at university. There are a lot of changes in the market at the moment, so aspiring solicitors need to keep up to date. Fewer changes have affected the training for barristers and aspiring barristers can download and fill out our action planning checklists

Action planning for barristers

Frequently Asked Questions

Unless you began your legal studies (either a law degree or a conversion course) in 2021, you are likely to have to qualify via the new SQE route. The changes rolled out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority have created a lot more choice, but this can be a bit confusing. The university has produced a useful guide to the SQE courses which might help.

If you began your legal studies in 2021 or before, you can qualify as a solicitor via the old (LPC – Training Contract) or new (SQE and QWE) routes. But the choice is not always obvious. Increasingly firms are moving to training via the SQE route – and so you should look at the firms you are interested in to see what they require. Our guide to the SQE might also help, as it explains some of the flexibility built into the new training route that could work for you.

Next step: 4

Go to step 4 in the Student Employability Programme.

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