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What does a solicitor do?
A solicitor is sometimes also known as a lawyer. They provide legal advice and support to clients and represent them in legal matters.
According to the Law Society, a solicitor can do two types of legal work:
- Contentious – usually conducted in a court or tribunal where solicitors resolve disputes between two or more parties.
- Non-contentious – solicitors cover the legal aspects of a client’s business or personal issues, e.g. company mergers or wills.
Solicitors are often confused with barristers. While both provide legal advice and represent clients, their roles are not the same; they are different branches of the legal profession. Barristers will provide more specialist advice, are mainly instructed by solicitors on behalf of their clients and are rarely hired by the public directly. Solicitors will usually be the first point of contact and will take instructions from their clients.
There are many different areas of law in which a solicitor can specialise, such as human rights, immigration, criminal, civil, family and children, employment, etc. They can also work with different clients, such as individuals, groups and organisations/companies (public and private sector). Therefore, what a solicitor does will depend on their specialist areas and clients. The particulars of each case and where they work will also influence their day-to-day tasks.
A solicitor’s main aim is to understand their client’s needs, provide specialist legal advice and solve problems or resolve disputes. Understanding the legal system and being involved in legal matters can be distressing and overwhelming for individual and business clients. Solicitors assist their clients in navigating the process and negotiating the best possible deal for their cases.
Solicitors have many duties, including meeting with clients, taking instructions, providing legal advice and opinions, solving problems and resolving disputes, representing clients in court, attending professional interviews, instructing barristers, attending meetings, researching relevant laws and cases, negotiating, etc. The role will also include some administrative work, e.g. drafting legal documents and reports and writing letters.
Solicitors will work with many people, including clients, opposing parties, other solicitors, trainee solicitors, paralegals, legal secretaries, and other support staff. They may also liaise with witnesses, judges, barristers, specialist advocates and legal professionals, court staff, government agencies, the police and others.
Solicitors are usually employed and can work for private practices, organisations, local/central governments, public agencies or in the court service. There are also opportunities to work as a self-employed or freelance solicitor.
A solicitor’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including their area of practice, where they work, their clients and their seniority.
Some examples of their duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Keeping abreast with changes and developments in the law.
- Meeting with clients, gathering information, receiving instructions and taking on cases.
- Providing specialist legal advice and opinions (written and verbal) to clients and other law professionals.
- Solving problems, resolving disputes and defending their clients’ interests.
- Sitting in with clients during police and other professional interviews.
- Representing clients in courts or tribunals.
- Instructing barristers or advocates on behalf of their clients.
- Negotiating with their clients and other professionals.
- Attending various meetings, e.g. with clients, opposing parties, other solicitors and barristers.
- Keeping clients up to date and informing them about the likely outcome of their case.
- Liaising with opposing party solicitors, barristers and other legal professionals.
- Researching, understanding and interpreting the law relevant to their cases.
- Preparing papers for court.
- Drafting legal documents, contracts and letters.
- Keeping and maintaining client records.
- Checking legal documents submitted by others for accuracy.
- Supervising trainee solicitors, legal clerks and paralegals where appropriate.
Solicitors can also attend courts and speak on behalf of their clients. They are also known as solicitor advocates, which requires them to have additional qualifications.
A solicitor can expect to work 37–50 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on where they work, their role and their specialisms. Some firms may offer part-time or flexible jobs.
Being a solicitor is not a 9–5 job, and those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working regular long and unsociable hours (evenings and weekends). Some solicitors may be on-call at short notice, and others may need to work more than 12 hours daily.
Travel is a requirement, as solicitors will meet with clients and others and attend court, which may lengthen the working day. Travelling or working overseas is rare for solicitors, but there may be opportunities depending on the role.
What to expect
Being a solicitor is hard work but extremely rewarding. They help clients by providing legal advice and support and assisting them in negotiating the best possible outcome for their case. Solicitors can go home at the end of the working day knowing they have made a difference to clients’ lives. Their role is also highly respected in society.
There are numerous solicitor roles nationally and in many different specialist practice areas. The salary is competitive compared to other career choices, even at the entry level. There is the potential to earn significantly with experience, i.e. >£100,000. Overall, there are many opportunities in the legal sector.
Once experienced, individuals could start their own businesses. Being a self-employed solicitor and having an opportunity to be your own boss can be an attractive prospect, as it can give individuals the independence to take charge of their own career progression. There is also plenty of support in the professional community, so being self-employed does not mean working alone.
Boredom will never be a problem for solicitors, as their work is very varied, and no two days are the same. Every case they take on will be different, and they will meet various people throughout their working week. It is an intellectually stimulating role with lots of learning, research and investigation.
Even though being a solicitor is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, it is also important to consider the cons and challenges.
- Stress and mental demands – solicitors can work long, unsociable hours, and the workload is often high and unpredictable. They may have to deal with many different clients at once, and some situations may be challenging, especially emotional ones. Individuals need to feel comfortable juggling various demands at short notice and meeting tight deadlines. There is a lot of responsibility on solicitors, and some may find it hard to get a decent work/life balance.
- Challenging clients – solicitors will take instructions from, and represent, many different clients. Some may be demanding, and others unpleasant. Unfortunately, most solicitors cannot pick and choose their clients but will need to provide the best possible service regardless.
- Smart attire – solicitors are expected to dress smartly, especially when meeting with clients and opposing parties and attending court. It is probably not the most suitable role for individuals who want to dress more casually at work.
- Qualifications, training and costs – becoming a solicitor is not easy. Individuals will need a relevant degree and work experience. They must also pass an exam and meet suitability requirements. Achieving the necessary qualifications, training and work experience to become a solicitor can take years, and it is not cheap. However, there may be opportunities to get paid apprenticeships or internships.
- Competition – there is fierce competition for solicitor roles and to gain a training contract in a law firm, so individuals must be committed to working hard to enter the profession and succeed. They must be aware that there are far more graduates than contracts, so there is a risk of going through the expense of becoming qualified and trained but not succeeding.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and prospective solicitors must know what to expect before deciding whether it is a suitable role. Working as a solicitor is challenging, mentally demanding and stressful. However, there are many positives too, and representing people in complex legal matters and giving them expert advice is very fulfilling. A good solicitor can make a significant difference to people’s lives.
Individuals should consider the pros and cons of being a solicitor. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a solicitor
Some of the personal qualities a solicitor requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Confident, resilient and assertive.
- Sensitive, approachable, understanding, empathetic and tactful.
- Honest and trustworthy.
- Self-motivated, self-disciplined, responsible, dedicated, committed and determined.
- Academic and a desire to learn, progress and develop.
- Commercially aware.
- A flexible approach to work.
- Respect for client confidentiality.
- Knowledge and a keen interest in law and legal processes, including court procedures and government regulations.
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills.
- Excellent problem-solving skills.
- Excellent organisational skills.
- Active listening skills.
- Persuading and negotiating skills.
- Leadership skills.
- Analytical thinking skills.
- Time management skills.
- Advocacy skills.
- Researching skills.
- Interpersonal skills to deal with a wide range of people from all walks of life.
- Being thorough, accurate and having excellent attention to detail.
- The ability to express complex ideas and arguments clearly and in a way that is easier for clients to understand.
- The ability to speak confidently in public.
- The ability to use clear, logical and reasoned thinking.
- The ability to work long and often unsociable hours.
- The ability to build relationships with clients and keep their confidence.
- The ability to work under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to multi-task and juggle different demands.
- The ability to accept criticism.
- The ability to use IT equipment competently, e.g. writing legal documents, reports, briefs and opinions.
Individuals must be comfortable speaking in public and negotiating, so this role may not be suited to those who are more introverted and have trouble with confidence.
There are different routes to becoming a solicitor, e.g. the SQE route, an apprenticeship, the traditional route or on-the-job training. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route
The SQE route was introduced in September 2021. Individuals will need a degree or equivalent qualification to qualify through this route. Their degree does not have to be in law, but it is advisable, as they will need some legal knowledge. They will typically need three good A levels for an undergraduate degree programme.
Some universities may ask individuals to pass a Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT) if they want to study law. Getting a placement is competitive, and some institutions may also require a personal statement and interview. The grades and tests will depend on the university entry requirements, and individuals should check before applying.
