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How to become a solicitor with a STEM degree (and why), by Osborne Clarke

21 Jun 2023, 15:41

It’s always been possible to become a solicitor without a law degree, but students studying science, technology, engineering or maths are particularly welcome. Find out from Osborne Clarke lawyers how to decide whether the move is for you – and make it.

Imagery symbolising robotics, healthcare and science experiments, provided by Osborne Clarke

Choosing to transition from STEM to law doesn’t mean you have to wave goodbye to your passion for your subject and neither does it mean you must choose a niche legal specialism that perfectly suits your degree subject. There are opportunities with obvious scientific links. For other areas of law, the transferable skills gained in STEM study will often be enough to get you started

Below, hear from Anna Baines, a trainee solicitor at Osborne Clarke, and Will James, an intellectual property litigation partner, international head of life sciences and healthcare sector leader. Anna studied biomedical science and Will studied integrative bioscience and neuroscience at university, and both have found their studies support them in their legal career.

Meet Will and Anna: Will James is an intellectual property litigation partner, international head of life sciences and healthcare sector leader at Osborne Clarke and Anna Baines is a trainee solicitor.

Headshots of Will and Anna, a partner and trainee at Osborne Clarke, who explain how STEM students can have a law career

How STEM sets you up for a law career

‘In the UK legal profession, we have a long history of non-law undergraduates going on to study law. That diversity of thought is as important for a diverse approach to problem solving as it is for providing a diverse and interesting team environment,’ says Will.

What skills and aptitudes do STEM graduates bring to the table in law, allowing for this diversity of approach? Will describes the ability to express yourself clearly, succinctly and logically as ‘second nature to a scientist,’ while Anna points out skills of analysis, attention to detail, and understanding complex subject matter.

These aptitudes are relevant across all legal work, including every one of Osborne Clarke’s sectors: energy and utilities; financial services; life sciences and healthcare; real estate and infrastructure; retail and consumer; tech; media and communications; transport and automotive, and workforce solutions.

Of course, your STEM-specific knowledge may align best with one or two sectors, and you may decide to specialise in these. Will works in intellectual property, which he says draws heavily on his STEM training. Nonetheless, Osborne Clarke welcomes STEM graduates across all its sectors and it’s likely your transferable skills will mean you have potential for each of them.

How STEM fits in at Osborne Clarke

Osborne Clarke is known for its future-focus and has identified three key areas of global trends or transformations – digitalisation, decarbonisation, and urban dynamics (changes to urban areas) – and it is working hard to provide up-to-the-minute insights into them to better support clients. Each of these is directly related to one or more of science, technology, engineering and maths.

The work undertaken by Anna and Will show how well science is integrated into work at the firm. Anna states she spoke with scientific experts when working in intellectual property, which she found ‘incredibly interesting’. Will regularly meets with heads of the firm’s international life sciences and healthcare teams to discuss how to work best for clients and, speaking to us now, points out the importance of STEM knowledge for his current work in patents for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

How to find out whether a law career is for you

Like many law firms, Osborne Clarke provides work experience schemes specifically for non-law students. It offers two-week summer vacation schemes (internships) for non-law students in the third year of their degree and for non-law graduates. These provide the chance to take an active role in legal work and have expert supervision. Second-year non-law students can undertake legal research exercises and learn from expert speakers during Easter break through the firm’s insight scheme.

Anna recommends attending law talks and events, and your university’s careers service should be able to point you in the direction of these. She explained the benefit of online research into the types of work each law firm does and of contacting people working in these firms via LinkedIn: ‘I know the trainees at Osborne Clarke would be happy to answer any questions you have.’ This way, not only will you get an idea of whether law is right for you, but you may also start to discover what kind of legal work and types of firm you’re interested in.

Learn more about how to use LinkedIn to boost your career prospects .

How to qualify as a solicitor

So, you’re convinced your STEM qualification will lead nicely into a law career and your legal research and/or work experience has enthused you enough to prove law is the path for you. But what training do you need to demonstrate you have sufficient legal expertise to work in this sector?

If you’re interested in working for Osborne Clarke, you will train as a solicitor. This article explains the differences between the three main types of lawyer – barristers, solicitors and legal executives – as well as the qualification routes for each of these. In short, solicitors advise organisations and individuals on the legal side of transactions.

The qualifying process to become a solicitor has recently changed. Now, to become a solicitor you need a degree in any subject and to pass the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE), which tests legal knowledge, ethics and skills. There are two of these – SQE 1 and SQE 2. You must then complete two years of work experience. While you do not need to undertake a conversion course to take the SQE, most firms will sponsor you through a postgraduate diploma in law (PGDL), a conversion course designed specifically to prepare non-law graduates for SQE exams. Similarly, although you can complete your work experience at different places if you wish, most law firms offer you a two-year training contract, through which you gain the required experience.

At Osborne Clarke, all those who successfully apply to a training contract without a law degree will complete a PGDL at BPP university. They will then undertake the SQE exams, before starting two years of placements in different teams across the firm (the work experience element).

Find out more about the SQE.

How to make the most of your work experience in your application

Just as non-legal degrees can be hugely beneficial for a legal career, non-legal work experience can provide important examples of your soft skills and work ethic. Anna wrote about the transferable skills she gained during her medical and public health volunteering in Honduras in her Osborne Clarke training contract application. Part-time work at a bar or shop would equally give evidence of the communication skills that are crucial for talking to clients, alongside aptitudes for time management and working under pressure.

Vacation schemes, insight days and any other forms of legal work experience can prove your genuine interest in law during the recruitment process, so it’s a good idea to seek these out – targetjobs has advice on applying to and making the most of vacation schemes .

However, it is not just through work experience that you can develop the skills to succeed as a solicitor – your interests can help you to grow them too. Take a look at the work experience and interests that Osborne Clarke trainees pursued while at university for inspiration.

Then, think carefully about the skills you have honed or demonstrated throughout your degree, work experience and outside interests. This will set you up well for questions about your experience at interview or on application forms.

How to excel as an Osborne Clarke solicitor

‘I am given a high level of responsibility, which means the work I do contributes to something really important and the team listens to the points I raise. This makes me feel I am an important member of the team,’ explains Anna.

To demonstrate you’re ready for responsibility, start contributing ideas and thoughts to your team at an early stage in your placements with them. These don’t have to be revolutionary. You could suggest a new way of keeping track of communications with clients. If a client is involved in a scientific area you know about and a few colleagues seem uncertain about how the science works, you might suggest briefly explaining what you know during a meeting.

Anna also likes the opportunity Osborne Clarke gives to ‘drive your own training by vocalising your interests in specific areas or sectors’. The firm wants you to become the best lawyer you can be and understands how important it is that you are motivated by your work. So, let your supervisor and/or colleagues know your specific interests.

Find out more about Osborne Clarke .

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