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Developing your career: Law

Studying law is stimulating in its own right, but it's also a smart career move. A law degree is not only useful if you want to practise law professionally – but it’s also an asset for many careers that are not directly related to law. For instance, roles in finance, human resources, education, local and central government, the voluntary sector or management all benefit from a legal background.

Solicitor walking to meeting

The law is a popular and increasingly competitive area, so a good class of degree is essential if you want to train as a solicitor or barrister and when seeking further training or employment. The recession has affected recruitment to law, both in corporate (City law firms) and smaller practices, particularly those offering legal aid. However these changes have opened up alternative careers in law that you should also consider, including paralegal and legal executive roles. Overall, law graduates enjoy good employment rates nationally – whether seeking work in the law itself or in related fields.

Moving into a legal career

Solicitors and barristers usually work in private practice, in central or local government, commerce, industry, the armed forces or in professional bodies.

Solicitor in England and Wales

To practise as a solicitor in England and Wales, in most cases students who start their law degree after 21 September 2021 will need to complete the following stages:
  • have a degree in any subject (or equivalent qualification or work experience)
  • pass both stages of the national Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) - SQE1 focuses on legal knowledge and SQE2 on practical legal skills
  • have two years' qualifying work experience
  • meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority character and suitability requirements.

Most students who started their law degree before 21 September 2021 have the choice of using the SQE route above, or the previous qualification route. This includes the following stages:

  • Academic – a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD), which could be a degree in law or a conversion course following a degree in another subject
  • Vocational – a Legal Practice Course
  • Professional – a 'training contract'  and meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority character and suitability requirements

These details are correct at the time of writing.  However, some details relating to SQE are still being finalised, so we very strongly advise you to check the Solicitors Regulation Authority website before you take any decisions that will affect your career.

While the graduate route is the most common way to qualify as a solicitor, from 2016 new legal apprenticeships have offered an alternative route to qualification.

Barrister in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or Solicitor in Northern Ireland

To practice as a barrister in England, Wales or Northern Ireland or as a solicitor in Northern Ireland you need to complete three stages of training:

  • Academic – a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD), which could be a degree in law or a conversion course following a degree in another subject
  • Vocational – the Institute of Professional Legal Studies course  for barristers or solicitors in Northern Ireland or a vocational Bar Course provided by an  Authorised Education and Training Organisations for barristers in England and Wales
  • Professional – an apprenticeship for solicitors in Northern Ireland, or a ‘pupillage’ for barristers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland following a stringent pre-entry test and meeting the character and suitability requirements of the relevant professional bodies.

The information here is a guide and you should always make enquiries from the appropriate professional body before committing yourself to study. For more information about legal careers in England and Wales follow the links below:

For more information about legal careers in Northern Ireland follow the links below:

Arrangements in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland are different. The law courses offered by The Open University will not entitle you to exemption from the initial academic stage of legal training. Please go to the following national websites for detailed advice:

Law-related jobs

Other relevant jobs include barristers' clerk, legal adviser (e.g. magistrates' courts), employment tribunal caseworker, citizens advice/legal advice worker, Crown Prosecution Service caseworker, mediator, court reporter or administrator, licensed conveyancer, company secretary, human resources manager, social worker, health and safety inspector, immigration officer, tax inspector, trading standards officer, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) inspector, police officer, prison officer, probation officer, legal recruitment consultant, patent agent, trademark agent, legal publisher, law librarian, teacher, or lecturer in law. For information about what is available and the training routes required, have a look at the Law Careers.Net website.

Jobs in other areas

Studying law gives you skills and knowledge that you can readily put into practice on a daily basis in a wide variety of roles. Law graduates are very marketable in the Civil Service, local government, trade unions, marketing, human resources, personnel and advisory work, the emergency services and health services, general and retail management, merchandising, transport and distribution, imports and exports, business, banking, insurance, finance and accountancy.

Use the Prospects website to explore career options related to law. You can also look at the Law Sector information.

How the OU can help

OU law courses will equip you with high-level employability skills such as:

  • in-depth knowledge of the foundation subjects of law and of the legal system of England and Wales
  • ability to apply legal principles to resolve issues
  • ability to make a reasoned choice between different opinions and solutions and present it to an audience
  • ability to read and discuss complex and technical legal materials
  • competence in the use of basic IT, databases and websites
  • thinking critically about your own learning and performance and taking steps to improve them.

Undergraduate courses

The OU’s Bachelor of Laws with Honours (LLB) is the most popular qualification of its kind in the UK. It is recognised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board as a Qualifying Law Degree.

See a list of undergraduate law courses

Information about OU law courses for students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland

Getting started

If you’re not quite ready for degree-level study, our People, work and society Access module (Y032) could be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s designed to build your confidence and study skills while introducing ideas and debates about children and young people, health, law, management, psychology and social science. By the end of the module, you’ll be well prepared to begin your first full OU course.

More about Access courses

Work experience

Increasingly, law graduates without much hands-on experience are taking work as paralegals before moving on to further training or employment – so it makes sense to gain as much relevant work experience as possible while studying. Open University courses put you at a distinct advantage in this regard, as you’ll be encouraged to apply your learning immediately to your own role, and to build on your experience as a context for developing real-world knowledge and skills. Therefore, if you are considering a career in law then relevant work experience alongside your study is essential to your progression and success. If you would like to receive support with this, please contact our Careers Service to request an appointment to discuss your options.

Law Careers.Net’s Pro Bono initiatives page has a comprehensive list of legal and advisory services where you can volunteer or find internships. You can also explore our voluntary work pages or the following national websites:

FACT: 81% of OU Law graduates are employed, self-employed or undertaking further study 15 months after they graduate.