When most people think about the path to becoming a solicitor/lawyer, they often associate a rigorous academic journey that combines years of dedicated study, a prestigious law degree and practical training within a law firm.
However, the traditional route to becoming a lawyer is not the only pathway available to those wishing to begin a career in the legal industry.
As specialist legal recruitment consultants, we speak to candidates from all walks of life, who each present a unique set of circumstances. Whether you initially decided to go down a different path, or circumstances led you away from pursuing a law degree, this blog sets out to explore some of the lesser-known avenues for aspiring legal professionals.
The information below outlines different routes to entering the legal profession and building a career that is suited to your needs.
It's possible to qualify as a solicitor, paralegal, or chartered legal executive by completing an apprenticeship.
You'll receive a salary and complete classroom and work-based learning.
These programs typically involve working under the supervision of a qualified solicitor and will usually last five to six years (if you are joining the apprenticeship with GCSE/A-level qualifications). However, any previous legal training you’ve done might reduce this time.
You'll also complete assessments before being admitted to the profession. As an apprentice you'll spend 20% of your working week studying and the rest of it working in a law firm. The law firm will decide how this 20% will be taken. Many firms give their apprentices one day a week to do coursework.
The standards expected of apprentice solicitors are high, the same as those expected of all solicitors.
Practical Experience:Legal apprenticeships provide hands-on experience from an early stage. Apprentices work in law firms, gaining practical skills and exposure to real legal cases, client interactions, and legal processes. This can be valuable for developing practical legal knowledge and skills.
Earning While Learning: Apprenticeships offer the opportunity to earn a salary while studying and gaining work experience. This can be advantageous for individuals who prefer to avoid student loans or financial burdens associated with a traditional university education.
Networking: Working within a law firm during an apprenticeship allows for networking opportunities. Apprentices can establish connections with legal professionals, potential mentors, and colleagues who can provide guidance, support, and future job opportunities.
Alternative Entry Path: Apprenticeships offer an alternative entry path into the legal profession, making it accessible to those who may not have pursued a university degree or who prefer a more practical learning approach over academic studies.
Limited Academic Focus: Legal apprenticeships often focus more on practical training rather than academic studies. While practical experience is valuable, a traditional route might offer a more comprehensive and theoretical legal education, which can be advantageous in certain areas of law or if pursuing further academic qualifications.
Limited Flexibility: Legal apprenticeships typically involve a fixed work-study schedule, leaving less flexibility for personal commitments or pursuing other interests simultaneously. This might be a drawback for individuals who prefer a more flexible approach to their education or have other obligations.
Reduced Support Structure: Compared to the traditional route, legal apprenticeships may have a less established support structure for academic learning. The level of mentoring, tutoring, or guidance in academic subjects might be lower, and apprentices might need to be more proactive in seeking additional resources.
Perception and Recognition: Although legal apprenticeships are gaining recognition and acceptance, some employers (especially larger firms), may still have a preference for candidates who followed the traditional path of qualifying as a solicitor. It's important to consider how potential employers may perceive an apprenticeship qualification and how it aligns with your career goals.
Consider working as a paralegal or legal assistant.
While these roles don't typically require a law degree, they involve assisting lawyers with legal research, drafting documents, and administrative tasks.
A paralegal is a career destination for many working in law. It's rewarding and can pay incredibly well, and legal businesses have plenty of them.
In some cases, experienced paralegals will do a very similar role to that of a lawyer. Many paralegals become fee-earners over time, so if you decide to take further legal qualifications, your employer can charge the time you spend with your clients at a higher cost. Many employers can financially support you with additional qualifications, so it is worth expressing your interest when you feel the time is right.
You'll need to be able to work with all kinds of clients and work well under pressure to meet deadlines.
Less time and cost: Becoming a paralegal typically requires less time and financial investment compared to becoming a solicitor. Paralegal training programs or certifications can be completed in a shorter period, allowing you to enter the workforce more quickly. Therefore, becoming a career paralegal has become increasingly popular.
Practical experience: Paralegals often have lots of hands-on experience working directly with clients, conducting legal research, drafting documents, and assisting with case management. This practical experience can provide valuable skills and knowledge for the future (whether that be progression within the field, or transitioning to a new sector later down the line).
Work-life balance: Paralegals generally have more predictable work hours and may enjoy a better work-life balance compared to solicitors. This can be particularly important if you prioritise personal commitments or prefer a more stable schedule.
Limited scope of practice: Paralegals are not authorised to provide legal advice or represent clients in court (without the supervision of a qualified professional). Their responsibilities are typically limited to assisting solicitors or lawyers with legal tasks. This can limit career growth opportunities and professional autonomy.
Lower earning potential: Generally, solicitors have higher earning potential compared to paralegals. While paralegals can earn a decent salary (particularly in City firms), solicitors tend to command higher wages due to their greater expertise and legal authority.
Career progression limitations: Advancement opportunities for paralegals may be limited compared to solicitors. Becoming a solicitor allows for progression to higher positions within law firms (such as Partner, Senior Associate, Associate, etc.), as well as the potential to specialise in a particular area of law. Paralegals, on the other hand, may reach a glass ceiling unless they undertake further qualification
Legal secretaries provide the backbone for the smooth running of a legal business.
There are qualifications at varying levels that can be taken without any prior knowledge of the law, and they give a good, solid understanding of the legal world.
For example, many local colleges and online course providers offer legal secretary diplomas or secretarial courses (one of the main ones being CILEx).
If you get your foot in the door as a legal secretary, you could even continue studying further legal qualifications to upskill and become a fee-earner (secretaries can often progress to legal assistants/paralegals quite naturally, so there are often clear progression paths available by beginning as a legal secretary).
