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Why law firms don’t only want law students

Always dreamed of studying history but want to be a lawyer? Top law firms say you can do both! Source: Ben Rosett/Unsplash.com

Law firms want aspiring students to know that law degrees are not the only way into the career.

One of the biggest misconceptions about becoming a lawyer is that you’d need to dedicate your academic and career passions right away to all things law. Ie. To become a lawyer, you must complete infinite hours of work experience and score top grades at A Level and complete an undergraduate law degree at a prestigious university.

But law firms say this is but one route into the profession.

Robert Byk, a partner at the firm responsible for trainee recruitment at Slaughter and May – a prestigious Magic Circle law firm – told The Guardian: “The practical application of law and what we do day-to-day isn’t necessarily reflected in the academic study of it. Trainees here would say that after a short period you probably can’t tell who was an undergraduate law student and who wasn’t.”

Any student who wants to be a lawyer would need to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), regardless of his or her choice of undergraduate course.

The only difference is students who did not study law at university must first do a year-long graduate diploma in law.

In fact, some firms prefer that you study a subject other than law so that there are different areas of expertise in the office.

“Non-law graduates bring a different perspective to law. In certain areas having a science background is hugely helpful, such as intellectual property and patent work, because the nature of the work is particularly complex,” Peter Crisp, chief executive and dean of BPP Law School, told The Guardian.

Rhys Townsend, a graduate in from the University of Nottingham, said he chose to study a non-law subject he was passionate about before entering law.

“The main reason I decided not to do a law degree was to give myself a broader understanding of something other than law and develop a different way of thinking and set of skills to help me build my career,” he told Study International.

According to Townsend, firms actually prefer a mix of applicants from those with pure-law to non-law backgrounds as it gives them a more diverse range of knowledge, which they can use to provide better service to clients.

“For example, intellectual property lawyers that have backgrounds in medicine, biology or technology might be able to communicate with their clients on more technical levels, while criminal lawyers who understand psychology or sociology might be able to look at a situation from a wider position than just the black and white letters of the law,” he said.

Therefore if you’re passionate about a particular subject, Townsend said you shouldn’t let your career ambitions stop you from pursuing that.

“Being able to think in new and creative ways, alongside honed legal thinking and expertise, are important qualities in lawyers and having the opportunity to study something that will widen your understanding of the world can certainly help to achieve this.”

Joanna Fountain*, a qualified chartered legal executive, wants students to know it is possible to have a career in law without going to university at all.

Talking to Study International, Fountain said: “At the age of 18 I decided not to go to university but had no idea what career I wanted to pursue. At the age of 21 I got a job working in a solicitor’s firm as a receptionist.

Now, after training to be a legal executive, Fountain says she does the exact same job as her solicitor colleagues at one of the best firms in the South West of England.

“My clients rarely question my qualifications, although most have not heard of chartered legal executives,” said Fountain.

* Some names have been changed

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