A career in law: a guide for students

Lawyer is a general term referring to anyone who is qualified to give legal advice as a regulated legal practitioner. This includes Solicitors, Chartered Legal Executives, Licenced Conveyancers and Barristers.

Solicitors provide legal support, advice and services to clients, who can be individuals, private companies, public sector organisations or other groups.

Solicitors work closely with clients and are often their first point of contact. Solicitors advise on a range of legal issues from personal matters (such as wills and divorces) to commercial work (such as mergers and acquisitions). Most solicitors work in private law firms but many also work in-house for commercial or industrial organisations, in local or central government, or in the court service.

Chartered Legal Executives are qualified lawyers who advise clients in the same way as solicitors. They also specialise in particular fields of law such as civil and criminal litigation, corporate law or public law. Only those who complete the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives’ (CILEX) training programme can use this title. It is possible to take this route without A-levels or a degree, but you will need a minimum of four GCSEs at grade 4/C or above. This is a good route for adult learners looking for a change of career, or for those who would like to become a lawyer but don’t have a degree or A-levels.

Licensed Conveyancers are qualified lawyers who specialise in the legal aspects surrounding buying and selling property in England and Wales. It is also possible to take this route without A-levels or a degree.

In England and Wales, Barristers represent individuals or organisations in court, carry out research into points of law and advise clients on their case.

Besides Chartered Legal Executives, Solicitors and Barristers, there are other jobs in the legal profession:

Paralegals carry out legal work without being a formal legal qualification. They support lawyers by, for instance, preparing briefing notes and interviewing clients and witnesses.

Legal Secretaries provide administrative support for qualified lawyers, producing letters and legal documents. They often also carry out similar roles to that of a paralegal.

What GCSEs should I take to become a lawyer?
You do not need to choose specific subjects but most universities and law firms look for academic subjects, such as English (and other languages), History, Geography, Science and Maths. The ability to communicate effectively in English is essential for success in the legal profession.

To study law, unless you are taking the CILEX or Licenced Conveyancer route, you will generally need a minimum of five GCSEs at grade 4/C or above. Courses are competitive so you should aim for the highest grades possible.

What A-levels should I take to become a lawyer?
Again, there are no set rules for A-levels but law firms are keen on academic subjects. A minimum of three A-levels (or the equivalent) are required in order to get into most universities.

What degree should I do?
A law degree is generally a gateway to a career as a solicitor or barrister, but it’s not the only path you can choose. There are routes to qualifying such as completing an apprenticeship or through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and Council for Licensed Conveyancers. These routes may take longer.

What qualifications do I need to become a legal secretary?
You do not need specific qualifications to become a legal secretary, but you will need good administrative and word processing skills and will normally be expected to have a GCSE in English at grade 4/C or higher. You may find it helpful to gain skills in office work and administration by taking a course at your local college. Alternatively, you could gain skills in secretarial work through an apprenticeship or work experience. Eventually, you’ll need to understand complex legal language and provide excellent administration and IT skills.