in Careers Advice, Legal Profession, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

Can A Level grades affect your Legal Career forever?

We have had a query this week from a Year 13 student awaiting A level grades – can poor A Level Results affect any chances of a legal career?

The quick and honest answer, and something perhaps relevant to qualified solicitors with many years PQE even, and an answer you will rarely hear from HR managers, careers advisers or employers, is that yes they definitely do and the effect can last a longer than you would think.

I have been on the end of phone calls many times over the years with partners at law firms reviewing CVs and looking quite specifically at academic consistency for solicitors with say 5 years PQE. Low A Level grades seem to give some employers the impression that a potential employee has a lazy streak, struggled with their academics or simply could not be bothered.

Our advice to A level students who get in touch each year after results day is as follows:

There are plenty of solicitors out there with dreadful or no A Level results. They will be quite merrily working in law firms at senior levels and soliciting away without any regard at all for grades they obtained at school 25 years ago. Similarly there are legal executives, fee earners, paralegals and managers in a whole range of different jobs working away in the legal sector without high A Level grades. Have their grades had any effect on their careers? Only in relation to initial choices. For example it is virtually impossible to get a training contract with a city law firm if you have DDD at A Level. However A levels do not guarantee you a particular level of living in the same way that being a solicitor does not enable this either. If your plan was to become a solicitor, earn a good salary and enjoy a good life, there is probably a fairly large fatal flaw in your plan; most solicitors do not earn a “comfortable” salary.

OK – £35-40k probably seems a large amount of money when you are 18, but if you think £100k and upwards is a good salary then becoming a solicitor is probably not the best career move. City lawyers and barristers earn shed loads of cash but most other solicitors and lawyers do not. A level grades will make a difference to getting a good job in the city or becoming a barrister, but if you work hard at your degree there is no reason your A level grades will hold you back too much to work for other law firms. You must really aim to get a 2.1 degree at the very least though – and this involves 3 or 4 years of hard grafting. Chances are you will have to also work at getting lots of legal work experience under your belt to compete with other candidates. Ask yourself – is this all really for you? Were your A level grades down to some calamity on the day or were they an accurate reflection of your ability to study academically at this time in your life? Law is a very academic subject and requires lots of concentration and careful analysis. Are you up for the challenge, or have your grades done you a favour and nudged you in a different direction? Just remember – you are at the start of your career – the world is your oyster and an A level grade setback is hardly here or there…


Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at