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Career options for lawyers

Law graduate jobs in the UK, USA and worldwide are extensive, and include Chancery Barristers, Corporate Lawyers and Property Law experts.

Find out more...

Chancery barristers

Chancery barristers deal with litigation before tribunals ranging from the District Judge in a County Court to the House of Lords, as well as in many foreign jurisdictions. They also draft a wide variety of commercial and property documentation. Modern chancery work is split into two areas – traditional and commercial chancery.

Litigation, advice and drafting are undertaken in the following areas: banking, charities, commercial contracts, companies, financial services, fraud, injunctions, insolvency, intellectual property, joint ownership, landlord and tenant, media, mortgages, partnerships, pensions, probate, professional negligence, real property, revenue, torts, trusts, settlements and wills.

What you can expect

During pupillage you'll attend court with your pupil supervisor and assist with paperwork. You will probably start your own courtroom experience by dealing with simple landlord and tenant actions and insolvency cases towards the end of a 12-month pupillage. Once qualified, you'll gain more independence, specific expertise and may even have the opportunity to work offshore, depending on the type of work you take on. You can expect a fascinating and financially rewarding career, especially if you're willing to work into the evenings and over the weekends.

Tip for success

To succeed as a chancery barrister you will need:

  • The ability to assimilate complex information
  • Research skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Business judgement
  • Analytical skills

Commercial barristers

Commercial chambers barristers work in areas of commercial law including:

  • Arbitration
  • Commercial property transactions
  • Commodity transactions
  • Company work
  • Insolvency
  • Insurance and reinsurance
  • Oil and gas/energy law
  • Professional negligence

What you can expect

As a commercial barrister, you need to be dedicated and prepared for hard work and unsociable hours. However, the work is rewarding and financial incentives are high.

Tips for success

You will need:

  • Sound analytical skills
  • Ability to absorb vast quantities of information
  • Good legal research skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Business acumen
  • Awareness of clients’ needs
  • Ability to meet deadlines
  • Computer literacy
  • Ability to work both individually and as part of a team
  • Ability to express yourself clearly

When starting out, a junior barrister may receive work in his or her own name and conduct hearings before tribunals, master or district judges and county courts, as well as attending interim applications in the High Court. Junior barristers also get involved in cases with silks and senior juniors where extensive legal research will be required.


Corporate law

This environment facilitates an enhanced appreciation of what makes markets ’tick’ and provides a sound grasp of the range of commercial solutions available to small, medium and global businesses.

What you can expect

Corporate trainees contribute significantly to each stage of the transaction, from the investigative nature of due diligence, drafting board minutes, memorandum and articles of association, chasing conditions precedent, negotiating finance documents through to verification and the all-important completion meeting.

Expect peaks and troughs in workload, with the end of the financial year often proving to be a race to the end, so corporate law isn’t for the faint-hearted but will suit those with a competitive streak.

Tips for success

An aspiring corporate lawyer must have:

  • Business acumen
  • Meticulous eye for detail
  • Precision drafting
  • Effective communication
  • Ability to work within a team

Criminal law

Criminal lawyers act in cases involving any form of criminal activity, for example violence, fraud or sexual offences. Many cases get local and national media interest. Defendants facing serious allegations will be tried in a Crown Court and such trials can last anything between two hours and several months, but will usually finish within a week. Less serious offences are dealt with in a Magistrates’ Court and trials will usually finish in a day or two.

Barristers tend to appear in Crown Court hearings, whereas solicitors are often restricted to appearing in the Magistrates’ Court. Solicitors spend much less of their time in the courtroom, but do essential preparation work and liaise with the lay client. Busy barristers may spend almost every day in court and often prosecute and defend.

What you can expect

As a pupil barrister you will be involved in drafting legal documents and follow an experienced practitioner in their court work. After six months you will represent defendants in trials in the Magistrates’ Court and short hearings in the Crown Court. After a year you can begin to prosecute and may start doing trials in the Crown Court.

