The legal sector has not escaped the effects of the current economic recession and competition for both training contracts and pupillage is still very high. Many graduates are finding it harder to secure work after their professional legal training (Legal Practice Certificate or Bar Professional Training Course) and many are spending time as paralegals before being able to apply for training contracts. Available work at the Bar has become increasingly limited due to an increase in solicitors taking on advocacy roles in the High Court. With the majority of barristers being self-employed, they now have to work harder to find cases even when installed in chambers.
So, here are a few things you should take into account if you are set on working in the legal sector:
- Make sure you can afford the training
Professional legal training is very expensive and, while these fees may be paid for you if you successfully obtain pupillage or a training contract, you need to be able to cover the costs if you can’t find a position. Fees vary between training providers, and training in London is more expensive but essential with ‘magic circle’ and top tier firms. Expect to pay £13-17k for the BPTC, £10-14k for the LPC and, if you need the Graduate Diploma in Law as a non-Law student, another £7-10k. You may be able to obtain a bank loan to cover these costs, but be aware of any debt you are adding to your existing undergraduate costs. Most providers offer information about payment plans and loans on their websites. It’s also important to look into bursaries and scholarships, including those offered by the Inns of Court.
Be aware that some graduates will complete the LPC/BPTC and still find no legal work available to them. In this case, you need to be able to identify and market the extra skills and knowledge gained from this training to non-legal employers, so do be prepared for this eventuality.
- Get as much legal work experience as you can
Having relevant work experience on your CV is becoming increasingly important in the legal recruitment market. Along with finance, it has become a sector where many organisations recruit onto graduate schemes directly from vacation and internship programmes, so it’s vital that you look ahead and apply early. Non-Law students won’t be expected to have done quite as much, but it’s still important to show commitment, so you will need to seek out work experience and shadowing opportunities where you can. This will require you to contact firms directly and ask what’s available to you, so don’t be shy if you want to get ahead! Firms want enthusiastic and interested graduates, so approaching them directly is a great way to show off what you have to offer. Don’t just use email – your message will get lost in a busy person’s inbox – so make sure that you’re phoning the right people as well. Have a look at our ‘I want to work in Law’ pages for employers, organisations and contacts.
- Build your contacts and use social media
With the majority of students being regular Facebook users, there’s no excuse not to be using social media to stay ahead of the game. Big firms have their own Facebook pages and Twitter feeds where you can see what’s happening and work out who’s who. Linked In allows you to produce your own online profile, join in with legal group discussions, follow particular firms and view the profiles of legal professionals so that you can build your list of contacts. Intelligent commenting, use of discussion boards and Q&A features will help to get you noticed. The Careers Service offers regular social media workshops, so sign up if you’re not sure how to make the best of it all. Don’t forget our own Careers Network, which lists many Bristol graduates who are now legal professionals and can be emailed directly. Crucially, using your contacts and social media will help you to tap into the ‘hidden job market’ and potentially find vacancies and shadowing opportunities that may not otherwise be advertised.
- Develop your commercial awareness
It’s absolutely crucial to understand that firms and chambers work as businesses, and that they need you be aware of current affairs, events and market trends that will affect legal practice and the firm’s income. You should be staying on top of the news every day and looking at ways in which items can be interpreted from a legal perspective; this will impress when included in your applications and interviews. Many of the good quality newspapers are available online, so you don’t even have to buy a copy. The Guardian has a regularly updated online Law section.
- Be patient
Career paths have never really been that direct but, in these currently challenging times, they can be even more tangential than usual. You may find that it takes several years before you end up where you wanted to be, so it’s important to keep setting goals that you can work towards, as well as maintaining your contacts so that you can keep up to date with what’s going on in the sector; there’s no point setting your heart on getting a training contract with a firm that is downsizing due to the recession, so stay on top of the news and be realistic. Don’t forget that you can also continue to use the Careers Service for three years after graduation to help you make those crucial transitions and get help with your applications.
Dr Tracy Johnson & Emma Keen, Careers Advisers