Solicitors provide expert legal support and advice on a range of personal and commercial issues
As a solicitor, 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 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
- family and children
- human rights
- private client
- social welfare and housing
For a comprehensive breakdown of what the different types of law involve, see areas of law.
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.
- The Law Society recommends that firms should pay trainee solicitors on training contracts and qualifying work experience a minimum of £23,703 in London and £21,024 in the rest of the country. Although there is no obligation for firms to do this (they don't have to pay any more than the national minimum wage), it is seen as good practice. Many firms will pay more than the recommended minimum, and some will pay a lot more.
- Members of the Magic Circle, London's five most prestigious law firms, and international law firms offer salaries for newly qualified solicitors of around £80,000 to £130,000. Salaries for the top US-based firms are in excess of this amount.
- Starting salaries in large City firms can range from around £68,000 to £100,000.
- Starting salaries for newly qualified solicitors in private practices elsewhere in the country typically range from around £28,000 to £68,000.
- You can expect your salary to rise year-on-year as you gain more experience. If you become a partner in a firm, your salary could potentially reach in excess of £100,000. Partner salaries at Magic Circle and international law firms can be on average around £400,000.
Your salary will vary depending on a range of factors such as your geographical location, the sector you work in, your 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're likely to earn less outside of London and in smaller firms, you may progress up the career ladder more quickly and be given more responsibility earlier on in your career.
Additional benefits can include a bonus, private health and dental insurance, subsidised gym membership and childcare.
Find out more about how much lawyers earn.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
You'll normally work 37 hours a week. However, working longer working hours is not unusual and some roles will involve some evening and weekend work. Solicitors in the largest City firms are more likely to work unsocial, long hours on a regular basis. Working hours can be unpredictable as you need to be flexible to meet clients' needs.
Part-time work and career breaks are sometimes possible, but you'll need to keep up to date with changes to the law. Hybrid work - spending some time working from home and some in the office - is also possible with some firms.
What to expect
- The 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.
The way solicitors qualify in England and Wales has changed recently. You will now need to complete the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in order to qualify.
To qualify through the SQE, you need to:
- have a degree in any subject or an equivalent qualification or experience
- pass both stages of the SQE assessment - the SQE1, which focuses on functioning legal knowledge, and the SQE2, which concentrates on practical legal skills
- complete two years full time (or equivalent part time) of qualifying work experience (QWE)
- meet the SRA's character and suitability requirements.
See the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) website for a list of what counts as a degree or equivalent.
The SQE provides a flexible approach to qualifying as a solicitor. As long as you pass the SQE1 before you take the SQE2, you can prepare for the assessments and complete your QWE in a way that suits your needs and circumstances.
It's up to you to decide how you prepare for the SQE assessments. Some universities (but not all) integrate preparation for the SQE1 assessments into their undergraduate or Masters law programmes. Other training providers offer SQE1 preparation courses, aimed at both law and non-law graduates. Many education and training providers also offer courses that are designed to help you prepare for the SQE2. Courses can be online or face-to-face and either full or part time.
Search the list of SQE training providers.
If you have A-levels, you can also qualify as a solicitor in England by completing a paid solicitor apprenticeship. This route usually takes five to six years to complete and includes SQE1 and SQE2 training and assessments, as well as on-the-job experience, which counts as your QWE. Some employers also offer solicitor apprenticeships to those with some legal training, such as a law degree, which may mean that you can complete training in less time.
Make sure you research the different pathways to qualification to make sure you choose a route that suits your needs. For the most up-to-date information on the SQE, see the SRA Becoming a Solicitor.
There are transitional arrangements in place for those who had already started studying or training to become a solicitor when the new qualification system was introduced on 1 September 2021. You will have the choice of continuing to qualify through the Legal Practice Course (LPC) route until 31 December 2032 (as long as courses remain available) or to do the SQE. See the SRA website for full details on transitional arrangements.
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.
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.
Under the SQE, you will need to complete two years full time (or equivalent part time) of qualifying work experience (QWE) to qualify as a solicitor.
This experience must be in a real-life (rather than simulated) role providing legal services that gives you the opportunity to develop the competences needed to be a solicitor. You can do the experience in England, Wales or overseas.
You can get this experience in one block or in stages, with up to a maximum of four organisations.
QWE can be voluntary or paid and can include activities such as:
- a placement during a sandwich degree
- voluntary work in a student law clinic
- work for a voluntary or charitable organisation such as Citizens Advice or a law centre
- work as a paralegal
- a training contract with a law firm. Search for law training contracts.
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 before, during or after you sit the SQE assessments. You can also use relevant experience from previous roles. QWE must be completed, however, by the time you apply for admission to the roll of solicitors.
Under the transitional arrangements, you can use QWE (and pass the SQE2) as an equivalent period of recognised training (training contract) to qualify through the LPC route.
For more information on QWE, see the SRA.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
There are currently more than 160,000 practising solicitors in England and Wales (SRA). Most solicitors work in private practice for law firms, which can range from sole practitioners to multinational firms with offices all over the world. Solicitors in private practice offer legal services to individuals and businesses. 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.
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 could 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 Solicitors Network (JSN), part of The Law Society. The JSN 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.
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 factors such as 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 need 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.