Often the road leading to practising law is portrayed in a simplistic way – take a law degree, graduate with a 2:2 or higher and then study for either the LPC or the Bar, ensuring you have a pupillage or training contract. These are the classic paths to a law career as a solicitor or barrister. That was true twenty years ago but now there are some exciting alternatives that can provide a light at the end of the tunnel for those budding wannabe lawyers who choose alternative degrees or choose to work full time after college.
Take for example, a graduate who decides after their degree, with honours, that they would like a career in law and who has clearly not followed the traditional passage to becoming a solicitor or barrister – what could he or she do to get into this field?
We will be exploring this area in a series of articles. The first case study illustrates that it is possible to get on track as a legal costs lawyer.
Gareth Winchester has a BSc Health Sciences (Hons) which took 3 years to complete. He practices as an Associate Costs Lawyer. His job involves trying to claim the winning party’s legal costs, solicitors fees, barristers fees, court fees, experts reports etc – from the losing side in a case. He also has cases in which he acts for the losing side and tries to reduce the amount they pay by as much as possible.
‘A common misconception is that once a judge has given judgement that’s the end of the case.
It isn’t! We step in. Some of our cases last between 18-24 months. We also deal with cases where there is a dispute between a solicitor and their own client over how much they should be charging. Again we can act for either side: the solicitor or the client.’
How did you come to move into the legal sphere?
‘Towards the end of my second year I began to realise that there wasn’t much I could do with my degree when it came to jobs, so I started to see what else there was…In my third year I did an elective module in Environmental Law, which I really enjoyed…I looked into and found that I could do a 1 year postgraduate law course (Graduate Diploma in Law) which covers all the essential parts of a 3 year law degree and is fully accepted as being as good as a law degree when combined with my actual degree, so I decided to head into law.’
He didn’t get into legal costs until he started his first job in London, which was in May 2006.
The company Gareth works for have paid him to do a 3 year distance learning professional qualification which will ensure that he has the same rights of audience as a solicitor when it comes to dealing with legal issues.
‘We also deal with some really interesting cases: We’ve currently served a massive multimillion pound costs claim that resulted from a 7 year long prosecution over allegations of defrauding the NHS. After two trials, one which led to a hung jury and one which collapsed due to disclosure issues, the defendant was found innocent’.
There are more avenues to explore and venture when looking at a law career. You don’t have to start from the point of having a degree to move forward with a law career. What was once considered the holy grail to law entry in England has now changed to meet needs of an evolving legal world. Together we will explore a few plausible alternative entrances to one of the most elite historic professions in the UK.
The next article in this series will feature another route into law. Please feel free to submit any questions.