As a trainee solicitor you will attend police station interviews, assist counsel in the Crown Court and you will also be expected to manage your own caseload.

As part of your training you must anticipate hard work (sometimes at weekends), challenging people (including clients and judges), and long journeys, as initially it is unlikely that your practice will be based in only one city.

On qualification your work will remain incredibly varied and unpredictable. You will represent all sorts of people from drug addicts to business people.

Tips for success

You will need:

  • Ability to deal with and understand people from different backgrounds
  • Common sense & tact
  • Use of plain but accurate English
  • Attention to detail
  • Time management skills
  • Communication skills
  • Quick thinking

Employment law

Employment law can be divided broadly into contentious and non-contentious areas. Contentious work includes dealing with Employment Tribunal claims, negotiating settlement (often through ACAS) and, where no settlement is reached, Employment Tribunal advocacy. Non-contentious matters include advising on employment aspects of company sales, Private Finance Initiative work, handling redundancies and drafting employment contracts and policies.

What you can expect?

Employment law is more legally technical than other areas of law and you'll need excellent research skills. The ability to communicate the law clearly and simply to clients, both orally and in writing, is also crucial.
Another important part of an employment lawyer's work is advising clients on day-to-day human resources issues such as employees' statutory rights and disciplinary proceedings.

The work/life balance for employment lawyers is good as there is usually a steady flow of work rather than the peaks and troughs more frequently experienced by transactional lawyers. Starting salaries vary from region to region. Employment is one of the more popular areas of law, and there is plenty of competition for jobs.

Tips for success

You will need:

  • Communication skills
  • Advocacy skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Research & analytical skills

Environmental law

Environmental law is a complex and specialised area, involving the anticipation, interpretation and application of the rapidly evolving environmental regime in the UK, Europe and internationally.

The growth in environmental legislation is stimulated by public concern and a socially conscious European Union, particularly on climate change, waste and contamination, which are fast becoming key areas.

What can you expect?

Environmental law practices in the UK is advise on all aspects of the environmental regime in respect of regulatory compliance and due diligence, industry, and the environmental elements of corporate, banking and property transactions. Environmental law practices also play support project and project finance work; providing advice on the redevelopment of contaminated or potentially contaminated land, appraising and evaluating environmental insurance policies and the interpretation of lender liability issues.

No two working days will be the same, and your workload may involve discussions with the regulatory agencies or government bodies, site visits, detailed legal research on complex environmental issues, analysis of legislation and case law, judging any potential risks and drafting and negotiating complex legal agreements and contractual terms.

Tips for success

You will need:

  • Good understanding of environmental law
  • Good understanding of corporate, banking and property 
  • Commercial awareness
  • Good legal research skills
  • Highly tuned analytical skills 
  • Good team-working skills
  • Observational skills
  • Adaptability
  • Capacity for interpreting and applying UK and EU legislation
  • Good decision-making skills

Family law

Family law covers domestic violence, divorce, child law and financial settlement. A growing area in this legal sector is the breakdown of relationships between unmarried individuals, also known as cohabitation.

Child law can be broken down further into areas covering residence, parental contact and surrogacy issues. Lawyers can also choose public law work, working on issues relating to adoption, fostering and children in care.

Lawyers in public law will need a good working knowledge of mental health issues, welfare, criminal and education law. Lawyers working in the more financial side of family law will need to have good grounding in property, tax, trusts and pensions. Domestic violence lawyers will deal with matters such as injunctions and occupation orders.

Large, public cases may continue for several weeks while smaller cases tend to have hearings of between two and three days. Family law clients range from people with very little money and a custody battle to face, to wealthy, high-profile individuals, who want their case to remain out of the public eye.

What you can expect?

Lawyers have to be sympathetic and offer continuing support to their clients. Family is one of the more stressful areas of the law because it involves so much human emotion.

