Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Query from potential lawyer – what are my chances?

I wonder if you can help me. I am a mortgage advisor with two to three years experience and I want to know whether it is worth me taking the law conversion course to qualify as a solicitor. What are my chances of getting a training contract and how easy will it be for me to qualify? Will it be a waste of money?

This was a query raised yesterday by a caller. It’s quite a common query for people to want to raise as the cost of the conversion course is so extreme. There are very few other professions that get away with charging so much money to their potential intake in order to qualify. In fact, teachers get paid to train and so do doctors. Surveyors don’t seem to have to spend so much money and neither do architects. However lawyers get hit for rather an extreme amount.

It is not even clear why the colleges have got away so long with the legal practice course being so expensive. These days with a good proportion of legal aid solicitors earning less that the other trades surrounding them (florists, plumbers, police officers, prison officers and social workers) it’s not clear why anyone would want to spend so much money doing the legal practice course when their potential earnings at the end of it are so restricted.

The question as to whether there is any merit in starting out in a legal career and what the prospects of success are is virtually impossible to answer, particularly in the current climate of potential change over the next few years.

If you have your heart set on being a lawyer, the best thing to do is go and see exactly what it is a lawyer does in practice. If you are aware of what a lawyer does and are still interested in becoming a solicitor, you then need to go and consider where you want to go with the law. Do you want to be a solicitor, a barrister, practice in non-contentious law (i.e. commercial contracts, conveyancing, commercial property or wills and probate etcetera) or contentious (crime, civil litigation, family and personal injury). Do you want to practice in a commercial environment, in house or London city or regional commercial, or do you want to practice high street where there is lots more hands on practical experience dealing with people on a daily basis? Have you considered a local authority role or a government post or perhaps you have got your eyes set on the military litigation work that arises out of that?

If any of this means anything to you, it’s probably a good indication that you have looked into a potential career and considered your options. If the vast majority of this means nothing to you at all, the chances are you are actually not sure at all as to what a solicitor does in practice and now maybe the time to go and experience it. Similarly, with barristers, and particularly with the harsh and fierce competition there is to get a chambers place and to qualify as a barrister. My experience of chambers leaves me somewhat dubious as to the merits of some of the recruitment as when I was in practice, the local chambers had two pupil barristers, both of whom were daughters of members of chambers. That particular chambers must have had 100s of applications and it is simply not possible for both those appointments to be on merit alone.

Things are different in the solicitor's profession, because solicitors’ children do not necessarily want to go into the law and are probably discouraged from doing so by their parents on the whole. I suspect they get a full dose of reality as to what exactly a lawyer does and that can be helpful in deterring them away from the profession, which the likes of me and you probably do not have, hence the constant influx of people like this mortgage advisor wanting to convert and join the profession, when in fact he could probably earn more as a mortgage advisor (or stacking shelves in Tesco’s at times). This may present a somewhat jaded and cynical view of the profession, but it is not intended to. I am simply trying to point out the practical side of the law and the need to understand exactly what it involves before creating some sort of romantic notion in your head and setting off at high speed to qualify as a solicitor without really thinking through the consequences.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk). Although we do not take telephone calls from potential lawyers unless wanting to use one of our paid services, we are happy to answer any queries in an email or with a blog entry. You can contact us at cv@ten-percent.co.uk

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