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Alternative careers in law

Written by: Lawyer 2B
Published on: 22 Feb 2011

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A career in the legal profession is not the exclusive preserve of those wishing to climb the greasy pole to partnership at one of the top City firms. Indeed, law graduates are highly regarded by employers because it is generally considered a tough discipline to master. So you should find that it can open many doors both inside and outside the legal profession.

Turning away from the law can happen at any point in a legal career. Some people take law degrees before deciding that qualifying is not for them. Others complete all the educational requirements, or even qualify, before moving on to other professions. So what are thechoices?

Company Secretary
Despite its namesake, the role of a company secretary is not a clerical or secretarial one. It is, in fact, a senior position in a private company or public organisation, normally in the form of a managerial position.

Matthew Lawson from Hays Legal says a company secretary acts as the “legal conscience of a board”, ensuring that the decisions it takes are reasoned properly and are in the best interests of the organisation and its stakeholders.

Students who join a company at assistant company secretary level first have to qualify as a chartered secretary to gain all the responsibility that comes with the role. To qualify you first need to register with the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and administrators (ICSA), which is the governing body for the profession.

Law graduates and LPC students will then spend approximately the next two years studying for the ICSA’s International Qualifying Scheme examinations. The modules cover a range of topics, including corporate administration, financial management, governance and secretaryship. Many students choose to study through a mixture of distance learning or part-time study at a registered college.

Qualifying is not cheap and, at £600 per module, if you have not already secured a position as an assistant whereby your employer covers your study costs, you may have to start talking nicely to your bank manager.

However, if you have managed to secure a company secretary assistant role, you can expect to start on a salary of £30,000-£35,000. And the average salary of a company secretary working in a FTSE100 organisation is £180,000.

Former LPC student Laura Jackson, who is an assistant company secretary at FTSE100 organisation Trinity Mirror, says she loves her role as she gets to practise within a variety of areas of law and really get involved with the day-to-day running of the business.

“As a company secretary you have to be able to juggle a lot of things at once, so being able to multitask is an important skill,” says Jackson. “Aside from the variety and exposure to different areas of the business, there’s an element of annual reporting, which is routine, so you really get to know your job and other key departments such as finance, Treasury, tax, human resources [HR], pensions and insurance.”

Barristers’ Clerk
One of the oldest and most traditional of the legal support professions, that of the barristers clerk, is essential to the smooth running of any set of chambers and to bringing in the work. Clerks manage barristers’ diaries, arrange and collect fees and build relationships with clients.

The Institute of Barristers Clerks recommends at least four GCSEs at grades A* to C, with some junior clerks starting straight from school. However, it is increasingly common for new clerks to be graduates - indeed, many are former solicitors and are legally trained. Senior clerks and chambers chief executives often have decades of clerking experience and tend to know their chambers inside out, not to mention being extremely knowledgeable about the rest of the bar.

Clerks often have to work late, with every set having out-of-hours cover, as a dispute can arise at any time. On the upside, the work is rewarding and interesting and clerks get to work within small teams in the peaceful surroundings of the Inns of Court. The institute’s website has details of work experience opportunities and current vacancies. See for details.

Patent Attorney
Patent attorneys advise clients on applying for new patents with the UK Patent Office. Experienced attorneys will also manage patent portfolios internationally, helping clients to get the most commercial advantage out of a company’s patents and fighting off disputes.

The job is very technical and typically requires a science degree. The work is often very specialised as well. Patent attorneys usually concentrate on particular types of patent, such as pharmaceutical, engineering or electronics. It can be a challenging job and there are only 1,500 such attorneys in the UK. But their advice is highly sought-after and attorneys often enjoy a more open and relaxed working culture than their solicitor counterparts’.

Although some patent attorneys work in law firms, they cannot be a partner in business with a solicitor. This is because patent attorneys qualify with the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (Cipa) rather than with the Law Society. As a result, patent attorneys tend to work in-house in large technology or pharmaceutical companies, or in niche patent attorney firms such as Boult Wade Tennant or Marks & Clerk.

Experienced patent attorneys can earn upwards of £100,000 to reach as much as law firm partners. They also command positions of authority in companies such as Siemens or GlaxoSmithKline, which rely heavily on research and development departments.

Recruitment Consultant
There are many different recruitment consultancies, some specialising in legal recruitment and others also overseeing areas such as accountancy or public bodies. Being a recruitment consultant is hard work. Many are paid base salaries and then bulk up their pay with commission based on the number of jobs they fill or the number of clients placed in new jobs. The hours can be long, but the plus sides are that there is plenty of face-to-face contact with different people and the chance to really make a difference to people’s lives.

Knowledge of the market helps, so it is not uncommon for a solicitor to move to a recruitment consultancy after a few years in practice. Because the competition for jobs as recruiters is fierce, good academic qualifications are required, with most new consultants being graduates.

For more information about recruitment, look through the jobs sections of legal magazines and newspapers.

Law firm support services
Law firms would fall apart without help from their support functions, such as IT, HR, public relations and marketing. Many of these departments also have openings for graduates and even have their own graduate recruitment programmes. In addition,’s sister title, The Lawyer, often carries advertisements for law firm support function vacancies.

But remember, some of these jobs are careers in their own right and will also have very structured training paths, so we recommend you do plenty of research before you start your job hunt.

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