A client's judgement is often clouded by personal feeling - they may be oblivious to logical argument and this is certainly a challenge. But dealing with real-life problems is very rewarding, particularly when your efforts have an important impact attached, such as a client's custody and access rights to their child. Public childcare work can often be distressing - you may be called upon to represent children who are the victims of mental, physical or sexual abuse.

Tips for success

You will need:

  • Sympathy & objectivity
  • Tact & understanding
  • Listening skills 
  • Ability to remain level-headed in harrowing situations
  • Organisation skills
  • Ability to prioritise

Intellectual property law

Intellectual property (IP) law is a diverse and interesting area of law that is both nationally and internationally important.

There are different forms of intellectual property rights that arise under IP law for the protection of inventions, products, trade marks, creative works and designs. For example, there is the ever-increasing area of law involving the use of trade marks and copyright on the Internet.

Another expanding field is in biotechnology, where a range of legal issues arise, in particular the protection and exploitation of technology.

What you can expect?

An intellectual property lawyer has an interesting mix of work. It is usually a popular field and can be quite competitive to get into. As an IP lawyer, you need to be analytical, with technical skills in terms of drafting agreements (although this is not expected immediately), commercial awareness and an up-to-date knowledge of legislation. A scientific background is helpful.

The work/life balance tends to be fairly reasonable. However, expect to put the hours in if you are involved in a corporate transaction with an IP element, or very substantial patent litigation. Since there is also a fair amount of client contact, it is important that you have good communication skills to help establish the aims and objectives of the client regarding their transaction.

Tips for success

You will need:

  • Commercial awareness
  • Ability to think laterally
  • Organisation skills
  • Ability to understand complex information
  • Analytical skills
  • Good communication skills
  • Ability to pay close attention to detail

Media law

Media law is a diverse area that covers everything from television, music, theatre, radio, print media, multimedia, advertising and more.

It requires a knowledge of contract and intellectual property law, focusing mainly on rights over original contents, combined with a practical understanding of how the media industry is financed and regulated. But it can also extend to cover issues of principle, such as free speech, privacy and reputation.

What you can expect?

Media law is considered to be glamorous and is a highly sought-after practice area. Newly qualified positions are usually very scarce, as trainees who have qualified at media law firms tend to stay on as newly qualified solicitors.

As a media lawyer, the work is varied but generally could be described as putting all the contracts in place to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of all those involved in a project are clear, and advising participants so that the work complies with regulations. Media law tends to be focused in London, although there are opportunities in major regional centres.

Tips for success

You will need:

  • Ability to see the bigger picture
  • Thorough understanding of copyright law
  • Ability able to get on with all types of people
  • Good networking skills
  • Keen interest in, and the ability to keep up to date with, current industry news 

Property law

The UK property industry is the most sophisticated in the world. Clients expect complex advice from their lawyers and it's not just about buying and selling property. Thanks to low interest rates, property is an attractive investment proposition while shares on the stock exchange continue to perform poorly - meaning that the property industry remains strong in relation to other areas of the economy. Most national/large law firms have large property departments, reflecting the importance of property to the UK economy.

What you can expect

Property lawyers can be involved in anything from property developments and investment in property, to acting for landlords and tenants. Involvement in specialised areas such as property taxation, planning, environmental, construction and even overseas project management are common to many modern-day commercial property lawyers.

The work is varied and cases can range from a car-parking licence, or a football stadium, to a massive billion-pound new town development that can take years to come to fruition.

Property work can involve long hours. Deadlines are tight and clients are demanding. Salaries for newly qualified solicitors start from around £33,000 in the big firms outside London to in excess of £46,000 in London.

Tips for success

You will need:

  • Thorough understanding of your clients' businesses
  • Proactive approach to problem solving
  • Understanding of a large and varied area of the law

LLM programs

Find out more about studying an LLM in Property Law or an LLM in Real Estate Law.