10 Interesting Careers You Can Access with a Law Degree
Studying Law can feel like quite a commitment.
If you choose English Literature, Mathematics, History or Politics – all popular alternatives for prospective Law students – there isn’t an implied career path at the end of it. In studying those subjects, you know that diverse opportunities are open to you, and that you have three or more years to figure out what you might like to do next.
Many people assume that Law isn’t like this. They think that there are two career paths open to Law students – solicitor and barrister – and if at the age of 21 when you graduate you aren’t as keen on those as you were aged 17 when you applied, well, tough. But that’s mistaken. Law is as versatile a degree option as any of the other subjects listed above, and every year, only a fifth of Law graduates go straight into training to be solicitors or barristers. This number is a little misleading, as a full third go on to further study, and may also end up as legal professionals. All the same, that leaves a lot of Law graduates who go on to do something completely different.
We’ve written before about the careers you can do with almost any degree, and a Law degree is no exception – in fact, the skills of Law graduates, such as being able to digest complex information quickly and to think analytically, are particularly prized by employers. In this article, however, we’re going to look at some non-Law careers to which Law graduates are particularly suited. Careers such as:
1. The Civil Service
One of the most obvious destinations for Law graduates is the Civil Service. In the UK, there’s even the highly competitive Civil Service fast track scheme available to parachute you to the top. The Civil Service are the behind-the-scenes part of the government, and a career in the Civil Service could have you working in the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, the Identity and Passport Service, the Ministry of Defence’s Science and Technology Laboratory or any one of countless other departments. If you join the fast track, they circulate you around several different departments to the right fit for you.
There are nearly half a million people employed in one capacity or another by the Civil Service, and it feels like a simplification to describe it as a single career path; it’s actually dozens of different career paths and roles that happen to share the same application procedure.
What they also often share is that they are good places for a Law graduate to work. Law graduates already have an understanding of how an idea in the mind of a politician translates into something that affects the day-to-day lives of ordinary people, and it’s the Civil Service who are responsible for that translation.
If the behind-the-scenes bit of government doesn’t sound great to you, perhaps the front-of-house roles appeal more. Lots of Law graduates go into politics, whether that’s as elected officials or in the array of roles supporting politicians, such as election agents. They are the people responsible for ensuring a political campaign doesn’t break the law, and it’s obvious why a Law graduate might be particularly well-suited to the role.
Many Law students are disappointed when they learn how little of being a barrister consists of inspiring courtroom speeches that demolish the arguments of the other side. But this is a sizeable portion of what being a politician involves; the process of getting elected requires a lot of shaking hands and kissing babies, but also of showing up to hustings and debates, giving talks and facing potentially tricky interviews with press and public alike. If you love the idea of thinking on your feet in a courtroom, perhaps thinking on your feet on a soapbox when faced with an unexpected heckle will do the trick as well.
If the Civil Service is the most strait-laced side of civil society, than becoming an activist is probably at the opposite end of the scale. Political activists campaign for change via whatever means they think will best promote their cause. For one unusual example, in April activists for the environmental organisation Greenpeace made headlines by climbing to the top of London monuments – including the 52m Nelson’s column – and fitting the statues with gas masks to highlight the dangers of air pollution. As a Law graduate, you’ll have a good understanding of how the law comes to be as it is – and therefore, how best to apply pressure to ensure that it’s changed.
There are countless causes to which activists choose to dedicate themselves, though you’ll probably need to be employed by a large group like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or Amnesty International if you want to make a living from it (and even then, you’ll want to be motivated by passion rather than money – you’re unlikely to be paid very much). Many people who are activists for a living started out as volunteers, so if there’s a cause you feel strongly about and that you might want to work for in future, it’s best to get involved while you’re still a student.
The final item on this list connected to government, lobbying is like activism but with much better dinners and a sizeable paycheck to make up for the fact that you probably won’t feel passionate about anything that you’re lobbying for. You could be a lobbysist on behalf of all kinds of interests, whether that’s on behalf of farmers, automobile companies or dishwasher manufacturers. Charities and trade unions are also involved in lobbying, although their activities tend to meet with public approval more than those of corporate lobbyists. There are about 15,000 people employed in lobbying of one form or another.
Lobbying is multi-faceted – it’s not just about sweet-talking politicians, but also about influencing the media and getting support for your cause in other areas, such as online. As with the other roles related to government mentioned above, you’ll need to know your way around how laws come to be passed, so that you can understand how best to influence politicians to shape them the way you would prefer.
