All degrees welcome: why non-law graduates are in demand for solicitors' jobs
If you talk to law recruiters at a fair, you’ll see that your degree subject is rarely on their list of top ten things to look for in an application. Teamwork skills, people skills, resilience, ambition and motivation are all factors that can be developed outside your degree. ‘Commercial awareness’ – an ability to understand your client’s business and an appreciation of how the City works – is something that is built up over time by reading the financial papers, keeping your ear to the ground or picking up work experience in an investment bank or City institution. Making yourself irresistible to law recruiters is often a case of demonstrating your interest in law and gaining relevant experiences.
Demand for language skills from global law firms
Many degrees will build the skills needed to become a good lawyer. You just have to read our areas of practice overviews and you'll see many examples of succesful partners in law firms from a non-law background. Linguists should note that the larger law firms, like their counterparts in banking and accountancy, are at the front of the globalisation queue and as such have offices or associate offices all over the world. Trainees and qualified practitioners can expect to be seconded overseas if they so wish and a second language is a huge bonus.
How a scientific approach or history degree can boost your career in law
Legal practice involves analysing masses of information, drafting succinct and unambiguous documents, deciphering complicated legislation and explaining it in clear terms to your lay client. An ordered, logical mind is a huge advantage and, as a result, scientists, engineers and mathematicians tend to make good lawyers. A science background is particularly helpful in intellectual property work where you will be dealing with technical jargon behind new and groundbreaking inventions. Sam Lee, head of recruitment at Womble Bond Dickinson LLP, says their intellectual property team is ‘crying out for people who have science or engineering degrees’.
Similarly, those with a numerical background would arguably have an edge in employment, tax or banking law where transactions involve complicated calculations. History or English degrees also develop useful skills for legal practice: ‘Traditionally, a history degree is seen as being in sync with law because of the research skills you develop,’ says Samantha Hope, graduate recruitment manager at Shoosmiths, ‘but we don’t have a preference of degree subject.’
Converting to law: the GDL course and the future SQE
You will need to complete a law conversion course if you want to become a solicitor or barrister. Recognised conversion courses come with a variety of names. The common professional examination (CPE) is now more widely known as the graduate diploma in law (GDL). The ‘common’ in common professional examination stems from the fact that the course is common to both aspiring solicitors and barristers. Other titles you might come across include senior status law degree, LLB, PgDL or GDip (standing for graduate diploma).
The system is due to change in 2020, with the SRA's introduction of the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) and we're yet to see what will happen to the law conversion course. For more information on the SQE, see our SQE special report here.
The conversion course includes an introduction to the English legal system and basic legal research skills. There are seven compulsory foundation subjects:
- Contract law
- Tort law
- Criminal law
- Public law (including constitutional law, administrative law and human rights)
- Land law
- Law of equity and trusts
- Law of the European Union
Conversion courses are intensive since they bring non-law graduates up to speed with law graduates in one year (two years if taken part time or as an MA). You’ll need a lot of drive and self-discipline to do well so consider your motivation for a career in law carefully before you apply. Successful completion of the course qualifies graduates for entry onto the legal practice course (solicitors) or Bar professional training course (barristers). Some law firms will sponsor their future trainees through the conversion course and the LPC.
Show your commitment to a career in law with legal work experience
A word of warning. Whatever your background, law is a competitive profession. On top of a consistently strong academic record, communication skills and extracurricular activities, recruiters will want to see evidence of a strong commitment to law. While prior legal work experience isn’t essential in securing a place on the law conversion course, getting some before you start the course is highly recommended and will help you to confirm your interest in the profession.
To a point, law students can show that from their interest in the academic subject at university. Non-law graduates need to be a bit more creative: make sure you have legal work experience on your CV. To be honest, you’d be foolish to enter the profession without trying out life at a firm for size: it’s the best way to prove to yourself as well as recruiters that the profession is for you. ‘Work experience and open days are an invaluable opportunity to see what working in a law firm is really like,’ says Harry McEnaney, trainee recruitment assistant at Slaughter and May. ‘It is important to have all the facts and first-hand knowledge is one of the best ways to do so.’
Volunteering at your local Citizens Advice or legal advice centre are other good ways to illustrate that you’re genuinely interested in the law while equipping yourself with confidence and valuable client-care skills. Applying to firms' vacation schemes is crucial in showing you’re serious about entering this profession. Make sure you visit your careers centre to get the lowdown on legal careers and attend as many talks, presentations and open days from law recruiters as you can.