Often the queries I receive are from school pupils thinking about their options. Other queries come from individuals in a wide variety of fields, from airline pilots or dentists to police officers or paralegals.
I find the reasons people choose to study law fascinating. School pupils are often attracted by the excitement of courtroom dramas and wish to emulate that, clad in a cloak and wig. Others are influenced by family members or a desire to help people – or think it might be a good degree with different career options at the end of it.
I speak to shyer individuals who are nervous about studying law as they can think of nothing worse than appearing in court and speaking in public. In reality, there will be very few moments of genuine courtroom drama, even for court solicitors, and equally it is possible to work in law throughout your professional career and never spend a moment in a courtroom.
I can see, therefore, why it’s so difficult to imagine life as a solicitor and all that it entails. There are, in reality, very few opportunities to find out what it’s like before choosing whether you want to study law. School pupils are very unlikely to have much direct contact with solicitors and many adults will have very little experience beyond buying or selling a house or writing a will.
For these reasons I am always very keen to ensure anyone considering studying law has the chance to find out more. When it comes to the degree, all LLB students study a range of subjects, from commercial and contracts to criminal law, and usually find there are subjects they like, and some they are less keen on: often not the ones they expected.
The range of subjects available on the LLB is, in my view, one of the great features about the degree. It allows people the chance to find areas of law that interest them and if they go on to study honours, it allows them to explore their preferred subjects in more detail.
Study and practice
The academic study of law is, however, quite different from practice – even when an individual is studying the degree, it is difficult for them to know whether a career as a solicitor is suited to them. Generally speaking it’s in the final year of the LLB in which individuals decide whether they wish to apply to undertake the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice, which is required if they wish to work as a solicitor.
The diploma has been designed to give students the practical experience to prepare for life working in legal practice. With less of a focus on exams, and more on practical skills and juggling competing deadlines, students emerge with new skills to equip them for the demands of a traineeship, the final stage on the route to qualification as a solicitor.
This is the in-office stage, and trainees are paid during their training contract. Generally, the traineeship lasts two years and is full time. Most take place in solicitors’ offices but some do take place in the legal department of an organisation, such as local government or a bank or building society.
After the training period, individuals are fully qualified as solicitors and able to pursue their career in a variety of areas. Some will remain solicitors and progress up the career ladder; some will qualify as an advocate and some perhaps will join the judiciary later in their career. Others may choose to move abroad or work in another field.
A huge part of our work is to ensure people know about the options available to them before they even start on the route to qualifying, and can make informed decisions along the way. Our website has lots of information and we run careers events for school pupils each year. We are also holding an open evening next month in Edinburgh for individuals considering changing course or career to start studying the LLB. For more information and to book, email [email protected]
• Heather McKendrick is development officer, education and training, Law Society of Scotland. www.lawscot.org.uk