Legal services sector

Want to find out more about the legal services sector?

This page has information and support about pursuing a career in law.

The legal sector is open to both law and non-law graduates; many firms recruit roughly 50% of their trainees from non-law degrees.

Law is a competitive field and being aware of the timelines involved and how to develop your experience is crucial.

Firms want to see evidence of a sustained interest in law, as well as excellent academic results and participation in extra-curricular activities. 

New insights into a career in law, for students with a non-law degree! Read our recent article of key takeaways from the recent 'Insights into Law for non-Law students' panel event.

Almost 3500 of our students said they are interested in Legal services

Explore your options

If you want to explore the legal services sector, learn more with the below resources.

Explore the sector

The legal services sector hosts a whole range of career paths, from solicitors to barristers to paralegals. Explore the Law sector on Prospects to learn more about the field of law. 


A solicitor provides expert legal support and advice on a wide range of personal and commercial issues.  Depending on your area of expertise, you can advise on a range of issues, and once qualified, you can work in private practice, in-house for commercial or industrial organisations, in local or central government or in the court service.


Barristers (in England and Wales) are specialist legal professionals in advocacy and represent individuals or organisations in court. They provide independent legal advice and can advise clients on their case. Generally, they represent individuals in court and only become involved once advocacy before a court is needed. 

Many barristers work on a self-employed basis in offices called chambers, where you could have your own office or share one with other barristers. Others work in government departments or agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Government Legal Profession, or increasingly in private and public organisations, such as charities. 

Training route for solicitors 

From September 2021, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), will no longer be compulsory and over time will be replaced with a range of new preparatory courses for the new Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)

Until 2021, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) remains the mandatory vocational stage of training to be a solicitor. From 2021 onwards, the LPC will be replaced by a new system, the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE):

  • Anyone starting a LLB or GDL after this date MUST follow the SQE route.
  • Students who have already started an LLB or GDL (on or before 31 August 2021) can still choose either the LPC or SQE route, including those students who have confirmed they want to defer a place, as long as they’ve accepted an offer by 31 August 2021. 

However, the LPC will remain valid as a qualification until as late as 2031, so LPC graduates will still be able to apply for trainee solicitor roles after the SQE is introduced. 

As summarised on the University of Law’s Blog ‘Understanding the SQE and what it means for me’, the new process is as follows:

1. Undergraduate degree or equivalent 

To become a solicitor, all applicants must either have an undergraduate degree, or equivalent experience, to study at degree level (for example, by completing a degree level apprenticeship). Importantly, a qualifying law degree will no longer have any special meaning for the process, but it should help candidates prepare for some of the SQE assessments.

2. SQE stage 1 – Legal Knowledge

All applicants will have to sit and pass SQE Stage 1, whatever degree or other qualifications they have already. SQE Stage 1 will mainly assess your legal knowledge through multiple-choice examinations. You must complete SQE stage 1 before progressing to SQE stage 2.

3. SQE stage 2 – Core Skills

Again, all applicants will have to sit these assessments, regardless of existing qualifications. SQE Stage 2 will assess your legal skills through practical examinations and assessments.

4. Qualifying work experience 

You’ll need to complete a minimum of two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE), which can be with up to four different legal employers (and could include appropriate pro bono experience). You can do this during, before or after completing your SQE assessments, although we expect that in most cases candidates will have successfully completed at least SQE stage 1 before starting their main period of QWE.

5. Apply to the SRA for qualification 

The SRA will complete quality and suitability checks only at this stage of the process to determine whether you are eligible to become a solicitor. (Under the current process these checks are done before starting the training contract phase.)

 SQE Preparatory Courses

  • There is NO prescribed or recommended way to prepare for SQE exams – it is entirely up to the individual student how they want to prepare. It is anticipated that most students will choose some course of further study/preparatory course to help them. Training providers have adapted their conversion courses and LPC programmes to accommodate preparation and assessment of the SQE.
  • Applications for GDL and LPC courses are made via the Central Applications Board
  • Should I do the LPC or wait for the SQE? – The SRA has come up with a quick and useful guide to help you decide the best option for you. 

Non-law students 

Until 2021, if you studied a non-law degree at university and want to become a solicitor or barrister, you must take a conversion course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).  When the SQE is introduced, prospective solicitors will no longer need a law degree or GDL to qualify. 

There is currently no prescribed conversion course for non-law students, although most training providers are offering a rebranded GDL as a MA in Law. 

Technically, anyone with a university degree (or equivalent) can attempt the SQE assessments without undertaking any legal training first (as long as they can afford the exam fees totalling around £4,500). But the SQE is not a course – it is just a series of exams. This means that, in reality, people with no previous legal training will be very unlikely to pass the SQE. The GDL and other, similar law conversion courses will therefore continue to be a necessary stage of the journey for many non-law graduates.

Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)

Training Contracts

The training contract, or period of qualifying work experience, is the final stage on the path to qualifying as a solicitor. It involves a two-year period spent working at a law firm or other organisation that employs solicitors. From 2021, as part of the new SQE system, candidates must still complete two years of qualifying work experience (QWE) to qualify as solicitors, but this can now be completed in up to four separate placements at different firms and other organisations. Rules have also been relaxed about when QWE is undertaken, so it is possible to gain QWE both before and after taking some of the SQE assessments. 

