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Solicitor

Solicitors give legal advice to individuals, businesses, voluntary bodies, charities and government departments.

A solicitor's main responsibilities include:

  • interpreting and explaining the law to clients, and giving advice and support
  • representing clients in court
  • writing letters, preparing and drafting contracts and documents, and keeping written and financial records
  • researching past statements, reports, legal documents and past legal cases
  • meeting with barristers and opposing solicitors.

They may work in the following areas:

  • corporate law - advising and acting on behalf of companies and organisations
  • employment law
  • residential and commercial conveyancing - acting for people who are buying, selling or leasing businesses, property and land
  • litigation - acting for people who are in dispute with another person or organisation
  • family law - advising on the laws to relationships
  • wills and probate
  • central and local government
  • Crown Prosecution Service - examining evidence produced by the police and deciding whether a case should be taken to court.

Long or variable hours and tight deadlines are common. Most solicitors work in comfortable offices with good computer systems and a legal library. Travel during the working day is occasional, although some solicitors spend a large amount of time in court.

Salaries range from at least £16,940 for a trainee to more than £150,000 a year for a partner in a large firm or the head of an in-house legal department.

A solicitor should be:

  • confident and versatile
  • able to research, absorb and analyse large amounts of information
  • good at explaining legal matters clearly, both in speech and writing
  • able to organise his or her own workload and work to deadlines
  • tactful, sympathetic and discreet
  • interested in legal matters and working with people.

There are around 117,000 solicitors practising in England and Wales. Around 75 per cent work in private practice. Other employers include central and local government, the legal departments of commercial and industrial organisations, charities and voluntary organisations, law centres and the armed forces.

Solicitors must hold a qualifying law degree, or a degree in any subject plus a Graduate Diploma in law (GDL) or Common Professional Examination (CPE), or a Senior Status law degree or be a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives.

Training as a solicitor involves taking the Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by a training contract with a practising solicitor.

A solicitor can go on to become a partner in a firm of solicitors, but may need to move between employers to progress. A very experienced solicitor could become head of a legal department, a company secretary or chief executive, a local government chief officer or parliamentary counsel. A solicitor could also start his or her own legal firm or become a judge in certain courts.

There are opportunities for solicitors to work abroad.

What is the work like?

Solicitors give legal advice to individuals, businesses, voluntary bodies, charities and government departments. They may also act on behalf of their clients in legal matters.

A solicitor's main responsibilities include:

  • interpreting and explaining the law to clients, and giving advice and support
  • representing clients in court
  • writing letters, preparing and drafting contracts and documents, and keeping written and financial records
  • researching and analysing statements, reports, legal documents and past legal cases
  • meeting with barristers and opposing solicitors.
  • Once fully qualified, solicitors may work in the following main areas:
  • corporate law - advising and acting on behalf of companies and organisations in matters such as setting up new businesses, mergers and acquisitions
  • employment law - advising on employment contracts, discrimination in the workplace and health and safety law
  • residential and commercial conveyancing - acting for people who are buying, selling or leasing businesses, property and land
  • litigation - acting for people who are in dispute with another person or organisation. Solicitors may be able to settle the matter out of court by negotiation, or alternatively, they may have to represent their client in court.
  • family law - advising on the law concerning relationships with partners, cohabitants and married couples and dealing with issues relating to marriage, civil partnership, co-habiting and divorce
  • wills and probate - helping people to make a will or carry out the wishes of a deceased person according to their will. They also deal with the affairs of people who die without a will.
  • central and local government - acting for civil service and local government departments, employees, ministers and councillors
  • Crown Prosecution Service - examining evidence produced by the police and deciding whether a case should be taken to court. Solicitors may also handle prosecutions in court.

Hours and environment

Solicitors work a standard full-time week, but longer hours are common. The work can involve tight deadlines. Solicitors in private practice often work 45 to 50 hours a week. Attending social events with commercial clients and working on legal paperwork at home are normal activities, and many solicitors work in the evening or at weekends. Solicitors who practise criminal law may be called to police stations at any time of the day or night. However, working part time is possible.

Most solicitors work in comfortable offices with good computer systems and a legal library. Travel during the working day is occasional, although some solicitors spend a large amount of time in court.

Smart dress is generally expected, particularly when meeting clients.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary depending on the employer and location.

  • Salaries for trainee solicitors vary considerably. The Solicitors Regulation Authority currently recommends a minimum starting salary of £16,940 a year outside London, but many firms offer more. Large, prestigious firms may offer up to £38,000.
  • Qualified solicitors can earn between around £25,000 and £60,000 a year.
  • A partner in a large firm or the head of an in-house legal department may earn well over £150,000 a year.

