A law degree is the first step in becoming a solicitor or barrister. However, these aren’t the only jobs you can hold with a law degree.
Let’s look at a few of the careers open to those with a law degree aside from becoming a private practice attorney.
Working in house for a company
This is one of the more common alternative careers in law. Nearly a quarter of all practicing solicitors work for a private company. The number of solicitors working in-house is actually growing faster than those working in private practice. These legal experts may review contracts, handle human resources issues or advise the firm during business negotiations. They enjoy steady work and good benefits.
Salaries can be better than those just starting out in private practice, though at the peak of your career, you’ll earn less than if in a successful private practice. Conversely, you don’t have to hunt for clients. The only challenge for those considering law is that there are far fewer training contracts for this area than private practice. Some people move into this role after working as a paralegal for the firm.
If you have a strong technical or scientific background and learn about the relevant laws, you may be able to work as a patent attorney. You’ll readily find jobs as a legal secretary or paralegal for firms while you’re waiting for the intake you really want, too.
Working at non-profit law centers
Law centers are nonprofits that tend to specialize in social welfare law. They offer discounted or free legal services to the poor. They may help someone fight an unfair eviction, sue for damages after an accident or face criminal trial.
The funding for these legal services may come from local authorities or charities. While they tend to pay less, you know that you’re doing good, and you’ll end up with a high level of responsibility early in your career. The downside is that you’re probably going to do it all yourself. Non-profit law centers don’t have the resources to have many assistants or secretaries. Yet these jobs can be a great way to learn every aspect of the legal profession, and you’ll get interesting cases early in your career with a law degree.
Working for the government
In the Government Legal Profession or GLP, theoretically your only client is the Crown. In reality, you’re serving government officials and administrators. They bring in several dozen trainees a year. Most join HM Revenue and Customs or other government departments. The Crown Prosecution Service alone employs more than two thousand lawyers. Police departments employ similar numbers of attorneys, though it can be harder to find out about their intakes.
A far larger number of solicitors work for local governments. A side benefit of working in this niche is that you can find jobs all over the U.K. Solicitors may advise local government officials on commercial contracts, employment issues, records management, administrative law or property transactions. They may work on cases dealing with litigation, prosecution, social services and consumer protection. You may be helping the government buy land to build a highway or removing someone from council housing because they are breaching the peace. You may defend the local council in a lawsuit or give them advice so they don’t get sued in the first place. The greatest demand for legal talent right now is in property law, because councils are having to sell properties to raise money. Because of the shrinking budgets of most councils, expect to do a growing share of the administrative work yourself, though it won’t be as bad as if you were working for a nonprofit legal center.
One benefit of working in local governments is that you tend not to have to work as many hours as private practice. That is why this career is popular with those that are burned out in private practice. The downside is the lower pay rate, and for many, dealing with government bureaucracy may not be worth it. Salaries peak at a lower level than they do in private practice, too.
Local governments typically have a seat rotation but give trainees the right to sit in court and tribunals that exceeds that of newly minted lawyers in private practice. You’ll be able to shadow senior attorneys. And you may be able to work for the summer to see what you think of this career before you apply for one of their competitive placements. Yet these jobs are sometimes open to non-lawyers who started as a training executive.
Another option for law students is to work for the armed forces. No, we aren’t suggesting going to boot camp and learning to drive a tank. The Army Legal Services are constantly hiring solicitors to handle legal cases. This ranges from legal advice to those managing operations to handling court-martials. This one of the few places where you can gain experience in international law without working for a multinational corporation. Lawyers are brought in as captains. They’ll get a month of paid leave per year, plenty of holidays, subsidized housing and the opportunity for adventure.