Andrew Radford (25), Trainee Solicitor, Linklaters
How did you get the job?: I studied history at Oxford University. I chose it because I really enjoyed the subject and I knew that I could convert to law afterwards. I did my GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) at Oxford Brookes and the LPC (Legal Practice Course) at the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice.
Job history: Before my traineeship I did little bits and pieces every summer. I worked in a cardboard box factory, a library, and as a litter-picker on a racecourse. Most relevant to my current career was a mini-pupillage at a commercial barristers' chambers in the Easter holidays of my second year at university. I never did a law firm vacation scheme but most students seem to try to get one these days.
Best/worst bits: Working at Linklaters has lots of positives: a large peer group (250 trainees); good quality work; and headline-making deals. You get excellent training, varied work, plenty of international opportunities, and a free dinner at a good restaurant every once in a while. The rather handsome wage also helps you make the most of living in London. However, the hours can be long. Having to turn down the odd social opportunity in the week can be quite frustrating. As a trainee, you aren't guaranteed a place on qualification (although not being offered one is unusual).
Advice for wannabes: It's important to keep abreast of the latest news, business and commercial legal developments at Linklaters, as our clients will often be affected by world events. Being on top of current affairs, and being able to show that you have a general understanding of how international business works are important skills to show in interviews.
CV essentials: A degree is essential and most City law firms will expect you to have at least a 2.1. In the long term however, a degree only counts for so much. More important is to have, or develop, an eye for detail, to be analytical, to be able to describe sometimes complex legal concepts in layman's terms, and to try and understand what your client wants.
To become a solicitor you have to spend two years as a trainee, like Andrew. So-called training contracts are typically offered two years before their commencement. Law firms offering training contracts are listed on The Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook and Law Careers. Vacation schemes are a great way to find out if you would like to work for a law firm, and for a law firm to find out if they like you.
The role of a solicitor varies greatly depending on the type of firm that you will work for. If you end up working for a high street solicitors' firm for example, you will spend the majority of your time working with members of the public, dealing with anything from the sale of a house to the writing of wills.
On the other hand, if you get a job for a large commercial firm, your clients - for the most part - will be companies. Solicitors advise companies on a whole raft of issues, from mergers and acquisitions to insolvency. The hours at these sorts of firms will be much longer - but the pay will be much better too.
There are two routes to become a solicitor. One is to study law at university followed by the one-year Legal Practice Course - the compulsory vocational stage of training. The other is for non-law graduates, like Andrew. They are required to undertake the one-year conversion course - the Graduate Diploma in Law, followed by the LPC. Approximately 50% of solicitors qualify via the non-law route, and there's no preference for any particular degree to be studied.
In addition to having a strong academic background, solicitors need to have analytical minds and be able to communicate with clients. Training is given over a period of two years, during which time trainees will be given exposure to a variety of legal fields. Throughout their legal careers solicitors are also required to undertake courses to ensure they are up to date with changes in the law.
Personality/Who would it suit
Sometimes a lot will be expected of you, so being the kind of person who can keep cool, calm and collected under pressure will be a huge plus. The ability to write clearly and logically will also be important, but this will be developed as you progress as a trainee. As a lawyer you are often part of a team and spend a lot of time talking to clients, so this means that being able to get on with people is also crucial.
Once you get a foot on the legal career ladder the earning potential is great. The minimum annual salary for a trainee solicitor working in central London in 2007 is £17,110 and £15,332 for a trainee working outside of central London. But first year trainees at commercial firms could earn anything up to £37,500. After five or 10 years it isn't unusual for commercial solicitors to take home six-figure salaries. Most law firms are partnerships, so if you work your way up to the top you could be taking home a share in the firm's profits too.
Pros and cons
by Catherine Watson