Alternative careers: becoming a solicitor
'The best solicitors combine legal expertise with people skills to help their clients cope with stressful situations, such as divorce, bereavement, moving house or arrest.'
(The Law Society, Junior Lawyers Division)
Changing from medicine to law
STEP ONE: As a medical graduate you can EITHER gain a Fast Track law degree in two years at a number of UK Universities, including Edinburgh, Leeds and Bangor OR take the one year full time/two year part time Common Professional Examination (CPE) or an approved Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
STEP TWO: Then you need to do a one year full time/two year part time Legal Practice Course (LPC)
Depending where you are in your medical career you may be able to do some part time medical work to help pay the bills while you're studying.
STEP THREE: The next stage is a two year training contract in a firm of solicitors.
Plan well ahead
Work experience is essential but in short supply, so plan well in advance before Christmas for the following summer. For details of 1 - 2 week vacation placements with large organisations, mainly for penultimate year students, see Prospects and LawCareersNet etc. For smaller and more provincial law firms apply speculatively.
For a training contract with a larger firm you need to apply two years in advance, with interviews usually taking place in the first term of your penultimate year. Apply by the summer of your penultimate year for a training contact with smaller firms; and contact the Legal Services Commission for initial information if you are looking for a training contract with a legal aid firm.
Prepare for competition
In 2007/08 there are roughly twice as many students doing the LPC as there are training places available once they qualify so you need a strong academic track record, relevant work experience and a concise and persuasive application. Plus (see above) you need to plan well ahead.
Criminal or corporate law?
You'll be familiar with the rudiments of criminal law through TV and film, although these tend to focus on the role of the barrister (representing or prosecuting defendants in court) rather than the role of the solicitor as the initial contact and legal adviser.
In practice there are many other branches of law, including property law, family law, litigation, employment law, commercial law, intellectual property, and so on.
Some of the most sought after jobs are in corporate law with big City law firms. These can provide intellectual challenge, the buzz of working with big clients, international opportunities, protected training opportunities and attractive long term performance related salaries. However, competition is intense, the opportunities are mainly in London, expect to work long hours (not least if you work for one of the big American law firms, which tend to pay more but may expect long hours, six days a week in return) and there's probably less sense of altruism and less flexibility than in medicine - although sometimes interesting pro bono opportunities.
What salary can I expect?
This depends on the location, size and focus of your law firm and your own personal success and reputation.
The average salary in the first year of training is reported to be £20,925, rising to around £34,000 for newly qualified solicitors and averaging around £52,000 for the profession as a whole.
However, these averages conceal significant variances. For example, if you're working for a City law firm you can probably expect around £36,000 in your first year, £40,000 in your second year, £64,000 on qualification and increases of 8 - 10% after bonuses.
And if you make it through to become an equity partner in a major City law firm, like Linklater, then you are likely to be receiving a little over £1 million pa from your equity share.
Whereas if you're working in a local Legal Aid Centre your salary is likely to well below the sort of level you would find in City law firms and experienced solicitors working in central or local government are likely to be earning £33,000 - £48,000 pa (February 2007 Law Society figure).
Where can I find out more?
The Law Society http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/