An overview of the role
The role of a solicitor involves supporting others legally. A solicitor will use their expertise in law to advise on the most suitable course of legal action and, if necessary, act on their client’s behalf during it.
A client may be anyone from an individual to a multinational corporation. Depending on their area of expertise solicitors may advise clients on matters such as:
- Divorce and visitation rights
- Criminal litigation
- The purchase and sale of property
- Landlord-tenant disputes
- Wills and matters of probate
- Corporate matters such as acquisitions
- Compensation issues such as personal injury claims
Types of solicitors
Trainee solicitors will learn about eight ‘core areas’ of law, within which there is some degree of overlap. A solicitor will need a solid grounding in most if not all of the following. These are:
- Constitutional/Administrative Law makes sure that government bodies are acting in the public interest
- Tort Law enables wronged individuals to claim against the loss they have suffered as a result of another’s actions
- Public Law deals with the relationships between individuals and the government and as such may encompass criminal and constitutional/administrative law
- Land Law involves disputes over land and commodities attached to land, such as buildings, trees or even oil, as well as associated boundary or right of way issues
- EU Law covers all laws specific to the European Union, which override national laws
- Equity and Trusts Law covers all situations in which one person or body has been given responsibility for the affairs of another
- Criminal Law deals with all crimes, from misdemeanours to terrorism, sometimes on an international scale
- Contract Law comes into place where a contract has been made and broken or made unfairly and is designed to ensure that interests of both parties are protected
Within these eight core areas of law, there are a multitude of different ‘elective areas’ of legal practice in which solicitors can specialise, such as family or intellectual property (IP) law. Most elective areas of law span multiple core areas; for example, a white collar crime solicitor may deal with public and criminal law.
Lawsociety.org.uk provides a source of information on all recent news pertaining to each area of legal practice.
What are the responsibilities of a solicitor?
Responsibilities of a solicitor include:
- Providing clients with legal advice
- Conducting in-depth research into legal precedents
- Negotiating with and on behalf of clients and fellow members of the industry, including opposing solicitors
- Ensuring that all documentation and paperwork pertaining to the case is accurate and complete
- Maintaining detailed and up-to-date knowledge in all areas of law related to your field
The responsibilities of a solicitor vary and largely depend upon their chosen field of study. A solicitor working in criminal or family law, for instance, may spend more time in court than solicitors in other areas.
What are the key skills required by a solicitor?
Key skills for a solicitor include:
- Superb communication skills
- Excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to deal well with people from all backgrounds
- High academic ability and research skills
- Excellent time management skills
The other skills a solicitor needs depend heavily upon the branch of law in which they choose to specialise.
An environmental solicitor must possess a high degree of scientific and ecological knowledge, whereas a family law solicitor requires compassion and the ability to deal with sensitive situations. Many solicitors also require a good head for figures – an invaluable skill for those working in banking, commercial or any other financially-related branch of law.
What qualifications does a solicitor require?
In order to qualify as a solicitor, candidates need to complete:
- An undergraduate law degree (or another degree and a year-long conversion course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL))
- The Legal Practice Course (LPC) – a year-long period of vocational training
- A period of recognised (on-the-job) training, including completion of the Professional Skills course (PSC)
Acceptance onto all three stages is difficult and competitive and only the best candidates with the highest grades and performance can secure entry.
Nevertheless, the process of qualifying for the role of solicitor is due to undergo significant changes. In 2020 the GDL and LPC will be replaced by the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).
The SQE is designed to ensure high standards regardless of how candidates enter the progression, as all aspiring solicitors will take the same tests. It will also reduce the high financial pressures that current law students face by removing the upfront costs of joining the LPC in order to qualify.
Do I need relevant work experience to become a solicitor?
Due to the competitive nature of the role, relevant work experience is absolutely essential to secure a position in this sector. Unfortunately, gaining work experience placements is competitive in and of itself.
There are several types of experience that will benefit an aspiring solicitor:
- Vacation schemes. These are work experience placements, usually a week or fortnight long, within a law firm. Some firms only accept current law students, others use vacation schemes to find training contract recruits
- Mini-pupillages. These are short work shadowing placements, usually spanning a couple of days to a full working week. Although many mini-pupillages target trainee barristers, having a diverse range of legal experience will stand aspiring solicitors in good stead
- Marshalling. This involves shadowing a judge for a couple of days to a full working week
A useful guide on how to secure legal work experience can be found at Allaboutlaw.co.uk.
What are the prospects and salary of a solicitor?
A lawyer’s salary is highly dependant on their level of experience, and (perhaps most importantly) their employer.
Trainee Solicitor: A minimum of £12,000, though companies are often more generous
Junior Solicitor: £25,000 – £40,000
Solicitor: £35,000 – £65,000
Senior Solicitor: £60,000 upwards
There is certainly potential to earn a high salary as a solicitor and salaries for law firm partners can be as much as £100,000 or more.
Promotion is meritocratic (performance-based rather than time-based), so if you are skilled and a hard worker, you can increase your salary with relative speed.
Is the role of a solicitor right for me?
There are both pros and cons involved in the role of a solicitor.
Pros of being a solicitor include:
- Excellent potential for progression
- The potential to earn a high salary early in your career
- A challenging and stimulating role involving a myriad of different skills in different contexts – from social interaction to solitary study
- Plenty of potential for professional development – most employers actively facilitate this, paying CPD fees or even running training courses in-house for their employees’ benefit
- High career flexibility – once you have sufficient experience you will have the opportunity to work freelance as well as in-house, or even combine the two
Cons of being a solicitor include:
- Competition, both to enter the sector and once established, is very fierce
- A highly pressurised role with promotion conditional on meeting targets
- A long and difficult period of study, spanning several years, prior to qualifying
- Training and qualifying is expensive, although the implementation of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination in 2020 is intended to reduce qualification costs
- Long working hours (sometimes as much as 12 hr days) are very common in this sector and weekend work may also be required if your client is in court at that time. Criminal solicitors can expect to be called to the police station 24 hrs a day
- Most law firms (especially commercial firms) are in urban or exurban areas, which restricts where you can live