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We’re all keen to move up the career ladder and after learning the ropes in one job we start looking for the next challenge. It might mean a promotion in your organisation, a move to a competitor or a sideways step. But there are others who take a leap of faith and make a complete career change.
Many more of us are embarking on entirely new careers later in life and it’s when a group of seemingly unconnected people find themselves in a lecture theatre studying law, they discover what they have in common – the ambition to become solicitors.
As the professional body for solicitors in Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland provides careers advice for would-be solicitors as well as being the professional membership body for practising solicitors.
People who chose to train as a solicitor might include a legal secretary, or the paralegal, who has been working in a law firm for years. But there are also less obvious examples. Did you ever wonder what happened to the family pharmacist who was suddenly gone one day, the teacher who used to stand at the front of the class, or why that woman you used to see pushing a buggy now has a pile of books under her arm? They are all real examples of people who have chosen to go to law school and train to become solicitors.
There are 10 Scottish universities offering law degrees (LLB). Entry requirements vary as do the courses – your chosen university prospectus will outline standard LLBs of three years (four for Honours), part-time degrees over a period of up to six years, and for those who already have a degree, the two-year accelerated LLB. An alternative route, although much less common, is not to do a degree at university and instead follow a pre-PEAT 1 Training Contract which involves working in a legal field and passing the Law Society of Scotland examinations.
Funding is a huge issue for many people, there’s no doubt about it. If the law degree is your first bite at the university pie, then it may be that you simply benefit from standard arrangements put in place by the Students Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). However, if you already have a degree and are pursuing the two-year course for a more speedy requalification, this is self-funded and could result in up-front costs of thousands of pounds per annum (make sure you check figures with individual universities).
But is it worth the significant financial outlay, and are such applicants attractive to employers? In short, yes, many are. For those at the other end of the spectrum who haven’t attended university before, or even do not have the requisite entry requirements at Higher level to cross that first hurdle, some preparatory work can be taken – perhaps an access course directed by your university of choice, to lead you on your way.
Qualifying as a solicitor doesn’t stop after university. After the degree is the Diploma in Legal Practice. This is followed by a two-year traineeship, the last stage in the route to qualification and the point at which budding solicitors start earning a salary. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that applicants who are more mature in age - either having had a previous career or having embarked on the LLB after assessing their goals and ambitions later in life - are often viewed favourably by recruiters who recognise the benefits of a diverse workforce and the additional experience these applicants can bring.
It is a long, and sometimes challenging, route to qualification as a solicitor, as with any employment sector there are no guarantees and requalifying can come with additional pressures. To reach the finish line, it is always up to individual applicants to sell themselves to employers to be able to stand out from other highly talented candidates.
But that aside, every prospective trainee solicitor needs something, that indeterminable ‘x-factor’, which sets their CV apart from the pile when it comes to securing their traineeship. For the mature student who has qualified in a less conventional way, it might be just that.
For more information see our education and careers section