Solicitors provide expert legal support and advice to clients. They take instructions from clients and advise on necessary courses of legal action. Clients can be individuals, groups, public sector organisations or private companies.
Depending on their area of expertise, solicitors can advise on a range of issues, including:
- personal issues: buying and selling residential property, landlord and tenant agreements, wills and probate, divorce and family matters, personal injury claims and criminal litigation;
- commercial work: helping new enterprises get established, advising on complex corporate transactions (including mergers and acquisitions) and business-related disputes;
- protecting the rights of individuals: making sure they receive compensation if unfairly treated by public or private bodies.
Solicitors may use some of their time to give free help to clients who are unable to pay for legal services themselves.
Types of solicitor
Solicitors can specialise in numerous practice areas. For a comprehensive breakdown of some of the most common, see areas of law.
Once qualified, solicitors can work in private practice, in-house for a commercial or industrial organisations, in local or central government or in the court service.
The actual work carried out varies depending on the setting, the solicitor's specialist area and the nature of the case. In general however, tasks can include:
- meeting and interviewing clients to establish the firm's suitability to provide the necessary advice and services, based on the firm's specialism and likely cost;
- taking a client's instructions;
- advising a client on the law and legal issues relating to their case;
- drafting documents, letters and contracts tailored to the client's individual needs;
- negotiating with clients and other professionals to secure agreed objectives;
- researching and analysing documents and case law to ensure the accuracy of advice and procedure;
- supervising the implementation of agreements;
- coordinating the work of all parties involved;
- corresponding with clients and opposing solicitors;
- attending meetings and negotiations with opposing parties;
- acting on behalf of clients in disputes and representing them in court, if necessary;
- instructing barristers or specialist advocates to appear in court for the client in complex disputes;
- preparing papers for court;
- working in a team, sometimes referring cases to the head of department;
- supervising and delegating work to trainee solicitors, paralegals and legal secretaries as appropriate;
- arranging and attending further client meetings where necessary to progress with the case and finalise documentation;
- checking all documentation prior to signing and implementing;
- calculating claims for damages, compensation, maintenance, etc;
- administrative duties, e.g. completing time sheets so that charges for work can be calculated and billing clients for work done on their behalf;
- taking referrals from other firms of solicitors when a conflict of interest arises or if they have no specialist practitioner available;
- keeping up to date with changes and developments in the law by reading journals and law reports.
- The minimum salary for trainee solicitors that was set by the Solicitors Regulations Authority (SRA) was removed as of 1 August 2014. The requirement on employers is now that they must pay trainees at least the national minimum wage. Many will set salaries higher than this but it depends on the employer and location.
- Salaries for qualified solicitors range from £25,000 to £75,000. Experience, type of cases and specialist area, location and employer can all affect levels of pay.
- Partners in large firms or heads of in-house legal departments can earn in excess of £100,000. Equity partners will also receive a share of the firm's profits.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Long working hours are common. During busy periods, 12-hour days may be expected and weekend work may be occasionally required. Solicitors in the largest City firms tend to work unsocial and longer hours on a more regular basis.
Part-time work and career breaks are sometimes possible.
What to expect
- Work is generally office based but may include travel to meet clients or to attend court. Overnight absence from home may occasionally be necessary.
- Opportunities are available throughout the country, although larger firms tend to establish their practices close to commercial areas and town centres. Most commercial firms are based in Central London, or in large cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff.
- Smart dress is expected when interviewing clients or attending court.
- The work can be hard and stressful, although firms may offer support to combat high stress levels.
- Work in overseas offices may be possible, advising local clients on English, EU or foreign law.
This area of work is open to graduates from all disciplines. The route you take to become a solicitor will depend on the subject of your degree.
If you live in England or Wales and have a qualifying law degree, you are able to move on to the Legal Practice Course (LPC).
This is a period of vocational training that helps you to develop the necessary skills to work as a solicitor. The LPC is usually taken full time over one year but part-time courses are available.
After successfully completing the LPC you move to the final stage, which is a period of recognised training. This involves you working as a trainee solicitor and allows you to apply the skills and knowledge you have gained in a real work setting.
The Professional Skills Course (PSC) is taken as part of the training period and must be completed in order to qualify as a solicitor.
If you have a degree in a subject other than law, you must complete a one-year, full-time conversion course; either the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or the Common Professional Examination (CPE).
These courses cover the foundations of legal knowledge required for moving on to the next stage. Part-time courses are available. You then follow the same route as law graduates, completing the LPC and a period of recognised training.
Details of providers of law degrees, the LPC, GDL and CPE, are available at Solicitors Regulation Authority: Students.
It is possible to become a solicitor without a degree, but you will need to follow the chartered legal executive route, which is a long process. Full details are available from the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).
Different training routes apply in Northern Ireland and Scotland. For more details see:
Larger firms tend to fill training vacancies up to two years in advance so it is a good idea to start making applications towards the end of the second year of your law degree, or before you start the GDL/CPE if you haven't got a degree in law.
Write speculatively to small firms you are interested in as they may not all advertise vacancies.
