I have been awarded a third class degree in law and I am having a crisis. Help!
in Careers Advice, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

I have been awarded a third class degree in law and I am having a crisis. Help!

This was an email recently sent by a law graduate to our careers pages and this is our reply:

You are going to find it very difficult to progress a legal career with a third class degree. This is why you are having a crisis, because you knew it before you obtained your third class degree.

You mentioned in your email to us that there were reasons behind getting a third, which involved deaths in the family, but unfortunately the harsh reality is that you have obtained a level of degree that precludes you from applying for a large number of roles within the legal profession.

Does this mean that your career is over before it starts? No, not at all. Your career just needs to take a different direction and you need to be proactive and forward thinking in how you progress.

Firstly you need to accept that most conventional structured training contracts are now beyond you. There is so much competition to get one, and there has been for many decades, that anyone with a third class degree is virtually ruled out from the start.

The same applies to most paralegal work. Firms have enough choice from paralegals with good A levels, solid degrees and a bit of work experience to be able to specify minimum criteria that will almost certainly rule you out.

Legal Assistant and Legal Secretary Roles

However, it is very often the case that legal secretary roles and legal assistant roles do not have a minimum requirement of a 2:1 degree, and are much more flexible in terms of the qualifications that you are able to have. Legal secretary experience in some firms can be more rewarding and interesting than the work that the paralegal is doing in the same firm. They also are stepping stones to careers that wouldn’t otherwise happen.

Legal Executive Route

Traditionally, legal executives training via Cilex were mostly secretaries or non-graduates looking to come into the legal profession without having the usual qualifications. Things have changed over time and legal executives now have, in some circumstances, the same rights of audience, the same ability to set up and run a law firm and the ability to become a partner in a law firm, which means that they are comparable with solicitors despite not having the same rigid criteria for qualifying. It is an alternative option for anyone with a third class degree to think about going down the legal executive route. Usually the best way of doing this is to start your career out getting legal assistant or legal secretary experience and then looking around to see what you can do next. As I said at the outset of this article, your life is not over but it is going to take a different trajectory to the one that you probably thought it would.

Experience is the Key

The other option is to get into law by gaining experience in any way you can. So many legal careers have started through a connection with something or someone linked to the legal world, regardless of what their qualifications have been, and they’ve just happened to be in the right place at the right time to secure a job. This happens again and again, and although it’s unlikely to assist in some of the larger firms with rigid entry criteria, it’s certainly no barrier to progressing a career in smaller law firms where things are not quite so specific.

Other Options

You can also consider other options for getting along in law, which could include becoming a costs lawyer, a licensed conveyancer, a patent attorney and also local authority legal roles which tend to be a little bit more flexible in terms of the entry criteria, particularly for roles entitled legal officer or something similar (local authorities are notorious for making up their own job titles and they vary from month to month and year to year).

So in a nutshell your life is not over, your legal career is just starting, but you need to be proactive and flexible and think through alternatives in order to get to the end day when you can practice as a lawyer in some capacity.

Can You Help?

If you have a 3rd class degree and are now enjoying a rewarding legal career please get in touch with your story and we can add it to this article when we post it live on our website. The last time we ran a similar article some years ago it was of immense help to a large number of graduates with the same issue.

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 www.ten-percent.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk