Why Choose Law; Advantages and Disadvantages
Deciding whether you want a career in law is no small matter. You may end up paying quite a bit of money for course fees; so you need to be sure it’s the right thing to do.
You need to be aware of the disadvantages as well as the advantages of working in the legal sector. (Have a look at our brief overview of the legal sector.)
There are a diverse range of roles to be fulfilled within law so let’s look at working in the sector in general and then move on to working as a solicitor and barrister.
Although within these jobs there is yet more diversity; two separate barristers could easily do completely different tasks in their day to day lives.
So everything mentioned on this page is from a generalist point of view. Is law the right career for you?
Law will always challenge you. Whether it’s intellectually, because of the hard work you need to put in or because of the people you need to deal with. Most of the time overcoming these challenges will help you grow as a person and even make you better at your job.
Law is certainly a rewarding. It could be rewarding because of working in the charity sector and helping disadvantaged people. Or it could be rewarding because you’ve taken part in a million pound sale of a corporation. Or perhaps the little victories will provide you with a great sense of satisfaction too like helping out a colleague or providing a great idea to your firms partner. Regardless of your role, you will get a great feeling of accomplishment from performing your job to a high, professional standard.
Generally speaking legal sector workers are very well paid. This isn’t just for the solicitors and barristers; an experienced paralegal can earn up to 50k per year in city firms. This does usually depend on the sort of firm you work for. A firm which deals only with legal aid won’t pay its employees as much as a corporate law firm. However, the legal profession is regularly ranked in the top 20 best paid careers in the UK. (Source here and here)
Law firms ask their employees to work long hours. This mean you may have to spend a lot of time away from your loved ones. If there’s a deadline, or big client who needs work doing for them, then you’ll be expected to put in extra hours. There are even some horror stories of solicitors being called by their firm in the middle of the night, saying they’re needed at work, and telling them a taxi is on the way! This sort of experience should be limited to the biggest firms though. If you’re getting paid that much, a little out of hours work is expected.
There is a definite need for qualifications if you want to be a solicitor or barrister. Although this is getting better in recent years with the ability to qualify as a legal executive. There is still the need for at least 4 years of legal training plus two years of practical training if you want to become a solicitor or barrister through the traditional route. This of course is very expensive and consequently could be unobtainable to some people.
It’s about who you know. All profession have this problem to some degree – the boss of a company is more likely to hire his son than you; even if you’re a perfect candidate. In law it’s especially apparent so making good connections early on in your legal career is vital. It is unfortunate that sometimes the best connected candidate is chosen over the candidate with the best ability, but that should give you the extra drive to become well connected and network with the right people.
You can go into the legal area you enjoy the most. When you’re making your training contract applications you will be able to pick the firms which practice the areas of law you enjoy the most. After your LLB and LPC courses you should know the areas for you. It really is key to enjoy the work you do; you’re going to be spending the rest of your working life doing it after all! In the words of Confucius; choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. There is luckily a diverse range of firms to choose from who should practice in at least one of the legal areas you enjoy
There should be lots of travel opportunities if you’re working in a big firm. Some firms even offer an overseas seat as part of their training contract. This is mostly limited to the large international firms, however you can expect at least some travelling especially if you’re involved in EU law, corporate law, human rights and environmental law. Working in a small high street firm the opportunites for travel will obviously be much less.
Solicitors have great career progression. There isn’t even the standard way of promotion to achieve a higher salary. Generally speaking the more experience you have, the more money you will make (this goes for other roles such as legal secretaries and paralegals too). You may one day even be able to become partner of the firm which will bring along a ton of other challenges and opportunities.
It’s hard to get a training contract. Especially in this economic climate. There are quite a few processes you need to go through to get your training contract too – there will be lots of competition. To even get to the interview stage you need great academics and a CV stuffed with relevant work experience. If you don’t get a training contract that’s a lot of money spent on legal education not getting put to use…
There is a constant need for education. This isn’t necesseraily a bad thing. It depends on your personality. The law is constantly changing and you need to keep up to date in order to properly perform your job. You also can’t fall behind in regards to technology used. Can you imagine if a solicitor refused to learn about WestLaw or Lexis when they first came out? They wouldn’t be able to perform their job as well as well as a solicitor who had mastered these resources.
The work may get repetitive. Even if you love the area of law you practice in, day after day of filling in paperwork could get tedious. As could dealing with the same cases and pieces of legislation every day. But that’s the same for a lot of jobs; plus you have the chance to move upwards within the firm (maybe working toward becoming a partner) or even take on another area of law.
Becoming a barrister is certainly prestigious. This is mostly for historical reasons with the Bar being seen as one of the few suitable career for upper class men in the 18th & 19th centuries. Due to the amount of training needed, high competition, and ability advocate before higher courts the profession has maintained this prestige to the current day.
If you want to go into politics then becoming a barrister first is a good idea. Loads of past and current politicians have been barristers like Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher. The skills needed to become a barrister are very similar to the ones you need if you want to become a politician. It also makes sense that if you spend all that time reading about the law, you would want to help create it in the future too.
Fighting a cause. Being a barrister is brilliant if you’re really fighting for something that you believe in. You could be passionate about the environment, human rights or criminal justice. But as long as you believe in the work you’re doing then you can be happy in the knowledge you’re making a difference.
There is a lot of pressure. This pressure is different then being a solicitor, which is mostly pressure over a period of time (like hitting a deadline). The pressure you will face as a barrister could be more focused around the moment rather than over time; the pressure to perform in court is a perfect example of this. You can’t let the pressure get to you or your argument will fall apart. This will result in your client; who needs you to do your job perfectly, being let down.
It’s even harder to become a barrister than it is to become a solicitor. There are only 15,000 barristers in the United Kingdom. There are not as many pupillage places available as there are places on the Bar Professional Training Course, so unfortunately a certain number of applicants are going to be disappointed. As with being a solicitor you should make some good contacts via networking or mini pupillages before applying.
You need to be naturally talented. You can’t just be good at speaking & arguing; you need to be the best. The same goes for being good at thinking on your feet. If you’re good at law but don’t necessarily possess the quick thinking, persuasive and charismatic attributes required by a barrister then you’re not likely to be successful.