However, many firms will still want their trainees to complete a significant period of work experience with them alone before they can progress to solicitor/associate level. Firms have different ways of working and varied specialisms, so in many cases it will still be important to complete on-the-job training in order to be ready to practise. This means that the traditional training contract is probably here to stay, especially at larger firms.

Many of the large firms recruit two years in advance for trainees, so start applying for training contracts from second year onwards if you study Law or in your LPC year if you’re a non-Law student. However, if you’re not successful at this point you can keep trying. You can search for training contracts on LawCareers.Net or the AllAboutLaw websites.

Paralegal route

Paralegal work is a good entry point into the legal profession for many university graduates. It is also possible to qualify as a solicitor through working as a paralegal (so without the need for a training contract). For more information, has a feature called, Paralegal work: a guide for future solicitors.

Training route for barristers

The route to training as a barrister has changed. From July 2020, a range of new Bar courses replace the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) as the mandatory vocational stage of training before pupillage. As universities and law schools now have more freedom to decide how their courses are taught and structured, you will find the Bar course advertised under a range of different names (eg, ‘ICCA Bar Course’, ‘Bar Practice Course’, ‘Barrister Training Course’).

This qualification (alongside being ‘called to the Bar’ by an Inn of Court) makes a Bar course graduate eligible for pupillage, the final stage of on-the-job training to qualify as a barrister.

The old BPTC application system, BarSAS, has closed. All applications for Bar courses commencing from 2020 onwards need to be made directly to the university or law school. LawCareers.Net have a list of featured course providers on their website which is a good starting point, and Chambers Student also have a comparison of Bar Course providers available on their website.

All candidates must take the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT), designed to examine an applicant's chances of success at the Bar. The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has made a practice Bar Course Aptitude Test.

Inns of Court

The Four Inns of Court are professional membership associations for barristers in England and Wales dedicated to promoting the rule of law and providing education and training to their student and barrister members. They each provide Scholarships, Dining Sessions (training), Advocacy training, Competitions, Lectures and Social events. An individual must be admitted as student member of an Inn in order to complete compulsory qualifying sessions.

Start considering scholarship application forms early for the BTC as the deadline is November of your final year (law) or GDL year (non-law), so be prepared. 

Non-law students

Until 2021, if you studied a non-law degree at university and want to become a solicitor or barrister, you must take a conversion course known as the Law Conversion Course (GDL, PGDL or MA Law). Search for Law courses (LawCareers.Net) and apply for courses (Central Applications Board). 

If you’re a non-law student join The Radcliffe Club - The University’s Law for Non-Law Society. They run events and workshops which provide opportunities for you to talk with solicitors and barristers, find out how firms differ and get tips for applications.


Most barristers' chambers ('sets') recruit pupils a year in advance, with some chambers recruit just a few months (or even weeks!) in advance. Around half of sets recruit their pupils via the Pupillage Gateway, a centralised online application system which opens in January and has a deadline in early February. Other sets recruit directly and you can find out about their individual application processes and varying deadlines in Chambers Reports or on sets' websites. All pupillage vacancies at both types of chambers are listed on the system, so wherever you plan to apply, you should start by checking the Pupillage Gateway to browse vacancies from late November.

Keep updated on the impact of COVID-19 on the legal sector and recruitment of pupillages and mini-pupillages. 

Hear from our graduates 

Baljinder Singh Atwal

Solicitor, West Midlands Police

“I really enjoy having the public interest at the centre of everything I do. Having the satisfaction that my time and effort is going into an organisation which is protecting the public and supporting the community is quite a special feeling.”

Many of our graduates from University of Birmingham have gone on to pursue careers in the legal services sector. Read and watch their stories below. 

  • Sharondeep Banga, Principal Associate Solicitor at Shoosmiths LLP
  • Baljinder Singh Atwal, Solicitor at West Midlands Police
  • Eirini Sakellari, Paralegal at Axiom DWFM 

Attend an Employer Insights event  

Book an appointment with a Careers Adviser

If you have questions and want to find out more about pursuing a career in the legal sector, have a chat with one of our Careers Advisers. 

Book an appointment through your Careers Connect account. 

Plan your career

If you are ready to start planning a career in the legal services sector, have a look below. 

LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn Learning has over 13,000 courses to enhance your CV and stand out from the crowd when thinking about a career in legal services. 

University of Birmingham students get free access to LinkedIn Learning.

Work experience

There is a range of work experience you can get to learn more about the legal sector. Prospects breaks down the types of work experience on offer. 

Bursaries and funding

You may be eligible to apply for work experience bursaries through The University of Birmingham. For more details visit the internship funding pages

Apply for jobs

If you are ready to apply for jobs in the legal sector, have a look below. For information on training routes for solicitors and barristers, see the 'Explore' section above. 

Search and apply for jobs in the legal services sector

Application support

When you have a clear sense of where you want to apply, the final step is making the most out of your application. Our Employability Advisers are here to help review your application documents. 


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