Search postgraduate courses in law.
You will need to have:
- excellent communication skills, both written and oral;
- dedication and commitment;
- commercial awareness and negotiating skills;
- analytical and problem-solving skills;
- accuracy and attention to detail;
- numeracy and IT skills;
- stamina and resilience;
- ability to plan work and prioritise tasks;
- interpersonal skills, to work as part of a team or with other people and organisations;
- potential to lead and delegate responsibility;
- flexibility and openness to new ideas;
- a professional approach to work, integrity and a respect for confidentiality.
Most employers want to see evidence of relevant work experience as it will help you to decide whether becoming a solicitor is definitely right for you. Large firms often run vacation schemes, which as well as giving an insight to the work, provide an excellent opportunity to establish contacts for future roles. Not all vacation schemes are advertised, so you may want to make speculative applications, particularly to smaller firms.
You can also gain useful experience from participating in student law society activities, client interviewing competitions, mooting and pro-bono work and business simulations.
There are more than 80,000 solicitors working in private practices in England and Wales.
Practices can range from sole practitioners to multinational firms with offices all over the world.
Other employers of solicitors include:
- commercial and industrial organisations - employ around 11,000 in-house solicitors to develop and implement corporate strategy, including mergers and takeovers, industrial relations and employment issues;
- local government - employs around 4,000 solicitors to advise on services provided by local authorities to the community;
- Government Legal Service (GLS) - employs around 1,000 solicitors to advise government ministers and implement government decisions;
- Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) - employs around 2,300 solicitors and provides the opportunity for solicitors to practise advocacy.
It is possible to work for HM Courts & Tribunals Service, advising magistrates on areas such as criminal law, family law and licensing. The armed forces, charities and law centres also employ solicitors. Search for law training contracts.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Chambers Student Guide
- Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
- Government Legal Service (GLS)
- Law Society Gazette
- The Lawyer
- The Training Contract and Pupillage Handbook
- Websites of individual law firms.
Training periods with small to medium-sized firms are often found as the result of speculative applications, rather than by applying for advertised vacancies.
On completion of the Legal Practice Course (LPC), trainees in England and Wales must move on to the final stage of qualification, which is a period of recognised training. This allows you to work as trainee solicitor for a firm or organisation that is authorised to take trainees.
You will get practical training on at least three areas of English and Welsh law and it will typically last for two years on a full-time basis. This time may be reduced if you can demonstrate that you have previous suitable legal experience, such as paralegal work.
It is possible to complete the training part time over a longer period. You will carry out many of the activities undertaken by solicitors, including seeing clients and handling cases. Work is closely supervised and regularly reviewed during this time.
As part of the training, you will be given study leave by your employer to complete the Professional Skills Course (PSC). This builds on the vocational training of the LPC and covers the three core modules of:
- client care and professional standards;
- advocacy and communication skills;
- financial and business skills.
You are able to take elective modules in specific areas of law and types of practice.
On completion of all stages of training you must apply for admission to the Roll of Solicitors in England and Wales in order to practise as a solicitor.
Once qualified it is vital to undergo further training and development activities throughout your career. A compulsory continuing professional development (CPD) scheme is run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
CPD activities include attending training seminars, conferences and networking events ran by organisations such as The Law Society of England and Wales.
You may undertake mentoring or research in law and writing to further your skills. Large firms may run such courses in-house. Solicitors in private practice or working in-house for commercial companies or other organisations generally have their course fees paid by their employer.
Representing students, trainees and solicitors with up to five years' experience is the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), part of The Law Society. The JLD offers careers information, including information on funding sources.
It is also possible to undertake further study and research at postgraduate level, e.g. diploma, MBA, Masters.
As a newly qualified solicitor, you may continue with the firm you have trained with, (known as being retained), or move to another firm.
You may be known as an assistant to begin with and will typically work on a fixed salary, usually under the supervision of a partner or senior assistant solicitor.
Gradually, you will take on increasing levels of responsibility, building your technical legal skills. You will also develop client-handling and business development skills. As you gain seniority, it is likely you will start to supervise junior colleagues.
Promotion in private practice depends on a continuing strong performance, especially meeting targets for the amounts of work that can be charged to clients. Progress is usually from assistant solicitor to senior solicitor and then associate.
Progression is likely to involve becoming the head of a department within the firm, with responsibility for that department's profit levels and staff.
It may be possible to become a salaried partner and finally an equity partner. This will depend on a combination of experience, level of earnings and a willingness to make a financial investment in the firm. There is no set time for promotion to partnership. The earliest point for consideration is usually around six to eight years after qualification.
Partners are expected to develop the business and be involved in the management of the firm, as well as continuing to update their specialist knowledge.
Career development for in-house and local and central government solicitors generally follows a set structure and may result in a move into general management.
If you go on to practise in litigious areas, you may seek to be accredited with rights of advocacy so that you can represent your clients in court without the need to instruct a barrister. Details are available from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Depending on the size of the firm, it may be necessary to change employer in order to progress. Solicitors who develop a reputation in private practice may move to become in-house lawyers, often as a result of being headhunted.