In addition to having an undergraduate degree, individuals will also need to do the following:
- Complete two assessment stages – SQE1 and SQE2 exams.
- Complete two years of qualifying work experience (QWE).
- Satisfy the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA’s) character and suitability requirements.
Some universities will incorporate preparation for SQE1 exams in their degree programmes.
The Law Society has further guidance on this route on its website.
There is also a paid degree apprenticeship route to becoming a solicitor, typically taking five to six years to complete. Individuals will usually need four or five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels, or equivalent. However, employers will usually have their own entry requirements.
Individuals will need to find an apprenticeship and will need their employers’ support to complete the programme. The route usually includes the assessment stages and qualifying work experience through on-the-job training. Individuals must still meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements to qualify.
There is also a graduate solicitor apprenticeship for those who have already completed a degree. It takes around two to three years to complete.
Further information on solicitor apprenticeships can be found on the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Law Society websites. Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed.
As mentioned, the SQE route was introduced in September 2021 and is now one of the main routes to becoming a solicitor. Some individuals may have started their studies and training before the new route and are subject to transitional arrangements.
Individuals have two choices:
2. Qualify through the SQE route.
There may be opportunities to join a legal firm as a trainee or intern and complete on-the-job training to help become a solicitor.
Individuals could complete a CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ) and follow the SQE route.
To qualify as a solicitor, under the SQE route, individuals must complete two years of qualifying work experience, which can be paid or voluntary. Individuals will need to demonstrate they have experience in providing legal services.
Some examples of work experience are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Work in a law firm as a paralegal or in an organisation’s legal department.
- Do a work placement during a degree and shadow experienced solicitors and other legal professionals.
- Apply for a training contract with a law firm.
- Volunteer in a legal setting to gain law experience, e.g. with student law clinics, Citizens Advice, the Free Representation Unit and the Prisoners’ Advice Service. Universities may also be able to help with voluntary placements.
Individuals do not have to complete their work experience in one place. They can do it with up to four organisations. More relevant work experience will boost an individual’s CV and give them a competitive edge when applying for roles.
Further information on qualifying work experience can be found on the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) website.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge.
Some examples of CPD courses that may be useful for solicitors include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Data protection and the GDPR.
- Employment law.
- Resilience training.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Conflict management.
- Team leading.
- Customer service skills.
- Equality and diversity.
- LGBTQ+ awareness.
- Disability awareness.
- Time management.
- Work-related stress.
- Anti-bribery awareness.
It may also be worth enrolling on low-cost, online short legal courses to see if a career in law is of interest. That way, if it is not, it will save an individual a lot of time, money and trouble.
Professional bodies, associations and regulators, such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Law Society, the Law Society of Scotland, the Law Society of Northern Ireland, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), the Solicitors’ Association of Higher Court Advocates (SAHCA) and others, can also advise on relevant training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become solicitors, giving them the means to continue their professional development.
The training a solicitor requires will depend on their employment status, specialist area of law and any CPD requirements. As well as looking at professional body websites, it is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the qualifications and other training needed for specialist roles. Jobs can be found on the Law Society Gazette Jobs, LawCareers.Net, the Lawyer Jobs, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Government Legal Profession (GLP), Totally Legal, individual law firm websites and other job sites, such as Armed Forces Careers, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed and others. Also, look at recruitment agencies, e.g. Law Absolute and Legal Recruitment Agencies.
More relevant work experience, training and competence will open up more opportunities for solicitors. Refresher training will also be required, as laws are constantly changing, and it keeps knowledge and skills up to date.
For solicitors to practise, they must be admitted to the roll by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). They have to apply for admission, and there is a fee.
Criminal records checks
Solicitors will be required to undergo a criminal record check. A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may put off prospective employers. It can even affect SRA admission. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
Where do solicitors work?
Solicitors can work for many different employers, such as the following (this list is not exhaustive):
- Government departments or agencies, e.g. the Crown Prosecution Service or the Government Legal Professions.
- Local Government, e.g. councils.
- Law centres.
- In-house legal departments, e.g. charities, banks, energy companies, the police and universities.
