Law is one of the most popular and competitive fields to enter so it is vital that you gain work experience to demonstrate your commitment

Solicitors provide expert legal support and advice to clients. You'll 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 the rights of individuals: making sure they receive compensation if unfairly treated by public or private bodies.

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 when you graduate.

Core areas of law include European Union (EU), constitutional, contract, criminal, land, public and tort law but these are by no means your only options.

You can also specialise in a range of areas including:

  • banking
  • commercial
  • construction
  • employment
  • equity and trusts
  • family
  • human rights
  • intellectual property
  • shipping
  • sports
  • tax

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

Responsibilities

As a solicitor, 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, 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

Type of cases and specialist area, location and employer can all affect your levels of pay.

  • Starting salaries for qualified solicitors in a regional firm or smaller commercial practice range from £25,000 to £40,000.
  • Starting salaries in larger commercial firms and in the City can range from £58,000 to £65,000. Larger City firms may pay £80,000 or more.
  • 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.

Working hours

Long working hours are common. During busy periods you will be expected to work 12-hour days 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

  • 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 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.

Qualifications

This section outlines the current qualifications required to become a solicitor but this is all set to change in 2020. See the final paragraph in this section for an update on the changes.

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 can 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 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.

You can 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).

If you are based in Northern Ireland and Scotland, different training routes apply. 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.

For full details on how to qualify as a solicitor, see The Law Society of England and Wales.

Search postgraduate courses in law.

However, you should note that the GDL and LPC will be replaced by a super-exam, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), due to be introduced in 2020. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced the change in April 2017, saying that the SQE will ensure all solicitors entering the profession, from any route, will meet consistent, high standards. It will replace the current system of qualifications, help to widen access to the profession and introduce a more flexible approach to work-based experience. The SQE structure will no longer require students to sign up for the LPC, with substantial up-front costs, without a guarantee of a training contract.

Skills

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
  • 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
  • a professional approach to work, integrity and a respect for confidentiality.

FInd out more about the 7 skills for a successflu law career.

Work experience

Most employers want to see evidence of relevant work experience as it will help you to decide whether becoming a solicitor is 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.

For more ideas see law work experience.

Employers

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. Take a look at some of the UKs top law firms and find out how to choose a firm.

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 2,000 solicitors to advise government ministers and implement government decisions
  • Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) - employs around 2,500 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:

You may be able to find training periods with small to medium-sized firms through making speculative applications, rather than by applying for advertised vacancies.

Professional development

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 a 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:

  • advocacy and communication skills
  • client care and professional standards
  • 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 that you undergo further training and development activities throughout your career. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) runs a compulsory continuing professional develoment (CPD) scheme.

CPD activities include attending training seminars, conferences and networking events run 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.

Career prospects

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 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 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 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.