top of page
  • Tess McCarthy

Career and Industry - Advice from Tess

Starting a Legal Career

Getting into criminal law can feel like an arduous process. While not for the faint-hearted, it is one of the most rewarding and exciting careers to embark on. With the law ever-changing, so too does the infrastructure of the criminal justice system. It is therefore essentially guaranteed that you will never stop learning.


A great place to start is by giving yourself a solid educational grounding. Whether you – like I did – study Law at university, or undertake a Graduate Diploma in Law (the GDL) after a different degree, this stage is key to ensure the basic underlying principles and etiquette of law in the UK become second nature. This will set you up to move in whatever direction you please as you progress.

The Real World

The next stage is to consider what exactly it is about the law that you love. I have personally always known I wanted my career to develop in the criminal legal sphere. I wanted to work with people who didn’t have a choice but to go through Court proceedings, and are therefore forced to become familiar with the system and its procedures. I also wanted to be able to work in multiple different places, from the office to prisons, police stations, and Courtrooms. My decision to begin working in a criminal defence firm as a paralegal after university was therefore a no-brainer, and would be my first step into criminal law in the real-world.

The Vocational Element

There are many different avenues that can be taken following a law degree. Dealing here with the two main routes, your next step to qualification as a lawyer may be the Solicitor’s Qualifying Exams (SQE) or the Barrister Training Course (BTC).

I undertook the BTC while working as a paralegal. In making my decision, I considered that I wanted the option to represent individuals who were facing heavy and difficult hearings in the Crown Court. I had very little confidence or experience public speaking at this stage, and the BTC equipped me with the ability to do so almost overnight. Once you complete this element, you would usually begin the Pupillage application process which comes around once a year with occasional exceptions.

My personal experience has diverted from the Bar for the time being, having become familiar with procedures at a Solicitor’s firm in the office, police stations, Magistrates’ Courts and Crown Courts. I have now decided to cross-qualify as a solicitor in order to gain my rights of audience in the Magistrates’ Courts, with a view to one day obtaining Higher Rights.

The SQE is a relatively new phenomenon and involves taking two sets of examinations based on knowledge, drafting, advocacy, and ethics. A further qualification requirement is that you have two years’ ‘qualifying work experience’, i.e. work in a solicitor-adjacent role such as a paralegal.

Some Advice from Experience

After the vocational stage is the time that separates those not cutout for a career in law from those that are. Having obtained your qualification, you then begin the process of actually finding a position in a firm or chambers. This is the stage that will teach you the most resilience, and perseverance is key.

Ultimately, what the best route is for you cannot be answered until you get there. It’s important to remember your options are boundless, and that people take all manners of routes to get to the stage they want. It is therefore crucial to your success (and sanity) to enjoy the journey, and remember that amidst the challenges comes an extremely fulfilling career.

Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.


Let us take it from here

bottom of page