A solicitor provides expert and tailored legal advice relating to multiple areas of the law. Solicitors generally work in-house, however, they can also work as solo practitioners.
Solicitors are commonly misconstrued as being “lawyers”. The term lawyer is almost never if ever used in the UK as the term does not apply. The difference between a solicitor and a lawyer is that a lawyer is a blanket description to describe anyone who practices law, while solicitors provide expert advice that is tailored to the specific needs of the client, which is fundamentally different from a lawyer job.
What is a solicitor?
A solicitor is a legal practitioner, usually known as a Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Solicitors do not necessarily have specified legal jurisdictions and will often cover many different types of law. Solicitors generally take instructions from clients and advise on necessary courses of legal action, for example, advising on complex corporate transactions and business-related disputes and helping new businesses become established.
However, a solicitor's job will vary depending on the specialist area, setting, and the individual case's nature. The speciality that you work in will inform whether or not a client begins the process of hiring a solicitor. An assistant solicitor will aid the role of a solicitor or barristers within their firm or organisation.
Solicitors do not traditionally represent clients in court. This has been known to happen in specific circumstances, but if the case a solicitor is working on ever makes it to court or if the case is particularly complex, then a solicitor will generally recommend that the client seek out a specialised barrister.
Solicitors are regulated with regard to standards of conduct and overall career development. The regulators are the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and usually operate as the first point of contact for clients in the initial 28-day bail period.
You will be able to work in firms while taking on increasing levels of responsibility as you gain experience.
The responsibilities that the solicitor will have depends on the area of law they specialise in. Solicitors will typically need to liaise with any professional barristers that are recommended to clients.
The typical responsibilities of a solicitor are:
- Communicate and negotiate with the opposition.
- Complete background interviews and discovery processes to gather necessary information.
- Create and manage paperwork for any potential case.
- Delegate work to paralegals, trainee solicitors and legal secretaries.
- Draft documents and letters on behalf of the client.
- General administrative duties.
- Liaise with barristers.
- Listen to clients.
- Prepare documents and papers for court.
- Provide impartial legal advice.
- Supervise agreements.
Responsibilities involve working as part of a large team and attending meetings with the head of the department, clients and opposing solicitors. They will check documentation before signing and implementation, complete admin tasks, take referrals from other firms and keep up to date with judiciary developments.
The average solicitor salary generally starts at around £25,000. However, the starting solicitor wage can be as high as £40,000 for those with the appropriate qualifications and for those starting in large commercial firms and cities, the salary can range from £58,000 to £65,000.
The salary of a solicitor who is experienced can vary depending on the area of expertise it can start from £60,000. Pay can even go as high as £90,000 for a commercial solicitor in a senior position.
A solicitor’s pay for partners in large firms, or in-house legal departments can be more than £100,000. A corporate solicitor for equity partners will usually receive a share of the firm’s profits.
You will find it very difficult to become a solicitor without a law degree of some kind as there is no solicitor degree. Generally, a solicitor will need to sit either an SQE or, if you live in England or Wales and already hold a qualifying law degree, a Legal Practice Course (LPC).
Solicitors often study a postgraduate degree or study a joint honours course which allows them to gain a specialisation. This means that, in addition to studying law, students can also study other areas, such as finance, sports, criminology or social welfare and have a specialised area of study for when they get into the working world.
It is difficult to become a solicitor without a law degree, but not impossible. Providing you have A Levels of some kind, it is possible to train to become a solicitor with a paid solicitor apprenticeship, which are generally provided by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). An internship typically takes anywhere between five and six years of study which will include a number of training assessments and will also feature a lot of on-the-job learning. It is also possible to study a solicitor apprenticeship if you have a law degree and will mean you can complete the course sooner.
A solicitor is a legal practitioner, usually known as a Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales.
Training and development
Generally, to become a solicitor in England and Wales, you will need to sit the Solicitors Qualifying Examinations (SQE). Previously, solicitors were asked to sit the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), however, from September 2021 onwards, the GDL has been replaced by the SQE. The changes were brought in to ensure all solicitors meet the same high standards.
In order to study the SQE, you will need to have:
- A degree (in any subject) or equivalent qualification (degree apprenticeship).
- Meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements.
- Pass stage 1 of the SQE (legal knowledge).
- Pass stage 2 of the SQE (practical legal skills).
- Work experience.
The new exam will allow more people to access the career and merge work and experience with learning. It’ll also mean students won’t have to sign up for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) without a trainee contract guaranteed.
The LPC, which typically takes one year full-time, offers vocational training to develop necessary solicitor skills. After completing the LPC, individuals can move on to recognised training, where they will work as a trainee solicitor in a firm or agency. Trainees can embark on the Professional Skills Course (PSC) before qualifying as a solicitor.
If you are working for a professional law firm, they will have standardised training for you to take on at your discretion. Some firms will make training a mandatory part of your working contract, others will simply advise that you get it, depending on which firm you work for. Your aforementioned CPD can be a good way of honing your skills and extending your knowledge in the field as well.
Some solicitors are hired with an undergraduate level degree. With this in mind, the law firm you work for may ask you to complete a postgraduate degree beforehand but may cover some or all of the costs of your education. They may do this on the condition that you continue to work for them for a set period of time or that you repay the money over a period of time.
Solicitors need superb communication, research and problem-solving skills as well as accuracy and attention to detail. You’ll need to have analytical and critical minds and commercial awareness.
The main skills you need to become a solicitor are:
- A good attention to detail.
- A respect for confidentiality.
- Commercial awareness.
- Excellent IT skills.
- Excellent communication skills.
- Excellent negotiating skills.
- Excellent research and analysis skills.
- Good time management skills.
- Superb numeracy skills.
You need to be able to build rapport quickly with clients. It is also essential to be able to work alone, in a team or with other professionals and firms.
You will find it very difficult to become a solicitor without a law degree of some kind as there is no solicitor degree.
With an SQE, you will need to complete two years of work experience in order to become a solicitor. Experience does not necessarily need to have been gained in England or Wales, it is possible to gain experience elsewhere in the UK or abroad.
For the most part, a solicitor will likely have to do some level of voluntary service. This will depend on how quickly you are hired by a paying law firm, however, many solicitors form excellent networking opportunities and contacts through voluntary solicitor work. The most common place to begin a voluntary placement is at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
Work experience at a pre-university level is also possible and will likely help with future applications. In this regard, you will be able to shadow solicitors as they carry out their work and will also be able to assist legal secretaries and paralegals in their roles too.
You will be able to work in firms while taking on increasing levels of responsibility as you gain experience. Solicitor vacancies can range from seeking newly qualified solicitors, to an assistant solicitor who will work under the supervision of a partner.
The solicitor role can expand further. It is possible to be promoted to a senior solicitor or associate position, and from there you can become a head of a department within a firm. With criminal solicitor jobs to roles within the commercial sector, there is potential to work up the ranks in various departments as well.
It is possible to take on more lucrative jobs with enough experience. For many, the most coveted job for a solicitor is to become a salaried partner and/or an equity partner. Although there is no set time where a solicitor can become a partner, it usually is at least after six to eight years following qualification.
Responsibilities can also increase with time too. Those working in particularly litigious areas can become solicitor advocates wherein they can represent clients in court without the need to instruct a barrister. Some solicitors who work within a private solicitor practice can move to be in-house lawyers, and this usually takes place after being headhunted by companies and other firms.