As a solicitor, you'll provide expert legal support and advice on a range of personal and commercial issues

Solicitors 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 your area of expertise, you 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 rights - making sure individuals are treated fairly by public or private bodies and receive compensation if unfairly treated.

Once qualified, you can work in private practice, in-house for commercial or industrial organisations, in local or central government or in the court service.

The actual work carried out varies depending on the setting, your specialist area and the nature of the case.

You may use some of your time to give free help to clients who are unable to pay for legal services themselves. This is known as pro bono work.

Types of law

Solicitors can specialise in numerous practice areas and these can often determine the firms you apply to.

Area of specialisation include:

  • civil litigation
  • criminal justice
  • employment
  • family and children
  • human rights
  • immigration
  • private client
  • property
  • social welfare and housing
  • tax.

For a comprehensive breakdown of what the different types of law involve, see areas of law.

Responsibilities

Work can be split into contentious legal work, which involves resolving disputes, and non-contentious legal work, which covers legal aspects of a client's business or personal issues.

Whichever type of work you undertake, you'll need to:

  • meet and interview clients to establish the firm's suitability to provide the necessary advice and services, based on the firm's specialism and likely cost
  • take a client's instructions
  • advise a client on the law and legal issues relating to their case
  • draft documents, letters and contracts tailored to the client's individual needs
  • negotiate with clients and other professionals to secure agreed objectives
  • research and analyse documents and case law to ensure the accuracy of advice and procedure
  • supervise the implementation of agreements
  • coordinate the work of all parties involved
  • correspond with clients and opposing solicitors
  • attend meetings and negotiations with opposing parties
  • act on behalf of clients in disputes and represent them in court, or at tribunals, if necessary
  • instruct barristers or specialist advocates to appear in court for the client in complex disputes
  • prepare papers for court
  • work in a team, sometimes referring cases to the head of department
  • supervise and delegate work to trainee solicitors, paralegals and legal secretaries as appropriate
  • arrange and attend further client meetings where necessary to progress with the case and finalise documentation
  • check all documentation prior to signing and implementing
  • calculate claims for damages, compensation, maintenance, etc
  • carry out administrative duties, e.g. completing time sheets so that charges for work can be calculated and billing clients for work done on their behalf
  • take referrals from other firms of solicitors when a conflict of interest arises or if they have no specialist practitioner available
  • keep up to date with changes and developments in the law by reading journals and law reports.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for newly qualified solicitors in a regional firm or smaller commercial practice are around £27,000 to £60,000.
  • Starting salaries in large City firms can range from around £60,000 to £90,000. You can expect salaries to rise year-on-year as you gain more experience. If you become the partner of a firm your salary could potentially reach in excess of £100,000.
  • Members of the Magic Circle, London's five most prestigious law firms, offer salaries for newly qualified solicitors of around £100,000. Salaries for USA-based firms are in excess of this amount.

Your salary will vary depending on a range of factors such as your geographical location, practice area, the size of organisation you work for, and your level of skills and experience.

You're likely to earn more working in commerce and industry than in personal areas of law such as family or personal injury.

Although you'll earn less outside of London and in smaller firms, you may progress up the career ladder quicker and be given more responsibility earlier on in your career.

Additional benefits can include a bonus, private health and dental insurance, subsidised gym and childcare.

Find out more about how much lawyers earn.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Long working hours are common. During busy periods you'll be expected to work 12-hour days and weekend work may be occasionally required. Solicitors in the largest City firms tend to work unsocial, long hours on a regular basis.

Part-time work and career breaks are sometimes possible, but you'll need to keep up to date with changes to the law.

What to expect

  • Your work is generally office based but you may have to 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.
  • You should be smartly dressed when interviewing clients or attending court.
  • The work can be challenging, although it can also be very rewarding.
  • Work with international firms may be possible.

Qualifications

From autumn 2021 the way solicitors qualify in England and Wales will change. All potential solicitors will need to complete a new common assessment, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), in order to qualify.

From autumn 2021, you'll need to:

  • complete a degree-level qualification or equivalent
  • complete both stages of assessment, the SQE1 and SQE2
  • complete two years full time (or equivalent part time) of qualifying work experience
  • meet the SRA's character and suitability requirements.

Degree-level qualifications include:

  • an undergraduate degree
  • a Level 6 apprenticeship
  • a Level 6 CILEx qualification
  • equivalent experience.

