Generally speaking, this refers to students who have completed an undergraduate degree in any field other than law. This often means traditional humanities subjects such as History, English, or Politics, for example (especially due to the transferable skills in areas such as essay writing).
However, STEM graduates, including those in areas such as mathematics or sciences, are also highly sought-after in the legal profession (especially in technical areas of the law such as patents within IP).
Students who have completed a non-qualifying degree which was still in law (for example a BA in Law which does not cover all of the compulsory modules to be approved as a qualifying law degree in England and Wales) will often still be required to complete the law conversion course in the same way those above will. However, crucially, they are not generally considered to be ‘non-law’ students.
So you’ve qualified from your undergraduate degree in a subject which is not considered a qualifying law degree, and want to pursue a career as a lawyer in England and Wales. What next?
The next step on the career path is to complete a law conversion course (not officially required under the new solicitor qualification process, but virtually always made compulsory in practice by future employers). This was previously known as the GDL, but is now more commonly referred to as the PGDL.
There are a number of providers (including well-known names such as BPP or University of Law, alongside providers attached to more traditional universities such as Manchester Metropolitan) which vary in regard to cost, location, and teaching style. Generally, this will take one year full-time or two years part-time.
Once you complete the conversion course, you will re-join those students who completed a qualifying law degree at undergraduate level (that one year away was the only major difference), this time for the second part of law school. Here’s where things split between solicitors and barristers – the former will move on to the SQE (formerly LPC), while the latter move onto a bar training course. Again, both take one year full-time.
After finishing law school, you will need to satisfy the practical requirements for qualification in the same way your counterparts who studied law at undergraduate level will need to. For solicitors, this usually means a training contract, whereas for barristers this usually means pupillage – there are other routes available, especially under newly introduced reforms to the solicitor route, but these are the traditional paths.
In order to secure a training contract or pupillage (or even the work experiences which often lead to those longer-term opportunities, meaning vacation schemes and mini-pupillages, respectively), you will need to send off a number of applications.
Once applicants understand the limited difference between non-law and law students in terms of the qualification routes outlined above (essentially just delayed by one year through the PGDL), they often feel reassured. One lingering fear often remains though. When applying to these career opportunities (especially earlier on in the process, for example during the undergraduate non-law degree), how can non-law students leverage their background to put forward a competitive application?
The first thing to note is that you are not at a disadvantage. Many law firms and chambers are now operating at practically a 50/50 split within their intake between those who studied law at undergraduate level and those who studied other subjects.
While it is natural to feel disadvantaged, the statistical reality is far from it. In fact, by following our tips below, you can maximise your difference to stand out even more than those pursuing a more traditional path.
If your undergraduate degree was in a field such as History or English, most legal employers will obviously understand at first glance that you have developed essay writing skills, for example. With other subjects, you might be expected to justify the transition a little more. For example, if you have studied Mathematics, you might want to talk in applications/interviews about your ability to think critically about quantitative problems, and how that could be transferable to work in an area such as tax law.
This is a sure-fire way to demonstrate a tangible interest in the law within your applications when your degree was in another subject. Let’s say you’ve been studying History – you could choose to write one of your coursework pieces on how constitutional reform (an important part of Public Law) has impacted the monarchy over time. Or if you were studying Music, you could write your dissertation on the implications of copyright law for musical creativity. Bringing these points up within your applications are always a great idea.
This point is fairly self-explanatory. If you studied Economics, you might have a decent understanding of how private equity works already, so you could link that to the work a particular firm or chambers is doing in the finance space. A similar point could be made with History and Public Law, or Physics and Patents, etc.
Finally, it can be useful to show employers during your applications that you have tried to get involved with the legal industry during your time at university. This could mean joining the committee of your university law society, or even just attending networking events with employers on campus.
It can be daunting for non-law students to send applications when many of them don’t already have any kind of legal work experience on their CV (which law students might already have given their background). Consider different types of simple, relatively easy-to-secure legal experiences to pad out your resume, including virtual work experiences, open days, or ambassador roles.
In short, non-law students can benefit greatly from exploiting their background within applications to demonstrate their unique strengths. You are not at an inherent disadvantage and, when leveraging your experiences effectively, you can actually create a much more distinct, interesting-to-read application in many instances.
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