So you want to be a lawyer?

But do you know what working as a lawyer actually involves? And are you sure of the steps you will have to take to qualify as a solicitor or barrister?

OverviewSo you want to be a lawyer?

But do you know what working as a lawyer actually involves? And are you sure of the steps you will have to take to qualify as a solicitor or barrister? If not, then read on, because Lawyer2B.com contains all you need to know about securing your dream job in the legal profession.

Solicitor or barrister?

In England and Wales the legal profession is split into two: solicitors and barristers. The term lawyer captures both professions. Traditionally, the type of work handled by solicitors and barristers has been very distinct. Solicitors were the first point of contact for clients, while barristers represented the clients in court.

These days, however, the work of solicitors and barristers is becoming more difficult to distinguish. For instance, it has become possible for some solicitors to stand up in court. Meanwhile, some law firms, such as Eversheds and Herbert Smith, now even have their own in-house barristers chambers.

You need to decide at quite an early stage which profession you want to join, because although both solicitors and barristers need to complete either a law degree or conversion course, the routes to qualification diverge following the academic stage. Aspiring solicitors have to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and a two-year period of work-based learning known as a training contract. In contrast, those who want to become barristers must take the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) followed by a year-long apprenticeship at one or more barristers chambers, known as a pupillage.

The legal profession: facts and fictions

There are a number of misunderstandings surrounding the legal profession. For instance, when students are asked why they are interested in becoming lawyers they often respond by saying they want to help people.

But this is simply not always the case, especially in the commercial arena, where your clients will typically be large, faceless corporations. Similarly, lawyers are not only called in when things go wrong. For instance, legal advice is needed on a merger between two multinational companies or on something as simple as buying a house.

Ru-Woei Foong, who is training as a solicitor at City firm Ashurst, says: One of the biggest misconceptions of the legal profession is that lawyers are boring workaholics who dont have lives outside the office. We do work hard, but most people make a real effort to keep their personal commitments to family, friends and interests outside work.

Linklaters trainee solicitor Aalia Datoo sums up some of the other common misunderstandings. We must wear wigs, we must have studied Latin, we only wear black or grey and, most incorrectly, we have no sense of humour, she quips.

That said, working as a lawyer is not always as glamorous as the media might suggest. What is more, with the exception of the City, where salaries for newly qualified solicitors can reach a whopping 92,000, the pay is not always as high as you might think. Indeed, some firms will only pay their trainees the minimum salary set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority of 17,660.

Areas of expertise

Most peoples knowledge of what solicitors do is typically associated with the work handled by high street firms, such as advising a client on the purchase of their new house or on a divorce. Criminal law is another area of expertise that is often high up in peoples minds.

However, solicitors work in a variety of firms, ranging from two-partner niche practices to those with hundreds of partners and offices in several different countries (see Law Firms section). They also specialise in many different areas of law. Some are also employed by companies or charities, while others work for the Government. These individuals are known as in-house lawyers, while those who work in a law firm are known as private practice solicitors. And although it is possible to train in-house, the vast majority of training contracts are offered by law firms.

Lawyer2B.com and its sister magazine The Lawyer focus on commercial law. This website, therefore, is aimed principally at those of you who want to work as a business lawyer.

The commercial arena offers a wealth of opportunities. Matthew Coppin, a trainee at City firm Travers Smith, says: Its never dull when youre working on deals that are complex, unusual and often make the front page of the papers.

Linklaters Datoo agrees. I decided to work in the commercial arena because of the action, she enthuses. Its constantly evolving and making the headlines. There are sleepless nights and stressful deadlines, but its always satisfying to see your deal on the front page of the Financial Times.

CMS Cameron McKenna trainee Simone Grison says she decided to train in the City because she wanted to work in an international environment where she could use some of her language skills. My French came in quite handy recently when I had to look through some French documents that came through from one of my clients, she explains.

Addleshaw Goddard trainee Daniel Bluet adds that he enjoys working as a commercial lawyer because it is a great opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and businesses.

The work of commercial lawyers is split into different areas of expertise, such as banking, corporate, employment, litigation and media and sport (see The Law section). As a corporate lawyer you may be part of a team advising on a multi-billion pound, headline-grabbing deal, such as the recent takeover of high street chemist Alliance Boots by US private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts. Meanwhile, as a sports and media lawyer you could find yourself acting for a world-famous footballer or rock star.

Barriers to entry

Wherever you are heading the City, a high street practice, a sleepy market town or the bar the route to qualification is lengthy and undeniably hard work. Once you have completed your A-levels you need to study for at least another four years, and then spend an extra two years as a trainee before you can receive your practising certificate. Following qualification it takes a minimum of six years to be promoted into a partnership.

Eversheds trainee Gareth Planck advises: Looking for a job within the best law firms is very competitive. Most firms arent only looking for qualifications these days, but for a well-rounded person. Client care is very important and firms need to consider how personable a candidate is.

Olswang trainee Taryn Johnson agrees. Successful candidates are hard-working, driven and personable people whove thought carefully about their career and have taken the time to thoroughly research the firms they are applying to, she says.

The importance of a stellar academic track record cannot be stressed enough. A number of law schools at top universities insist on three A grades. And the minimum entrance requirement for securing a training contract at a reputable commercial law firm is typically a 2:1 degree.

Historically, City law firms were notorious for their bias towards graduates from Oxford and Cambridge universities. Thankfully, nowadays firms are making a concerted effort to cast their nets wider when recruiting. Nevertheless, some snobbery does continue to exist; with firms still favouring candidates from more traditional universities. And frankly, with some top City firms receiving on average more than 2,000 applications for around 50 training contract places, they can be as choosy as they like. So if you do not make the grade, then slipping through the net and getting beyond the dreaded rejection letter is unlikely.

However, firms are not just after the most academically able. After all, what is the point in hiring someone with three A grades and a first-class degree in astrophysics if their knees turn to jelly when interacting with clients? That is why firms want candidates with additional qualities, such as good interpersonal skills, a second language and work experience. You must also be flexible and robust enough to deal with a high and unpredictable workload.

Ashurst graduate recruitment partner David Carter says: Theres a great deal of competition and applicants have to realise that luck plays an inordinate part of how a particular application is progressed. Clearly, you can improve your chances by having an excellent academic track record. However, you need to add other qualities that make your application stand out.

Camerons graduate recruitment officer Victoria Wisson adds: Strong analytical skills and attention to detail are a must for any future lawyer. Excellent communication skills are also vital as you need to communicate ideas and advice to a varied range of clients.

Another obstacle you will have to overcome is the cost of qualifying. A typical student accumulates as much as 20,000 of debt while studying for a degree. And if that were not enough, do not forget that most universities now charge 3,000 per year in tuition fees.

Finally, there are the fees for the postgraduate courses, the Graduate Diploma in Law, the LPC and the BVC, which can be as much as 7,000, 10,000 and 12,000 respectively. Thankfully, though, those who secure training contracts with large commercial firms receive sponsorship and will not have to worry about paying for such fees themselves.