The variety of opportunities is increasing, especially for solicitors and legal executives. According to the Law Society, there are currently more than 121,000 solicitors working in England and Wales, with the number having steadily increased by about four per cent a year over the last 20 years. The Law Society is keen to emphasise that such careers are open to all, with over 25 per cent of law graduates now being BME (black and minority ethnic) students. There are also diverse other legal roles that you can now enter into straight from a law degree, such as legal advisors and clerks, litigation executives.

However, the sector is also more competitive than ever, with law degrees and conversion courses increasing in popularity. Although many law graduates progress into alternative careers - such as politics, business and the media - there are still many more applicants than there are vacancies for both training and job opportunities in law.

There are also several stages to pass through before qualification for both solicitors and barristers. Currently, "wannabe" solicitors need to gain a place on the Legal Practice Course (LPC), following their law degree or law conversion course, and then secure a two-year training contract, which must be satisfactorily completed before admittance to the Roll.

Those wishing to become barristers must join one of the four Inns of Court and be accepted onto the Bar Vocational Course, after which they must secure and complete pupillage at either the self-employed or employed Bar, before they can be considered qualified. This is a particularly competitive process.

To succeed, you need dedication and commitment at every level, plus a certainty that this is the right career path for you. You need to commit both time and effort: this is a results-driven sector where hard work is expected throughout, and your ability to quickly establish your professional reputation is the key to success. You should demonstrate both intellectual ability and non-academic interests; many employers and training providers look for "well-rounded" individuals who enjoy all aspects of life.

You may also need to commit money. Although funding is available for certain stages of training, it is limited. The Bar Council estimates that the average cost of completing the vocational stage of training is over £20,000, which includes living expenses - many barristers would argue that the salaries achievable at the end more than make up for this outlay.

Investigate possible sources of funding, including opportunities for sponsorship from recruiting firms, Inns and other organisations. The Legal Services Commission, for example, can offer training grants to solicitors firms and agencies, who can then recruit either someone who has just completed an LPC or a current LPC student.

If you're worried about money, you could also consider becoming a legal executive. The training process for this involves on-the-job learning, enabling you to earn a salary while studying for the qualification.

Early research is crucial. You need to focus on your preferred role at an early stage in your career planning, and find out what opportunities are available to you. Related career events, such as the upcoming Manchester Law Fair on 24 November, are incredibly useful, giving you the opportunity to gather a large amount of information in a short space of time, and to make a strong first impression on professionals who may be able to help you in your future career.

Experience is essential, and the sooner the better. The Bar Council advises students to participate in activities such as debating, and working in law-related jobs, from the very first year of an undergraduate degree in law, or in the second year of a non-law degree. This should help you to decide whether or not the career is for you. Many law firms look for evidence of business skills and commercial awareness, so don't rule out other forms of work experience.

While the path to a law career can be both difficult and daunting, the rewards it can lead to at the end are substantial. If you're looking for variety and constant challenges in your work; the chance to have a significant impact on people's lives, plus the potential to earn a rewarding salary, a career in law could be for you. Start investigating now!

Find out more at www.manchester.ac.uk/careers/fairs

Rowena Forbes is Marketing and Communications Executive, Careers and Employability Division, The University of Manchester

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