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 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 of law, 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

  • Starting salaries for qualified solicitors in a regional firm or smaller commercial practice range from around £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.
  • Salaries for experienced solicitors can also vary significantly. Depending on your area of expertise, you can earn from around £60,000 to in excess of £90,000 in a senior position in a commercial firm.
  • 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.

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

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

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 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. However, changes are being made to the way solicitors qualify in England and Wales from autumn 2021. 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 law 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's also possible to qualify without a degree, via a solicitor apprenticeship. This route typically takes five to six years to complete.

You can also qualify by following the chartered legal executive route, which allows you to earn as you learn. Full details are available from the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).

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.

Larger firms tend to fill training vacancies up to two years in advance so it's 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 in England and Wales, see The Law Society. To get the ball rolling, search postgraduate courses in law.

From autumn 2021, The GDL and LPC will be replaced in England and Wales by a new common assessment, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which all potential solicitors will have to take before qualifying. The aim of the SQE is to ensure all solicitors entering the profession, from any route, will meet consistently high standards. From autumn 2021, you'll need to:

  • have a degree (in any subject) or an equivalent qualification (such as a degree apprenticeship)
  • pass stage 1 of the SQE focusing on legal knowledge
  • have a substantial period of work experience
  • pass stage 2 of the SQE focusing on practical legal skills
  • meet the SRA's character and suitability requirements.

The new SQE should 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. Find out more about the SQE.

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

Most employers offering training contracts 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. Work shadowing a solicitor can also be a useful experience.

For more ideas see law work experience.

Employers

There are currently more than 149,000 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 Service (GLS) - 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. Search for law training contracts.

Look for job vacancies at:

Individual law firms may also advertise vacancies on their website.

Information on firms offering training contracts is available from:

You may also 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'll receive practical training on at least three areas of English and Welsh law, typically 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's possible to complete the training part time over a longer period. You'll 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'll 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'll also 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's vital that you undergo further training and development activities throughout your career. 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.

Students, trainees and solicitors with up to five years' experience are represented by the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), part of The Law Society. The JLD offers careers information, including information on funding sources.

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 continue working for the firm you've trained with (known as being retained), although there's no guarantee they will keep you on. Alternatively, you may 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'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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