A law degree sets graduates up for a range of different career paths, both within and outside of the legal sphere. We spoke with our Director of Employability, John Watkins, about some of the different career paths law graduates can explore.
The obvious paths remain as solicitor or barrister, the goal of the majority of law students is to secure a training contract or a pupillage. However, there are many other opportunities. The law pervades all professional activities and students with interests in other fields are highly attractive with their law knowledge and skills in tow.
It is never too early to start thinking about a career, but there is no guarantee that you will find the right path just because you start considering early. The key goal is to have an outline plan as this can always be tweaked and amended. Any positive activity will add to your employability, so take opportunities to engage in work and be actively involved in extra-curricular activities and personal hobbies.
Being a law graduate means acquiring many transferable skills. For example, law graduates have their time management skills tested every day. It is not just the juggling of study commitments but also fitting these alongside a part-time job, developmental activities and accommodating personal commitments. There are always relationship-building and networking opportunities as well as the chance to sharpen influencing skills. Aside from these communication skills (which now involve virtual as well as other applications), law graduates are constantly developing their commercial awareness, analytical, and research skills.
Every employer is keen to see technical proficiency, and this is often the focus of initial reviews of applications. However, once in the workplace very few law graduates sit down and take exams. They are building relationships with clients and colleagues. They are dealing with tight deadlines, responding to problems, resolving conflict, and looking for innovative responses to difficult situations. Ultimately it is these skills, the ability to manage other people and the development of new business which will allow differentiation as careers progress.
Every student must accept their starting point and build from there. For some there is a definitive plan, for others it is driven by circumstances but for many it is about seizing opportunities. A legal career opens many doors, and the difficult part is knowing which one to take.
Where there is limited work experience, the goal must be to look for opportunities to obtain a foothold in the workplace. This could even be Pro Bono work – this is solid experience and will strengthen applications for future roles. There should also be celebration of other achievements, either academic or personal hobbies; these make you who you are and have a value to prospective employers.
It is a good idea to network. This can start with going to university organised talks and events, including Fairs. All the parties attending are there to engage so it is a perfect place to practice speaking to professionals and learning more about their work. It is common to subsequently connect on LinkedIn, so you need to develop a profile and constantly look to enhance it. The goal is to look increasingly like an aspiring professional rather than a student.
Law graduates can succeed in such a wide variety of careers. Some of the most notable ULaw alumni have gone on to senior political office, involvement in the film industry and even Olympic gold. The skills developed as a law student are transferable into every conceivable role and that legal knowledge is not wasted – entrepreneurs, financial specialists, film producers and retail experts all conduct their professional lives with rules, regulations and a legal framework underpinning their existence
A career is a long period of time. You have to be enthused about getting up each morning and putting in the hours. There is much to be said for asking a range of people what they do, why they enjoy it, what they dislike about it, and so forth. You can translate their experiences and determine whether you can see yourself in such a role: experiment, try it, find out for yourself. Impartial careers advice from university professionals is invaluable, not just the ideas but also the context and the realities of what is possible in the immediate term and how best to construct your career to keep longer term ambitions in sight.