Which field of law is right for you?

justice statue

A legal career presents you with a huge variety of opportunities. Take a look at some of the directions you might choose

So you want to be a lawyer...but what kind? We can help. Here are some useful details to get you thinking...

Solicitors vs barristers

Let’s kick off with the difference between solicitors and barristers. A very basic distinction is that although both provide legal advice to people and organisations, barristers only tend to get involved once a case goes to court, where they will present arguments on behalf of their clients. Both work in all the areas of law detailed below. 

Working hours

It really varies. Sometimes it's nine to five; sometimes it's nine to nine the next morning. Some employers and fields of law offer more work/life balance, and some have a long-hours culture. So it just depends where you go, and what appeals to you.

Career progression

Lawyers work for law firms, barristers chambers, or the legal department of a company or government department (sometimes called being 'in house').

You start as a newly qualified lawyer and gradually increase in experience and seniority. At the top levels you might be a judge, a partner (someone who runs a law firm) or a QC (a top barrister), at which point you get a badge saying I AM THE LAW. Alright, maybe not that bit.

Choose your path

Once you’ve decided you’re going to be a lawyer, your next decision is the area of law you’ll work within. 

“It's important to consider who your client is going to be, who you are as a person and what you want from a career as a lawyer,” says Chelsea Parkin from The University of Law. 

“This will give you good insight into the type of skills and qualities you're going to need or already have, and what area of practice this would suit.

So, let’s take a look at what those options are.

Banking and finance law

Watching the news in recent years would give you the impression that the financial services industry is basically the Wild West without the horses.

Actually, maybe it is a bit wild. But it's not lawless - banking and finance lawyers make sure the legal framework that holds international trade and finance together doesn't break. “Excellent negotiation skills and attention to detail are imperative,” says Chelsea.

outside a law court

Commercial law

This covers the various things businesses do to make money and work together, including ownership of ideas (or intellectual property), contracts for sales, disclaimers* and so on.

Business savvy is vital. “It's not enough to just know the law,” says Chelsea. “Clients want you to be an extension of their business advisory team.”

*Like this one, saying we can't cover it all here, but it's basically about taking care of business.

Corporate law

This is where big businesses get the nitty gritty of things like multi-billion pound takeovers sorted. “An interest in business and the formation of companies, shareholder rights, and mergers and acquisitions is crucial,” says Chelsea.

Clients in this field want it done yesterday. In fact, the day before that. Ideally before you were born. It's about detail, negotiation, communication and forsaking sleep forever, and can be both terrifying and thrilling.

Criminal law

Criminal lawyers prosecute or defend those accused of committing offences. That means time in court and dealing with people who have been victims in many different ways: of others, of society, or perhaps of themselves.

“As you'll spend a large majority of your time in court it's extremely important to be someone who is a good public speaker and able to think quickly on your feet,” says Chelsea. “You need to enjoy that level of pressure and reacting to the situation.”

Family law

Family lawyers handle divorces but also areas like forced marriage or child protection: they facilitate removing children from abusive homes, for example.

It can be emotional, and high-risk – you're negotiating and advocating for people's futures. “This can include some of the hardest times in a person's life,” says Chelsea. “The ability to build a good relationship with your client and to be empathetic is very important.”

the law society

Media law

If you're wondering where all the party lawyers are at, you’ve found them. Media lawyers advise celebs, negotiate contracts, protect creative ideas and (sometimes) help A-listers sue one another.

It takes a certain kind of personality and charisma to make it in this field. “You need to be able to show that media has interested you for a while,” adds Chelsea. “Maybe you've had past work experiences such as working on a student newspaper or interning at a large media company.”

Public law

Public law is all about the relationship between you and the state – so you might be acting on behalf  of the government or an individual in cases around tax, constitutional law (i.e. what the government can and can't do) or human rights.

“Many people are drawn to working in this area to help the 'underdog' and want to feel they are making a difference,” says Chelsea.

Making your choice

Those are some of the fields in which you might choose to work as a lawyer. But there are plenty more, many of them even more tightly focused.

For instance, you might forge a career working in environmental law, construction law or perhaps medical negligence law. 

Choosing the right area will be a very personal decision. As Chelsea advises, it's helpful to think about your own skills and qualities. Consider what you want to get from a career as a lawyer and use this to help you towards your choice.

Our partnership with The University of Law

University of Law logoThe Student Room is proud to work with The University of Law as the official partner of our law hub, where current and future law students can find the advice and guidance they need.

The University of Law welcomes intelligent, ambitious students interested in the world around them; people who question systems, procedures and behaviours, and are not afraid to challenge convention.

Study at The University of Law and you’ll be equipped with the professional knowledge you need to excel in your chosen career, and supported by an award-winning employability service to help you get there.

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