The world of recruitment is a more popular destination for Law graduates than you might think, whether that’s in working for a recruitment agency generally, or doing something more specialised like headhunting. It’s the art of matching people to jobs, and jobs to people, and it takes both organisation and finely-honed people skills. Recruitment agents typically work on commission, so this is a good option if you want to know that you’ll be directly rewarded for the hard work you put in.
If you started studying Law because you wanted to change people’s lives, a good recruitment agent can do much the same thing – after all, for most people how much they enjoy their job makes a huge amount of difference to their general happiness in life. So if you’ve brought out someone’s hidden strengths to get them the job that’s right for them, you can be very pleased with the positive impact you’ve had. And if you chose Law initially because you thought there’d be a high salary at the end of it, recruitment is pretty good for that too.
6. HR and labour relations
You can put those hours spent studying employment law to good use if you decide to work in human resources (HR) or the related field of labour relations, which is about managing the relationship a company has with trade unions. In HR, you’ll be sorting out employment contracts, helping employees be happy in their jobs, and, if comes to it, handling any disputes. In labour relations, you’ll similarly be trying to prevent any disputes before they start, and should they arise, you’ll be involved in their mediation and resolution.
Both roles are a balancing act where you have to weigh up the needs of employees against the needs of the employer, and do your best to ensure that all sides are satisfied. As with many of the other roles on this list, people skills, communication skills and organisation are paramount – which are hopefully all things you will have mastered over the course of your degree.
Sometimes it may feel that the study of Law is primarily the study of things that businesses got wrong, from dubious interpretations of EU ruling on competition to snails winding up in bottles of ginger beer. While that’s not quite the case, as a Law graduate you’ll have a better idea than most of the pitfalls that business owners face, which can help a great deal if you decide to set up your own business on graduation.
Becoming a solicitor or barrister also means accounting for your use of your time down to the tiniest fragments to make up your total billable hours. If this starts to feel stifling by the time you’ve reached the end of your degree, becoming an entrepreneur is the complete opposite; if you’re self-employed, the way you spend your time will be entirely up to you, although the work ethic you learned as an undergraduate will still be needed.
8. Law enforcement
If Law school has only made you feel more passionate about seeing the law upheld, perhaps a move into law enforcement could be a good next step. Lawyers are a crucial part of the criminal justice system, but just as important are all the people involved before the case ever reaches a courtroom. Though a degree isn’t currently required in order to join the police, an increasing number of police officers are Law graduates.
If the idea of becoming a uniformed police officer doesn’t appeal to you, there are other careers in law enforcement that you might wish to consider. There are roles such as that of prosecution file preparation officer – where legal training would undoubtedly be invaluable – or if you do qualify as a lawyer but choose a non-traditional legal career, you could become a police lawyer, which offers exposure to a more diverse range of cases than in most jobs in Law.
9. Legacy administration
Almost anywhere that carries out fundraising for donations also receives gifts in the Wills of supporters who’ve passed away. This is the case for a diverse range of causes, whether it’s a traditional charity, a university, a museum, a political party or just about anything else that people might feel strongly enough to support financially even after they’ve passed away. Charities that support animal welfare or medical research tend to benefit the most from legacies, but they’re far from being the only beneficiaries.
But the process of receiving the money from gifts in Wills isn’t straightforward; larger organisations employ people solely tasked with legacy administration. They mostly liaise with solicitors and executors, but sometimes there’s more work to do because a legacy is contentious – perhaps because someone else feels that they should have got the money instead. In these circumstances, your legal training is invaluable to defend your organisation’s claim to the money and ensure it goes where it was intended.
Being a Law student requires a lot of research, reading material that can sometimes be quite dry, and condensing it into a more easily understood and hopefully more engaging form. This process, of research and translation into a more interesting piece of writing, is similar enough to the work of a journalist that this is a popular career move for many Law students. If you can write well and cope with deadline pressures and potentially irregular hours, this may prove a good fit for you.
Some journalists start with their local paper and work their way up; others join a national paper’s graduate scheme, which is a quicker way to reach the top but involves a lot of pressure. Either way, not only will a Law degree provide you with good transferable skills, but legal knowledge is useful across a lot of reporting.
It’s clear that a Law degree is not restrictive in the least; in fact, it’s more versatile than many other humanities degrees. So if you’re interested in Law but not sure you want to be a lawyer, you can be confident that there is a whole range of exciting jobs available to you.
Image credits: signing contract; doorway; big ben; downing street; greenpeace; restaurant meal; handshake; coffee cup; making notes; police officers; flowers in churchyard; newspaper office;