Alternative career paths for law graduates

In most jurisdictions, studying law is closely tied to becoming a lawyer in private practice. However, in England, it is not necessary to study law at the undergraduate level to gain admission as a barrister or solicitor. Non-law graduates may work towards practicing as a lawyer in England through the GDL / SQE route. Conversely, law graduates may decide that they do not wish to go into practice as a lawyer. This may be something which they already knew before embarking on their course of study, or a decision which they reached later on (whether while still studying or after graduating). 

So, if you are in this latter category, what are some options open to you? While expectations and peer pressure might push you to apply for vacation schemes or training contracts, you should pick the path which is best for you. Studying law as an academic subject teaches individuals to understand and summarise large volumes of information quickly, write clearly and persuasively and apply a set of rules to a range of situations. These are all transferable skills. 

Some law graduates therefore find success in fields such as compliance, journalism, academia, international diplomacy or public relations. Many law graduates also find that the public sector / civil service or politics can be a good fit for their skills and interests. For example, the current president of the US, Joe Biden, studied law and practiced as a lawyer for some time before moving into politics. Others change path even more drastically and pursue careers in fields such as hospitality or the performing arts.

Practically, for students, it is important to try different things. So as to come to an informed decision on what path you want to follow, try to see what those fields are like in reality. For those interested in pursuing a legal career, a range of options exist, such as vacation schemes with City law firms, mini-pupillages with barrister’s chambers, work experience with “high street” solicitors or marshalling a judge. For other fields (such as those mentioned above), a range of options will surely exist, too. 

While the situation would surely vary by industry, LinkedIn can be a powerful tool in helping you to start your research process. If you use LinkedIn to look for fellow alumni from your university who have succeeded in a field which interests you, you could message them to ask for a 10 minute phone call. While not everyone will respond, if someone does respond, those 10 minutes could provide a unique insight into their area of expertise generally and the steps they took to get to where they are now. Your university may also have a careers office who would be able to assist you further. Ultimately, it is helpful to find people who have succeeded in whichever career path that interests you, so as to find out what skills / qualifications are required, how you can position your experience / CV for major employers in that sector and simply what professional life might really look like day-to-day. 

In all cases, gaining practical insights into and experience of your chosen sector is an important way to help you decide what is best for you, and to get to where you want to be. 

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