To be, or not to be (a lawyer)?

Doing a law degree but not sure if you want to be a lawyer? Well take a look at this post written by our previous law Careers Consultant on whether law is the right career choice for you.

School of Law

Since January this year I’ve been the careers consultant for laws at Queen Mary.  That means that as well as running appointments with students from a whole range of degree subjects, I also run appointments during certain times specifically for law students.  It doesn’t mean that if you come and see me, you have to want a career in law.  This is something I’m keen to emphasise, as on quite a few occasions now I’ve had slightly sheepish law students coming through my office door with their head hung low, announcing… “I’m so, so sorry, but I really don’t think I want to be a lawyer”.

Well, my very clear message to law students not wanting to pursue a career in law is that this is absolutely fine and a perfectly valid decision.  A law degree may well have a very natural connection to a career as a solicitor or barrister.  But, there are some very important things to bear in mind when it comes to deciding what you want to do immediately after leaving Queen Mary.

You Need Passion and Commitment

First, a career in law may be the obvious or “natural” choice for a law student, but it is by no means the easy option.  Securing a training contract or pupillage is notoriously hard, and all the more difficult if you have to “pretend” that it is what you passionately want to do, when really you are not so sure.  Even if you secure a training contract (and I’ll be specific about this branch of the legal profession purely because there are around ten times more training contracts than there are pupillages), the next three years (and beyond if you stick at it) will be no walk in the park.  Pouring over solicitors’ accounts during the LPC, cancelling dinner plans during the corporate seat of your training contract (and meticulously reviewing thousands of pages of commercial contracts instead) can test the commitment even of someone who has “always wanted to be a solicitor”, never mind the person who followed this route purely because it was the obvious choice.

You Have Transferrable Skills

Secondly, not pursuing a career in law does not mean that you are “wasting your degree”.  Law is one of a number of highly regarded academic degree subjects which, in addition to giving you knowledge of the law, will have enabled you to develop an impressive collection of transferrable skills including attention to detail, critical analysis, working under pressure, summarising, persuading, writing – to name but a few.  It is these skills, rather than your in-depth knowledge of the Unfair Contract Terms Act (by way of random example!) which are going to appeal most to the average employer.

You Have Time

Finally, if you decide not to pursue a career in law immediately after graduating, this does not necessarily rule out the option to do so a bit further down the line (this applies to non-law students too).  I know of several graduates who decided to just “get a job” after graduating, whether in retail, sales, marketing, the army(!) or pretty much any other field, so that they could get on with earning money and building up their skills and experience for the first few years after university.  Some of these graduates had an interest in a legal career while at university but were not yet ready to commit.  Others thought that the law definitely wasn’t for them.  Fast forward a few years, and some of these graduates are now happy and successful barristers or solicitors.  They used the first few years after university to really think about their career decisions, and were then able to use the skills they developed in their job after university as their main selling point to legal graduate recruiters.

You may now be convinced that just because you study law doesn’t mean you have to become a lawyer, but don’t know where to turn to work out what on earth you should do instead. You may also be thinking that it’s crazy of a law careers advisor to be telling law students not to do law!  That is certainly not what I’m trying to do.  The law can offer a truly wonderful career to graduates who are genuinely suited to it.  My point is rather, do not do it for the sake of it.  Really examine whether or not it is right for you – including by doing lots of work experience and, importantly, reflecting on this experience afterwards.  If it’s not for you, that’s ok – there are so many other rewarding careers among which you could find a perfect fit.

Katherine Dudnikova

[former] Careers Consultant, Careers and Enterprise Centre

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