Solicitors give legal advice and explain the law to individual or corporate clients, working on legal aspects of their personal and business affairs

As a solicitor, 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 before the higher courts (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 £19,500 in the first year of the traineeship and £22,500 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.
  • Salaries vary depending on your area of private practice and whether you're working in house. For example, a newly qualified solicitor can expect to be paid around £32,000 to £35,000 if working in civil litigation, and between £35,000 and £45,000 in commercial property or corporate. Newly qualified in-house salaries typically range from £38,000 to £40,000.
  • Salaries can increase to between around £36,000 and £52,000 after three years' experience depending on your area of private practice/in-house.
  • After gaining around seven years of experience, you can earn up to around £70,000, 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 the Law Society of Scotland and 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.
  • Challenges may include coping with the competing pressures of work and family responsibilities, particularly in corporate and commercial practices.
  • 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 two-year 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 (graduate entry) 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.

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, passing a work-based learning module and 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.

Solicitors from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and other parts of the European Union who wish to practice as Scottish solicitors can apply to re-qualify as a Scottish solicitor by taking the Qualified Lawyers Assessment (QLA).

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

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • the ability to assimilate large amounts of information quickly
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills for dealing with clients and colleagues
  • problem-solving skills and the ability to think on your feet to find solutions
  • time management skills with the ability to plan work and prioritise tasks
  • skills in research and analysis
  • accuracy and attention to detail
  • numeracy and general IT skills
  • discretion, integrity and a respect for confidentiality
  • strong advocacy skills
  • stamina and resilience both for the required hours and pressurised work
  • an even temperament
  • flexibility and openness to new ideas
  • the potential to lead and delegate responsibility
  • business awareness and negotiating skills, particularly for entry into the commercial or corporate legal field.

Work experience

Competition for traineeships is strong. You can improve your chances by getting 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.

Other ways to develop your skills and give you an advantage in the job market include:

  • participating in student law society activities, client interviewing competitions, mooting and pro-bono work and business simulations
  • volunteering, particularly with organisations that offer an advice service to the general public such as Citizens Advice bureaux.

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 & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS).

Look for job vacancies at:

Traineeships are advertised via:

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

You can also use the Scottish Law Firm Directory for making speculative applications and to check vacancies directly on firms' websites.

The specialist legal recruitment consultancy Frasia Wright Associates advertises vacancies for qualified solicitors.

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

Professional development

The final stage for qualification as a solicitor in Scotland is the traineeship. This usually takes two years, full time 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
  • undertaking PEAT 2 quarterly performance reviews (PQPR) with your supervisor, which will help to show you've met the required competencies
  • a minimum of 60 hours of trainee continuing professional development (TCPD), including a mandatory ethics course
  • completing the PEAT 2 record, an online tool that allows you to reflect on your work during the traineeship and links 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.

In order to practise, you will first need to apply for admission to the roll of Scottish solicitors with the Law Society of Scotland. The earliest you can do this is after three months of training. To apply between 3 and 11 months, you'll have to complete 20 hours of sitting-in training as well as a mandatory advocacy course. If you apply after the first year of your traineeship, you don't have to complete these requirements. It's a good idea to speak to your employer about the best time to apply. The whole process can take up to six weeks.

Once you have successfully completed your traineeship, your trainee contract must be discharged and you can apply for a full (unrestricted) practising certificate. This must be renewed on an annual basis.

To maintain your practising certificate 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 developments in the law, legal affairs and business methods.

Members of the Law Society of Scotland have access to a range of professional development resources including CPD and training, careers advice, mentoring and industry news.

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.

Once you've worked in a particular area of law for more than five years and have a depth of knowledge, you can apply for specialist accreditation.

With experience, you may complete additional study and training to qualify as a solicitor-advocate with extended rights of audience in Scotland's highest civil and/or criminal courts. This gives you the opportunity to work on cases from the start, right through to completion.

To progress to becoming a partner in a firm, you'll need a combination of experience and the skills to take on a more business leadership role. As a partner, you'll be increasingly involved in the running of the firm. 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.

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