Although your degree doesn't need to be in law, you will need some law knowledge and education to pass the SQE assessments.

Stage 1 of the SQE focuses on legal knowledge, whereas Stage 2 focuses on practical legal skills. You can complete most elements of the SQE in any order, but must complete the SQE1 before you sit the SQE2.

Some universities are likely to incorporate preparation for the SQE1 assessments into their undergraduate or Masters law programmes. Other legal education providers will also offer preparation courses, aimed at both law and non-law graduates, for the assessments.

For the most up-to-date information on the SQE, see the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Under the current system, to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales you must either:

  • Study a Qualifying Law Degree (LLB), before moving on to the Legal Practice Course (LPC), after which you'll complete a two-year period of recognised training, also known as a training contract.
  • Take any degree subject before following up with the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), then complete the LPC, followed by a training contract.

Transitional arrangements are in place for 11 years, so if you started a law degree, GDL or LPC before 2021, you will be able to continue qualification by the traditional route until 2032. However, if you want to switch to the new SQE route you'll be able to do so.

If you're based in Northern Ireland and Scotland, different training routes apply. For more details see:

Find out more about being a solicitor in Scotland.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent communication skills, both written and oral
  • dedication and commitment to a career in law
  • commercial awareness and negotiating skills
  • skills in research and analysis
  • problem-solving skills
  • accuracy and attention to detail
  • numeracy and IT skills
  • stamina and resilience
  • time management skills with the ability to plan work and prioritise tasks
  • interpersonal skills, to work as part of a team or with other people and organisations
  • the potential to lead and delegate responsibility
  • flexibility and openness to new ideas
  • resilience and self-confidence
  • a professional approach to work, integrity and a respect for confidentiality.

Find out more about the 7 skills for a successful law career.

Work experience

Under the new qualification route to become a solicitor, coming into effect in autumn 2021, you will need to complete two years full time (or equivalent part time) of qualifying work experience (QWE).

You can get this experience in one block or in stages, with up to a maximum of four organisations. There is no minimum length of time for placements.

QWE can be voluntary or paid and can include:

For example, you could complete a two-year training contract at one law firm or, alternatively, carry out six months of pro bono work at your university law clinic and then work as a paralegal for 18 months.

You can gain QWE either during or after you sit the SQE assessments. It must be completed, however, by the time you apply for admission to the roll of solicitors.

If you've already started a GDL, LPC or traditional training contract prior to the new SQE coming into effect, you'll have until 2032 to complete your training via the traditional route. However, if you want to switch to the new SQE route you'll be able to do so.

For more information, see the SRA.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.

Employers

There are currently more than 152,000 practising solicitors in England and Wales (SRA). Practices can range from sole practitioners to multinational firms with offices all over the world. Take a look at some of the top UK law firms.

Other employers of solicitors include:

  • commercial and industrial organisations - employ in-house solicitors to develop and implement corporate strategy, including mergers and takeovers, industrial relations and employment issues
  • local government - employs solicitors to advise on services provided by local authorities to the community
  • Government Legal Profession (GLP) - employs solicitors to advise government ministers and implement government decisions
  • Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) - employs solicitors and provides the opportunity for solicitors to practise advocacy.

It's 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.

Look for job vacancies at:

Individual law firms may also advertise vacancies on their website.

Professional development

Once qualified it's vital that you undergo further training and development activities throughout your career. Continuing professional development (CPD) activities include attending training seminars, conferences and networking events run by organisations such as The Law Society.

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.

Junior solicitors with up to five years' experience are represented by the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), part of The Law Society. The JLD gives members the opportunity to network with other junior lawyers, discuss issues of concern and make their views heard.

It's also possible to undertake further study and research at postgraduate level, such as a diploma, MBA or Masters.

Career prospects

As a newly qualified solicitor, 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'll take on increasing levels of responsibility, building your technical legal skills. You'll also develop client-handling and business development skills. As you gain seniority, you'll typically start to supervise junior colleagues.

Promotion in private practice depends on your 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 your experience, level of earnings and a willingness to make a financial investment in the firm. There's 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 become a solicitor advocate so that you can represent your clients in court without the need to instruct a barrister. Details are available from the SRA.

Depending on the size of the firm, you may find it 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.

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