- The Armed Forces, e.g. the RAF, Royal Navy or Army legal services.
- Private organisations, e.g. law firms.
Some solicitors choose to be self-employed with their own business or become freelance, e.g. consultants. There may also be opportunities to work through recruitment agencies.
Solicitors will work in many different settings, including:
- Police stations.
- Clients’ homes and business premises.
How much do solicitors earn?
A solicitor’s salary will depend on their sector, qualifications, experience, seniority, reputation, location, organisation size, practice area and whether they are self-employed, freelance or employed.
Some examples of salaries are as follows (these are a guide only):
- Trainee solicitors – the recommended salary for trainees is £23,703 per year in London and £21,024 outside of London.
- Qualified solicitors – £62,000 on average a year. Those working in greater London usually earn more, i.e. around £88,000 a year.
- Partners – between £74,000 and £130,000 on average a year.
These figures are from the Law Society.
Larger firms are likely to pay solicitors more than smaller ones. The Magic Circle are five UK-based law firms considered the most prestigious. They will pay newly qualified solicitors around £100,000 a year. Further information can be found on the Lawyer Portal.
The salaries for self-employed/freelance solicitors will vary significantly, and they will also have various expenses, e.g. working from home, travel, tax and VAT, insurance, pension, admissions fees and training.
Some specialist legal areas will also pay more than others, e.g. commercial, commerce and industrial law tend to be more lucrative than family or personal injury. There is excellent earning potential for solicitors, especially those with talent and an excellent reputation.
Types of solicitor roles to specialise in
There are many different areas of law in which solicitors can specialise.
Here are some examples (this list is not exhaustive):
- Criminal law – covers many different types of crime committed, e.g. drug offences, violent and sexual crimes, fraud, and murder. Solicitors will often attend police stations to represent their clients.
- Employment law – solicitors work with individuals (as employees) and organisations (as employers). This area covers employment rights, contracts, redundancy, employer negligence, etc.
- Environmental law – covers disputes and issues about the environment, e.g. environmental crime, pollution, waste, contamination, climate change and statutory nuisances.
- Family law – this area covers family issues, such as marriage, cohabitation, divorce and child welfare issues.
- Immigration law – covers immigration, asylum and nationality issues, e.g. visas, deportation, appeals and applications for permanent residency.
- Personal injury law – specialises in civil compensation claims for injuries caused by accidents at work or road traffic collisions.
All different specialist areas will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Some may need specific qualifications, e.g. postgraduate and additional training for specialised areas. All solicitors need knowledge of the law and legal processes, know how to undertake thorough research and investigation, be confident in public speaking and provide clear advice and guidance to clients. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for and a solicitor’s specialist areas.
Solicitors not competently carrying out their roles can cause problems for clients and this is likely to impact a solicitor’s/firm’s reputation. Clients can bring complaints to the SRA or Legal Ombudsman who can make enforcement decisions. If an individual has committed serious misconduct, they can be fined, struck off the roll and may no longer be allowed to work as a solicitor. Therefore, whatever the area of expertise, solicitors must have the necessary training and competence (knowledge, skills and experience) to carry out the work professionally, ethically and responsibly. They should also know the limits of their competency.
Legal standards, technologies, codes and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, solicitors need to keep abreast with the latest developments and changes in legislation to remain compliant and ensure they carry out their roles professionally, ethically and safely. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives solicitors the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them continue practising as solicitors and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body, association or regulator, such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Law Society, the Law Society of Scotland, the Law Society of Northern Ireland, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), the Solicitors’ Association of Higher Court Advocates (SAHCA) and others, can help prospective and current solicitors enhance their skills and overall career. They offer representation, CPD, access to industry contacts, and social and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression within the legal profession.
With more qualifications and years of experience, a solicitor could:
- Become a solicitor advocate.
- Lead a team or become a manager of a legal department, if employed.
- Move into different specialist areas.
- Move from a smaller firm to a larger one.
- Become a partner in a private practice firm of solicitors.
- Become self-employed.
Having the knowledge, skills and experience can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, a solicitor may want to work in education and training, research or other areas of law. They may also want to be more involved with professional bodies and regulators.
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