Large legal firms may also offer significant benefits, such as health insurance, contributory pension and gym membership.

Skills and personal qualities

Solicitors should be:

  • confident and versatile
  • able to research, absorb and analyse large amounts of information
  • good at solving problems and making decisions
  • able to organise their own workload with little supervision
  • careful and accurate
  • good at explaining legal matters clearly, both verbally and in writing
  • able to argue a case successfully
  • capable of working under pressure to tight deadlines
  • good with figures
  • tactful and sympathetic, particularly when clients are faced with distressing situations
  • discreet, as information is usually confidential
  • alert to opportunities to find new clients.

Interests

It is important to be interested in:

  • legal matters
  • dealing with a wide variety of people.

Getting in

Solicitors are employed throughout the UK by firms varying in size from one or two partners to large organisations with hundred of employees in offices around the world. There are now about 117,000 solicitors practising in England and Wales. Although there are plenty of vacancies, entry to the profession is very competitive as it is a popular career choice.

Around 75 per cent of solicitors work in private practice. These include general practices and firms that specialise in areas such as insurance, the registration of patents and copyrights, shipping, banking, the media and entertainment.

Other employers include:

  • central and local government (including the Government Legal Service)
  • legal departments of commercial and industrial organisations
  • charities and voluntary organisations
  • Law Centres
  • Her Majesty's Courts Service
  • the Crown Prosecution Service
  • the armed forces.

Vacancies are advertised in national newspapers, The Law Society Gazette and The Lawyer and on sites such as www.lawcareers.net and www.lawgazettejobs.co.uk. Not all firms advertise vacancies, so application direct to a firm, with a CV and covering letter, may be a worthwhile strategy.

Entry routes

To be eligible to apply for trainee solicitor posts, candidates need to hold one of the following qualifications:

  • a qualifying law degree as listed at www.sra.org.uk
  • a degree in any subject, followed by a one-year, full-time (or two-year, part-time) course leading to the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), or the Common Professional Examination (CPE)
  • a Senior Status law degree (two years full time or three years part time). Some courses are offered via distance learning
  • Fellowship of the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX).

Candidates for degree courses in law normally require a minimum of two, but for these courses, more likely at least three A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C). Other qualifications may be accepted, such as a BTEC National Diploma, the International Baccalaureate or an Access to HE course. Entry qualifications vary considerably, and it is important to check requirements with each institution.

Law students are advised to apply for vacation placements in law firms and to gain as much experience as possible by taking part in interviewing competitions, debating, mooting (dummy trials) or pro bono (voluntary) work.

Studying to become a solicitor is an expensive process and there are no automatic bursaries. Scholarships and sources of financial support are listed at www.juniorlawyers.lawsociety.org.uk

Training

Training as a solicitor involves taking the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which lasts one year full time or two years part time, followed by a two-year training contract with a firm of solicitors or an in-house legal department. Part-time training contracts are available. Interim experience as a paralegal may be helpful.

Some firms offering contracts sponsor trainees to take the LPC course. Typically, the training contract includes a series of placements (seats) in different departments of a firm to experience the variety of work, and a short professional skills course.

Once qualified, solicitors must have at least 16 hours' continuing professional development (CPD) a year.

Getting on

A solicitor can go on to become a partner in a firm of solicitors, but may need to move between employers to progress. Specialising in one area of law is another option, though this can limit future prospects.

A very experienced solicitor could become head of a legal department, a company secretary or chief executive, a local government chief officer or parliamentary counsel. A solicitor could also start his or her own legal firm or become a judge in certain courts.

There are opportunities for solicitors to work abroad.

Further information

Government Legal Service, Recruitment Team, 11th Floor, Lower Castle Street,
Castlemead, Bristol BS1 3AG. 0845 300 0793. Website: www.gls.gov.uk

Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX), Kempston Manor, Kempston, Bedford MK42 7AB. 01234 841000. Website: www.ilex.org.uk

The Law Centres Federation. 020 7842 0720. Website: www.lawcentres.org.uk

The Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PL. 020 7242 1222. Websites: www.lawsociety.org.uk and www.juniorlawyers.lawsociety.org.uk

Solicitors Regulation Authority, Ipsley Court, Berrington Close, Redditch B98 0TD. 0870 606 2555 or 01527 510213. Website: www.sra.org.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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