Entry-level position: Becoming a legal secretary typically requires less formal education and training compared to becoming a solicitor. It can be a good starting point for someone interested in the legal field but who may not have the resources or desire to pursue a law degree or fee-earning position.
Work-life balance: Like Paralegals, Legal secretaries often have more predictable work hours and may enjoy a better work-life balance compared to solicitors. They typically work regular office hours and have more control over their schedules.
Lower stress levels: Solicitors often face high-pressure situations, tight deadlines, and extensive responsibility for cases. Legal secretaries, on the other hand, generally have less direct responsibility for the outcome of cases, which can result in lower stress levels.
Limited career progression:The career path for legal secretaries may have fewer opportunities for advancement compared to fee-earners. There is typically a ceiling on the level of responsibility and authority one can achieve as a legal secretary (without progressing into a fee-earning role or perhaps moving to a larger, city firm).
Lower earning potential: Legal secretaries generally have lower earning potential compared to fee-earners/solicitors. Solicitors typically earn higher salaries due to their advanced legal knowledge and responsibilities.
Limited involvement in legal decision-making: Legal secretaries mainly provide administrative support and may have limited involvement in legal decision-making. If you have a strong desire to provide legal advice, this may not be the ideal career path (unless you wish to use it as a starting point and progress over time).
You can join the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). This is the governing body for chartered legal executives.
To join you must have at least four GCSEs (including English) or qualifications of the same value.
You need to pass exams to qualify, first as a member and then as a fellow.
You'll also need to be in a CILEx-approved job in law.
More information is available on the CILEx website, which details the requirements for each level of qualification
Becoming a Legal Executive Lawyer means you can study part-time or by distance learning, and the courses can cost significantly less than a university degree.
Quicker Entry into the Legal Profession: The path to becoming a legal executive is often quicker compared to becoming a solicitor. You can start working as a legal executive after completing specific qualifications, whereas becoming a solicitor typically requires completing a law degree, followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC), and a training contract.
Specialised Knowledge: Legal executives often specialise in a particular area of law, such as family law, property law, private client law, or criminal law. This specialisation can lead to in-depth knowledge and expertise in their chosen field.
Cost-Effective Qualification: The cost of training to become a legal executive can be lower compared to the expenses involved in becoming a solicitor. University courses can cost up to £9,000 per year, which is £27,000 for a three-year course (before adding on living expenses). Becoming a Chartered Legal Executive lawyer, for example, can cost less than £8,000 from start to finish, and be studied at your own pace.
Limited Scope of Practice: Legal executives have limitations on the types of legal work they can undertake independently. They may not have the same level of autonomy as solicitors, especially when it comes to representing clients in court or providing certain legal services.
Career Progression: While legal executives can achieve senior positions within law firms or legal departments, the opportunities for career progression may be more limited compared to solicitors. Some higher-level roles and partnerships may be exclusive to solicitors.
Flexibility in Legal Practice: Solicitors often have more flexibility in terms of the areas of law they can practice in. They can switch between different practice areas more easily, which can be beneficial for career growth or personal preference.
You could also become a licensed conveyancer. A licensed conveyancer is a lawyer who deals specifically with property transactions, which helps thousands of people get into their dream home.
To become a licensed conveyancer, you'll need to complete a recognised conveyancing qualification approved by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC)
CILEx also offers specific conveyancing courses, so if you are particularly interested in the property sector, you could obtain either qualification.
You can study the qualifications in your own time and avoid university debt too.
Before applying for registration with the CLC, you must also gain practical work experience in conveyancing, as this is vital for developing the necessary skills and understanding of the conveyancing process.
It is important to note that the process and requirements may differ slightly depending on the individual circumstances and experience, so it is recommended that you visit the official websites of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) for the most up-to-date information.
Specialised Focus: Licensed conveyancers primarily deal with property law and conveyancing matters. By specialising in this area, you can develop expertise and deep knowledge in property transactions, which can be advantageous in your career.
Lower Educational Requirements: Becoming a licensed conveyancer generally requires fewer years of study and lower educational costs compared to becoming a solicitor. This can be appealing if you prefer a more streamlined and cost-effective educational path.
Faster Entry into the Profession: The process of qualifying as a licensed conveyancer is often shorter than qualifying as a solicitor. This means you can enter the profession and start practicing sooner, potentially gaining practical experience earlier in your career.
Flexible Working Options: Licensed conveyancers often have the flexibility to work in various settings, including private practice, property firms, or as self-employed professionals. This flexibility can provide more control over your work-life balance and career choices.
Limited Scope of Practice: Licensed conveyancers specialise in property law and conveyancing matters, which means they have a narrower scope of practice compared to solicitors. If you desire a broader legal practice or wish to work on a wider range of legal matters, becoming a solicitor might be more suitable.
Professional Recognition: While licensed conveyancers are recognized professionals in the field of property law, solicitors often have broader professional recognition and a wider range of legal expertise. This can be a consideration if professional recognition and a diverse legal career are important to you.
Additional Responsibilities: If you want to take on responsibilities beyond conveyancing (such as providing general legal advice or representing clients in various legal matters), becoming a solicitor might be a better fit. Licensed conveyancers are primarily focused on property transactions and may not have the same level of versatility.
Demand for Services: Whilst the property market generally has a consistent demand for services, it can also be quite volatile in nature (think the 2008 recession). It is, therefore, important to weigh up the position of your new career in the face of economic fluctuations.
Our team of Legal Recruitment Specialists would love to talk to you if you are considering getting into a legal career, or if you are looking to progress within your current legal career. We work with some fantastic clients, and have a range of legal jobs that we are currently recruiting for.
Get in touch today. 01892 553355 or email us