Practising law in Scotland is a competitive field and you should gain work experience while studying to develop your critical thinking and advocacy skills

As a solicitor you'll give legal advice and explain the law to individual or corporate clients, working on legal aspects of their personal and business affairs.

You'll act on behalf of your clients, in court and throughout negotiations, as well as preparing and researching documents, letters and other paperwork.

Solicitors and advocates in Scotland have very similar duties to their counterparts (solicitors and barristers) in England and Wales. However, Scotland has its own legal system, procedures and terminology. The Scottish legal profession also has its own entry and training arrangements.

You can work in:

  • the public sector, such as local and central government
  • financial services, such as banks
  • industrial and commercial organisations
  • private practice.

Responsibilities

The work you carry out will depend on your clients and the area that you specialise in. However, you may need to:

  • receive requests for legal advice from current and potential clients and decide on the most appropriate responses to make
  • work out what needs to be done to solve a client's problems
  • offer advice on the law, legal procedures and a range of associated issues
  • draw up contracts, leases, wills and other legal documents
  • research documents and case history to ensure accuracy of advice and procedures
  • deal with the sale and purchase (conveyancing) of land, houses and commercial premises and with the registration of such transactions
  • check all documentation thoroughly before signing and implementing
  • represent clients in tribunals and in Justice of the Peace Courts and Sheriff Courts
  • have rights of audience in the High Court (solicitor-advocates only)
  • instruct advocates to provide legal opinions and to represent clients in courts at any level
  • supervise more junior members of the team, depending on your level of seniority
  • attract additional business from new and existing clients
  • maintain high standards of professional conduct while generating adequate practice income and ensure that the fees earned exceed total costs and expenses incurred.

Salary

  • The Law Society of Scotland recommends that trainee solicitors be paid £19,000 in the first year of the traineeship and £22,000 in the second. These rates aren't compulsory though and employers can set their own salaries. Some of the larger commercial law firms may pay trainees significantly more.
  • As a newly qualified solicitor, you can expect to be paid around £30,000 rising to £38,000, depending on your area of private practice or whether you're working in house. This can increase to around £45,000 after three years' experience.
  • After gaining several years of experience, you can earn up to £66,000, depending on your area of practice, clients, level of responsibility and location. At partner level or head of a legal department, you can expect in excess of this amount.

Income data from Frasia Wright Associates - Salary Guide. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

In corporate and commercial law firms, where salaries are usually higher, you should be prepared for long, unpredictable hours. In smaller firms and the public sector, hours tend to be more standard but longer hours may still be required on occasions.

It may be possible to negotiate part-time contracts, although this will vary from firm to firm. Career breaks may be possible but they may affect your career progression.

What to expect

  • Work is usually carried out in comfortable, well-equipped offices with good IT provision, libraries and secretarial support, although conditions vary.
  • You should be prepared to visit clients, attend business meetings, go to consultations with advocates and attend court hearings as appropriate.
  • Work is available throughout Scotland, although most opportunities, particularly commercial and corporate, are located in the central belt and the larger cities.
  • Coping with the competing pressures of work and family responsibilities, particularly in corporate and commercial practices, can be challenging.
  • Frequent travel, for example between offices in various parts of Scotland, to London, or to overseas offices, is usually only necessary in some of the larger firms.

Qualifications

The main way to become a solicitor in Scotland is to take the university route, which involves three stages:

  • the LLB degree in Scots Law
  • the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice
  • a traineeship.

The LLB must be accredited by The Law Society of Scotland and is available at ten universities in Scotland. You can study full time, part time or online. If you already have a degree in a subject other than law, you may be able to take an accelerated (postgraduate) LLB, usually lasting two years. Search for accredited LLB courses at Law Society of Scotland - Where can I study the LLB?

After completing the degree, you move on to the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (Professional Education and Training (PEAT) Stage 1). This is offered by six institutions and is a vocational stage, which focuses on the practical knowledge and skills required. A lot of the teaching is carried out by solicitors.

Following successful completion of the diploma, you need to complete a traineeship (PEAT 2), which is a period of paid, work-based training lasting two years under the supervision of a Scottish-qualified solicitor. Once you've completed the traineeship you can apply for admission as a solicitor with the Law Society of Scotland.

There is no guarantee you’ll be able to secure a traineeship, so you'll need to start thinking about getting one early on whilst you’re studying. Some firms advertise traineeships through universities and careers services. It tends to be the larger firms who do this. They may also be present at careers fairs.

