Navigating the pursuit of a non-traditional career within the legal sector can be difficult. This article is aimed at those who are struggling to identify legal roles outside of the traditional solicitor or barrister jobs which often dominate the conversation of careers in Law. Hopefully, this should help to shed light on the non-traditional legal roles on offer for both budding lawyers and graduates of any discipline alike.
About the author
I am an LLB Law with Professional Placement student at Brunel University London in my second year. The reason the subject of non-traditional legal roles is important to me is that I have known from early on in my studies that the traditional solicitor or barrister career paths really do not appeal to me. After getting a diverse range of work experience, ranging from shadowing solicitors at Waterfords Solicitors, a mini-pupillage at Church Court Chambers and a range of insight days (including an introduction to an in-house Company Secretarial role at Aviva Plc), I knew I identified with the in-house roles and furthering the interests of a company more than the traditional legal roles. I am presently looking for an in-house legal role with the aspiration to work with Intellectual Property Law.
What non-traditional roles are on offer within the legal sector?
As you may well be aware, the traditional legal careers on offer can be large in number, expanding across different fields and resulting in roles such as Paralegals and Legal Consultants for law firms. Although non-traditional roles tend to be fewer in number, there are still many opportunities to pursue a career within the legal field that are neither solicitor nor barrister roles. In this article, I will be discussing the four most prominent non-traditional legal roles: Human Resources, Company Secretary, In-House Lawyers, and General Counsel.
A career in Human Resources generally involves the management of the employees of a company, handling all issues relating to their employment. Generally, a job in Human Resources does not necessarily require an LPC qualification from the outset. However, do be warned that there are additional qualifications that individuals must complete in order to climb the professional ‘ladder’ within a Human Resources career. Without doubt, the study of Employment Law would be very beneficial for those interested in this career.
Starting out with a Human Resources career can be slow at first, often requiring individuals to begin their careers in administrative roles which is something every company that hires for its Human Resources department will do. The additional qualifications that were discussed earlier can help you to graduate from an administrative to a more senior, managerial role. Many Law students look to head into Human Resources after graduating, avoiding the cost of the LPC to pursue a career in Law almost immediately, especially those interested in a non-traditional legal role without the added expenditure.
I was first introduced to the role of a Company Secretary when I attended an insight day hosted by Aviva Plc through DMJ Recruitment. This was the first insight day I had ever attended and, I must say, it was the most influential for me in mapping out my future career. At the event, we were introduced to a few Company Secretaries at the company and they explained what their role entails and described their place within the company. A Company Secretary plays a pivotal role within a company, affecting all areas of the business – whether that involves being a part of influential meetings, keeping to schedules or ensuring that the company complies with regulations within the law. Furthermore, this is not a role solely for those who have studied/are studying the Law.
The name is deceiving in that the role is not very ‘secretarial’ in nature. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the career is not very well known either. While at the Aviva insight day, the presenters mentioned the qualities of a successful applicant for a Company Secretarial position. I was struck by the emphasis put on alignment with the company’s beliefs. It appears that, in most non-traditional legal careers which take place within a business, having awareness of and affinity to the company’s values is of high importance to employers of all sectors. This role also requires candidates who can demonstrate organisational skills, determination, flexibility, and dynamism as the work can be varied and because of how important the role is within a business.
- ICSA: ‘Being a company secretary’
- Prospects: Company Secretary
- Institute of Directors: The role of the company secretary
This is the non-traditional legal career which most aligns with my ideal career trajectory.
The role of an in-house lawyer tends to be dealing with an aspect of law which a company requires constant advice on. The companies tend to be large in size as they are able to afford an internal legal department – some of these companies include: Walt Disney Company, SAP, NBCUniversal, General Electric, and Toyota. I like to think of the role as being a solicitor acting for only one client. The areas of law that tend to require in-house lawyers are Intellectual Property Law, Risk and Compliance. It is important to note that because the cases that individuals can work on all revolve around the central company and its interests, it is incredibly important that, as a candidate, you can also demonstrate an awareness of and an interest in the company and its values.
For placement year Law students (or future placement students): this is a role that should be applied for – whether looking to pursue a traditional or non-traditional legal role. The training that successful applicants can receive within these year-long placements can offer transferable skills that any legal employer would deem to be valuable and make you stand out as a candidate. The great aspect of this role is that the skills that the legal departments offer are diverse and are applicable for those pursuing traditional roles.
- The In-House Lawyer
- The Law Society: ‘Should I work in-house?’
- Thomson Reuters – Practical Law: ‘What skills will in-house lawyers need for 2020?’
Although the role of General Counsel builds on the career of an in-house lawyer, I believe it is still important to discuss separately. A General Counsel represents a department which represents a body dedicated to solving the legal issues the company may face. This role is considerably more senior within the company compared to that of an in-house lawyer. Ultimately, the General Council, or Chief Legal Officer, becomes the point of contact for any legal issue that may arise within a company. Canon and O2, for example, are companies which have General Counsel Departments for these matters. This requires a broad understanding of key areas of the law that may affect a business, as well as good researching skills.
- Financial Times: Special Report – FT General Counsel 2017
- Forbes: General Counsel – Guardian and conscience of the company
- Robert Walters: A day in the life of a General Counsel
Is a non-traditional legal career for me?
It has been expressed, on a number of occasions, just how broad the legal field is. Although it may feel as if a Law degree is guiding its students to be either a solicitor or barrister, it truly is not. In any field, there are a range of transferable skills that can be evidenced and cited to potential employers which represent the key traits they will be looking for in successful candidates. Since a student of any discipline can identify these transferable skills, undeniably there is promise that anyone with the passion and enthusiasm for both Law and Business may succeed at the high-profile non-traditional legal careers that there are on offer. For example, a Law student may be able to cite organisation, prioritisation, creativity, a strong command of written language and verbal presentation skills, as developed throughout their degree.
The most important trait that I believe someone aiming to pursue a non-traditional legal career should have is an interest in the relationship between the Law and Business. During my insight day at Aviva Plc, I was able to see just how intertwined the values of the company were with the daily tasks of the Company Secretaries. In my encounter with Legal Interns at NBCUniversal at an insight day, I was also able to see the importance of understanding and being interested in the business that you are working for. There was a clear curiosity in the world of media law evident in the NBCUniversal Legal Interns I spoke to in detail.
However, I would suggest that before you wholeheartedly set your sights on a non-traditional legal career, you must seek some work experience in the area. Not only does it make you look favourably in the eyes of the employers reading your CV, it also gives you the opportunity to see the daily tasks and roles of in-house lawyers and Company Secretaries and HR departments, helping you to gain an insight into what your own future career may look like and whether you are sure that it is for you. I would suggest attending insight days that are run by DMJ Recruitment – I attended the Aviva Plc event through their website and it was a valuable experience which helped me to map out my future career more easily. Without a doubt, I set off on the pursuit of a non-traditional legal career path because of my previous work experience and insight days and I would urge you to do the same!
By Safiyya Khan