The Job and What's Involved

Solicitors give legal advice to clients and, when necessary, also act on behalf of their clients in legal matters. Clients can include members of the public, businesses, voluntary bodies, charities and government departments.

The main work of a solicitor includes:

  • Interpreting and explaining the law to clients, and giving advice and support.
  • Representing clients in court.
  • Dealing with paperwork, writing letters, preparing and drafting contracts and documents, and keeping written and financial records.
  • Researching similar cases to guide their current work.

Solicitors deal with different types of cases depending on their specialist area and their employer. The main areas of work are:

Corporate - advising and acting on behalf of companies and organisations in matters such as setting up a business, employment law, contracts, insurance and health and safety law.

Residential Conveyancing/Commercial Property - acting for people who are buying, selling or leasing businesses, commercial or domestic 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.

Probate - helping people to make a will or to 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 servants, ministers, council staff, elected members and councillors. Solicitors give advice on how the law affects the government services provided.

Crown Prosecution Service (Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland) - solicitors examine evidence produced by the police and decide whether a case should be prosecuted. They may also be responsible for handling prosecutions in court.

Solicitors work at least 37 hours a week, but longer hours are common. Some may be on call at weekends and bank holidays. Solicitors working in law centres may work evenings in order to see clients. Some solicitors who practise criminal law may be called to assist at police stations at any time of the day or night. Part-time work is possible.

Work is mainly office based, but travelling may be necessary to visit clients. Some solicitors spend a large amount of time in court.

Trainee solicitors should earn a minimum of £14,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Solicitors are employed throughout the UK by firms varying in size from one or two partners to large organisations with thousands of employees. The number of solicitors has grown in recent years. There are over 100,000 practising in England and Wales, and a further 10,233 in Scotland.

Around 75 per cent of solicitors work in private practice. Other employers include:

- Central and local government
- Commercial and industrial organisations
- Charities and voluntary organisations
- Her Majesty's Courts Service (England and Wales)
- The Crown Prosecution Service (England and Wales)
- The Crown Office & the Procurator Fiscal Service (Scotland)
- The Armed Forces

Vacancies for solicitors are advertised in national newspapers, The Law Society Gazette, The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland, The Lawyer and on the internet.

Education and Training

There are two main stages to qualifying as a solicitor - the academic stage and the vocational stage.

In England and Wales there are three ways to qualify at the academic stage:

  • Take a qualifying law degree.
  • Take a degree in another subject, followed by the Common Professional Examination (CPE), a Postgraduate Diploma in Law (one year full time or two years part time) or a senior status law degree (two years full time or three years part time). Some courses are offered via distance learning.
  • Train to become a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX).

Entry to degree courses is with at least two A levels and five GCSE's (A-C). Other qualifications may be accepted for degree entry, either on their own or in combination with A levels.

In Scotland, candidates must take one of the following routes at the academic stage:

  • Study for a degree in Scottish law. Entry requirements are normally five H grades (typically AAAAB), the only preferred subject being English.
  • Gain a degree in any non-law subject, then take a two or three-year graduate law degree.
  • Have five H grades, including English at grade B or above, a non-law degree or an HND in Legal Studies plus H grade English at grade B or above. Candidates must then complete three years' pre-diploma training and pass the exams of the Law Society of Scotland. This route is mainly for people who already work in solicitors' firms.

Entry to the profession is highly competitive, so it can help to have some relevant work experience.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

In England and Wales, the vocational stage of training involves taking the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which lasts one year full time or two years part time, followed by a training contract with a firm of solicitors for two years full time or for a longer period part time.

Legal executives do not always need a full training contract to complete their training as solicitors, but they must complete the LPC and a Professional Skills Course, which is a compulsory part of the training contract.

In Scotland, the vocational stage consists of the Diploma of Legal Practice - a 26-week full-time course - and a two-year training contract with a practising solicitor.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Solicitors should be:

  • Confident, with strong communication skills.
  • Able to absorb and analyse large amounts of information.
  • Careful and accurate in their work.
  • Good at explaining legal matters clearly, both in speech and writing.
  • Able to argue a case successfully.
  • Capable of working under pressure.
  • Good with figures.
  • Tactful and sympathetic.
  • Discreet, as information is often confidential.

Your Long Term Prospects

Progression in private practice may be to partner in a firm of solicitors. It may be necessary to move between employers to progress. Solicitors can also become heads of legal departments, company secretaries or chief executives in companies, local government chief officers or parliamentary counsels.

It may be possible to work abroad, particularly within the European Union and the Commonwealth.

Get Further Information

Government Legal Profession),

Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX),
Kempston Manor, Kempston,
Bedfordshire MK42 7AB
Tel: 01234 841000

Law Careers Advice Network (LCAN)

Law Society,
113 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PL
Tel: 020 7242 1222

Law Society of Northern Ireland,
Law Society House, 40 Linenhall Street,
Belfast BT2 8BA
Tel: 028 9023 1614

Law Society of Scotland,
26 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh EH3 7YR
Tel: 0131 226 7411

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