How do I know what kind of lawyer I want to be?
If you think you’d like to be a lawyer, one of the first vital questions you have to ask yourself is what specific kind of lawyer you want to be. However, this question isn’t as simple as it might initially sound, and it can be even more complicated to figure out the answer. Here, we will outline the two types of lawyers, the broad areas in which they can practice, and some tips on deciding what kind of lawyer you want to be.
Barristers & solicitors
In the UK, there are two different types of lawyers: barristers and solicitors. They have different roles and can practice in many different areas of law.
Barristers mainly specialise in litigation and courtroom advocacy. Their roles include pleading in court, drafting arguments and providing expert advice. Whilst the amount of time spent in court can depend on their area of law, it’s still a key component of the job so is suited to confident public speakers with an aptitude for oral argument.
The best way to know whether you would like to become a barrister would be to gain courtroom experience (by either sitting in on a public court or marshalling with a judge), or work experience (known as mini pupillages) in a barrister’s chambers. The route to becoming a barrister can be a highly competitive and lengthy process, so those considering it should have strong academic credentials and the patience to gain the necessary experience.
Solicitors on the other hand, provide legal support and advise largely outside the courtroom. They deal not just with litigious matters, but all matters of law, with a focus on legal paperwork and client communications. Whilst some solicitors can represent their clients in court, they will normally instruct barristers to do this.
The best way to know whether you would like to become a solicitor would be gaining work experience at a solicitor’s firm. There are far more solicitors than barristers in the UK and therefore the route to becoming one is less competitive than becoming a barrister. However, despite this, it is still a competitive field and one that again may require strong academic credentials.
Areas of law
Both solicitors and barristers can work in a range of areas of law. People often think of criminal law when considering these roles, but this is just one of many areas; lawyers are required for non-litigious matters of law as well.
The sectors of law can vary depending on whether you are a barrister or solicitor, but broadly speaking within every major business sector there is a corresponding sector of law. For example, a huge area is commercial law, within which there could be considered sub-sectors, such as property, or mergers and transfers.
With new, smaller areas becoming more relevant as society changes, the list of law sectors is growing. Prominent areas include intellectual property law, environmental law, employment law, trusts and equity law, family law, land law, public law and criminal law. Litigation can be considered its own area, however it may occur within any area of law as and when disputes arise.
In choosing what type of lawyer you want to be, don’t just focus on whether or not you would prefer to become a barrister or solicitor, but also what area of law you may wish to work in. Research what area of law your qualities and interests are best suited to. For example, those with good interpersonal skills who enjoy working directly with clients could consider family law rather than, say, commercial law.
When gaining legal experience, try to find a firm or chambers practicing in areas of law that you think you may enjoy. But don’t be scared to test out opportunities in areas you hadn’t considered: you never know what you might end up enjoying.
If you have no idea which area of law you prefer, try exploring legal firms or chambers websites as they often publish articles covering recent cases or developments in the law. If you find yourself interested in one, explore it further and try and gain experience in that area.
Even though choosing your area of law is important, there will always be opportunities to change your field of expertise and explore different areas of law. The more important distinction, at least when beginning your legal journey, is to ensure that you know whether you want to become a solicitor or a barrister. These require different professional courses and qualifications, and changing your mind post-qualification would mean having to requalify.
Whatever type of lawyer you decide you want to be, the journey to becoming one requires hard work and years of study, so make sure you get all the experience you can to be sure it’s for you.
Becoming a Lawyer