Careers in Law and Law Enforcement

See also: Personal Development

There are many possible careers in the law and law enforcement sector. They range from working as a police officer, or one of the many civilian staff who support police forces around the world, through working in court systems to providing legal advice to clients. There is therefore a broad range of skills required, and that can be developed in particular jobs.

This sector also has very broad entry requirements. Many jobs in the sector do not require a specific degree, and others do not require a degree at all. This page discusses the jobs available in this sector, and the broad skills required in each area.

Understanding the Sector

For the purposes of this page, the law and law enforcement sector includes:

  • Lawyers and their support staff, including solicitors, barristers and paralegals.
  • Police forces, including both police officers and civilian staff.

Careers in the Law

There are two main careers in the law: barristers and solicitors. Both require a sound knowledge of law, and a qualification as a lawyer. A degree is not necessarily essential, but the knowledge of the law can only really be developed by studying law in considerable detail, either through a degree or what is often called a ‘law conversion course’, designed for those who do not have a degree in law.

The main differences between barristers and solicitors are their role with clients and courts.

  • Barristers represent their clients in court.

    They are responsible for presenting their clients’ cases to the court (usually a judge and, in criminal cases, jury). They are instructed by a solicitor. They tend to specialise in particular areas of the law, such as employment law, commercial law, family law or criminal law. They may also provide advice to solicitors and their clients about the courts’ likely reaction to particular points of law.

    In the UK, barristers are often self-employed. They work in chambers, which are loose affiliations or groups of lawyers who have chosen to work in a shared office. However, they are not generally employed by the chambers itself. Some barristers may work in salaried positions, for example, advising governments, businesses, or charities.

  • Solicitors provide legal advice and services to their clients.

    Like barristers, they may choose to specialise in particular areas of the law, but some, especially in relatively small firms, are generalists. They will advise their clients on most aspects of the law, calling in specialists when necessary to provide more detailed advice. Solicitors will also instruct barristers on behalf of their clients when this is required.

  • Many firms also employ paralegals.

    These are people without a formal qualification in law, but who provide support for the lawyers in the firm, for example, by carrying out research, or reading cases. Experienced paralegals may be able to advise clients.

The skills needed for a career in law include:

  • Lawyers and paralegals need a strong understanding of the law, which requires a high level of intellectual ability.

  • They have very good analytical skills, with the ability to dissect information in a very forensic way.

  • They also need to be willing to work hard, and often for long hours. This is especially true while qualifying and in big companies.

  • They also need good time management and personal organisational skills, because they are likely to be dealing with multiple cases at once, all with different deadlines.

  • They need strong attention to detail, and good problem-solving skills, so that they can identify the main problem facing their client and find a solution.

  • Lawyers need to be empathetic, because they are often dealing with clients who are very stressed, or in difficult situations.

  • They need good communication skills, to explain legal points to non-lawyers, and to understand detailed legal texts. They also need good legal writing skills (and our post on Improving Your Legal Writing Skills explains more about what this means).

  • Barristers need to be able to present their cases in court, which means good public speaking skills.

There is more about the general skills required to be a lawyer in our post What Skills are Required to be a Lawyer?.

You may also be interested in the skills needed in specific areas of law, including:

Court-Based Careers

Many people besides barristers work in courts. For example, judges are senior lawyers who make judgements on the law.

The court service also employs people directly to administer the courts and the court system. These people are responsible for timetabling cases for hearings, managing jury selections and making sure that all the evidence for a case has been received and collated.

Court clerks and other court workers therefore require:

Careers in Policing/Law Enforcement

There is a wide range of careers available in policing, and not just uniformed police officers.

Most people have a reasonable idea of the role of police officers and what they do: they are responsible for keeping the peace in a community, stopping people from breaking the law, and catching them when they do so. Police officers may be both uniformed and ‘plain-clothes’ (usually detectives).

However, police forces also employ a huge range of ‘backroom’ staff, including data analysts, forensic scientists and investigators, and photographers. There are therefore openings in the police force for people with a wide range of skills and experience, and from almost any background.

There are also very few precise qualifications required for the more general roles such as police officers. However, some specialist posts may require certain expertise. For example, analyst roles will require good analytical skills; forensic science work will require expertise and probably a qualification in this area; photographers will require photographic skills and expertise.

The elephant in the room: racism and sexism in police forces

It is impossible to talk about careers in policing without addressing the elephant in the room: is it really possible to work in police forces if you come from any background, or are certain groups at a disadvantage?

Let’s start with facts: police forces in most Western countries are dominated by white men.

However, many of them, including in the UK, have publicly tried to expand their intake to recruit more women and people from minority ethnic backgrounds. At recruitment stage, there doesn’t seem to be a massive problem.

Where there may be an issue is in the culture of forces. Various inquiries in the UK have found that police forces have a culture that discourages women and people from minority ethnic backgrounds from pursuing careers in policing in the longer term. The forces concerned have committed to taking action, but it is far from clear whether this has been effective.

The answer is that there is still a long way to go, and you should be mindful that there may be issues. However, if you think policing might be for you, you should not rule it out purely on this basis. The situation is constantly changing—and hopefully for the better.

Aside from the specific skills needed in certain roles, what other skills are required to work in the police?

  • Police officers themselves need to have good emotional intelligence, because they have to work with people who are often under stress.

  • All jobs in policing need people with good team-working skills. Police teams are often tightly-knit, and work closely together in stressful situations.

  • Police work is often stressful, so you need a high tolerance of this and ability to manage it.

There is a small amount of information about careers in policing, along with other public sector careers, in our post on careers to choose if you want to make a meaningful impact.

Careers in the Law: A Final Thought

This sector is perhaps unique in providing a huge range of working styles, patterns, skills and entry requirements.

Almost anyone could therefore potentially find a job in this sector, whether you wish to work in the public or private sector, for a large or small firm, and working regular hours or shifts. Some jobs require professional qualifications that must be acquired before it is possible to practise, but others only require on-the-job training. It is therefore well worth considering.