Other firms, particularly the smaller ones, may not advertise and sending speculative applications is acceptable and expected.

An alternative route to the LLB is available and involves completing a three-year pre-diploma (pre-PEAT) training contract with a Scottish solicitor and passing the Law Society of Scotland's professional examinations. Competition for places can be high as very few solicitors offer such contracts. You'll also need to be prepared to balance your working life with studying. Once you've completed this stage you'll need to go on to complete the diploma and traineeship.

Transfer tests are available to solicitors from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and other parts of the European Union who wish to practice as Scottish solicitors.

For full details on qualifying as a solicitor in Scotland, see Law Society of Scotland - Qualifying and Education.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • the ability to assimilate large amounts of information quickly
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills for dealing with clients and colleagues
  • stamina and resilience both for the required hours and pressurised work
  • the ability to think on your feet to find solutions
  • discretion
  • strong advocacy skills
  • an even temperament
  • business awareness, particularly for entry into the commercial or corporate legal field.

Work experience

Competition for traineeships is strong. Improve your chances by gaining a legal vacation placement, offered by many of the larger firms, or finding work shadowing or work experience opportunities with smaller firms.

While you're studying you can join the Law Society of Scotland's Student Associates, which will help you keep up to date with the profession. The Society offers many other ways to build up your experience, including becoming a mentee and attending legal studies and careers days.

Joining mooting societies and volunteering, particularly with any organisation offering an advice service to the general public, e.g. Citizens Advice Bureau, will also develop your skills and give you an advantage in the job market.

Employers

The majority of solicitors work in private law firms and most vacancies can be found in the medium and large sized city firms. Nearly all the law firms outside the main cities are small and they may only recruit trainees on an occasional basis.

In-house work in central and local government, banks and other commercial organisations is a growth area.

In the public sector, it's possible to find work in:

  • administration
  • legal services departments of local authorities
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS).

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies do not handle traineeship opportunities. Traineeships are advertised via:

  • firms' websites
  • law school notice boards
  • university careers services.

Some public sector vacancies appear in newspapers. Smaller firms recruit from speculative applications.

Professional development

The final stage for qualification as a solicitor in Scotland is the traineeship. This takes two years to complete and is a period of work-based training under the supervision of a practising solicitor. There are certain stages you'll need to complete, which include:

  • achieving competency in the PEAT 2 outcomes
  • eight PEAT 2 quarterly performance reviews (PQPR) with your supervisor, which will help to show you've met the required competencies
  • 60 hours of trainee continuing professional development (TCPD), including a mandatory ethics course
  • maintaining a diary in the Law Society of Scotland's PEAT 2 record, linking your experience to the PEAT 2 outcomes.

Before completing the traineeship you must also be approved by your employer as a fit and proper person to enter the profession.

You are able to apply for admission as a solicitor with The Law Society of Scotland after completing one full year of the traineeship. However, this is at the discretion of your training firm, your PQPRs must be up to date and you need to have completed 20 hours of TCPD. If accepted, you'll be granted a restricted practising certificate and can appear in court.

You may decide to wait until the end of the two-year traineeship, where you can then be fully admitted as a solicitor.

To maintain your practising certificate as a qualified solicitor you must complete a minimum of 20 hours' CPD each year.

Both before and after you've qualified, employers expect and help you to develop expertise in areas of particular relevance to your work. You need to keep up to date with relevant developments in the law, legal affairs and business methods.

A mentoring scheme, careers support, events and industry news is offered by the Law Society of Scotland.

Career prospects

You may choose to spend your whole career within law firms, specialising in a particular field of law or moving between firms to enhance your earning power or promotion prospects.

If you become a partner in a firm you'll be increasingly involved in the running of it. This includes directing and supervising the work of junior colleagues and other staff, and attracting and retaining profitable business from existing and potential clients.

There are also opportunities to progress your career in Scotland as an in-house solicitor. Principal employers include:

  • the Scottish government
  • the COPFS
  • local authorities
  • the legal departments of banks, oil companies and other commercial organisations.

With experience, you may complete additional study and training to qualify as a solicitor-advocate with rights of audience in Scotland's highest civil and/or criminal courts.

If you've qualified in Scotland but wish to practise elsewhere in the UK or in the EU you may re-qualify in other jurisdictions by taking appropriate tests. Seek advice from the relevant law society, for example: