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Tell me about it
Solicitors provide clients with skilled legal advice and act on their behalf when necessary. Clients could be members of the public, businesses, voluntary bodies, charities or government departments.

The work includes interpreting and explaining the law to clients, giving advice and support, representing clients in court, researching past or similar cases, writing letters, preparing documents, and keeping written and financial records.

Solicitors may deal with all types of case, or they may specialise in one or more of the following:

  • Litigation - acting for people who are in dispute with another person or organisation.
  • Conveyancing - acting for people who are buying, selling or leasing a business, domestic property or land.
  • Company and business law - advising and acting for organisations on such issues as setting up a business, employment law, contracts, insurance and health and safety law.
  • Probate - helping people make a will or carrying out the wishes of a deceased person according to their will.
  • Central and local government - advising civil servants, ministers, council staff, elected members and councillors on how the law affects the services provided.
  • Crown Prosecution Service (Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland) - examining evidence produced by the police to decide whether a case should be prosecuted.

Entry level
The most direct entry route in England and Wales is to take a qualifying law degree. Alternatively, if you take a degree in a subject other than law, you would have to complete a one-year full-time (or two-year part-time) course leading to the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). A third route would be to train as a legal executive and use this as a stepping-stone to qualification as a solicitor. See our separate article on 'Legal Executive'.
In Scotland, you would need a degree in Scots Law or a three-year pre-Diploma training contract, together with the 26-week Diploma in Legal Practice. Separate training routes apply in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Competition for places to read law is exceptionally strong and university admissions tutors expect high grades at A level/Advanced Higher, Higher or equivalent.  No particular subjects are specified. You will have to take the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) to secure a place on a Law degree at nine of the UK’s most prestigious universities.

Making the grade
After successful completion of the academic stage in England and Wales, you would have to undertake a Legal Practice Course (LPC), before entering a training contract with a firm of solicitors or other approved organisation (such as a local authority or the Crown Prosecution Service), gaining practical experience in a variety of areas of law. This vocational stage can be full- or part-time.

Legal executives do not always have to undertake a full training contract but they must complete the LPC and a Professional Skills Course, which is a compulsory part of the training contract.

In Scotland, the vocational stage is a 26-week full-time course for the Diploma of Legal Practice and a two-year training contract with a practising solicitor. This also includes a Professional Competence Course, to determine whether you are a 'fit and proper person' to enter the profession.

Personal qualities
As a solicitor, you should be careful and accurate in your work, able to absorb and analyse large amounts of information, and good at explaining legal matters clearly, in speech and in writing.

You would need excellent communication skills and you must be able to argue a case successfully. Tact and discretion are essential in an area where much information is confidential.

Looking ahead
Like the rest of the world, the legal profession faced a difficult time in the downturn of 2008-10. This has had a knock-on effect for junior lawyers, especially trainees and students, who have found themselves facing a tougher employment market than usual. In the short term, training contract places and newly-qualified positions are proving difficult to find, although it is hoped that 2012 will see a marked improvement.

Alternative suggestions
Other possibilities might include: barrister/advocate, barrister’s clerk, civil servant, legal executive or licensed conveyancer.

Take-home pay
The Law Society recommends a minimum trainee salary of £19,040 for London and £16,940 elsewhere in England and Wales. Commercial firms in the City of London usually offer considerably more, currently around £30,000 to £36,000. The average annual salary for a lawyer is around £52,000. A partner in a large firm would expect to earn £100,000 plus.
The Law Society of Scotland recommends that trainee solicitors be paid £15,965 in the first year of their traineeship and £19,107 in the second, although some of the larger commercial law firms are known to pay trainees significantly higher salaries. As a newly qualified solicitor, you might expect to be paid about £25,000 if you work for a small firm and about £30,000 or over if you work for one of the larger commercial firms in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Solicitors normally work 37 hours a week, but longer hours are common. You may be on call at weekends and bank holidays, and you could be called to a police station at any time of the day or night.

Sources of information
Law Careers:
Law Society Junior Lawyers: 
Solicitors Regulation Authority:
Law Society of Scotland:
Law Society of Northern Ireland:
Law Society of Ireland:
National Admissions Test for Law:
Magistrates' Association:
Crown Prosecution Service:

Government Legal Service:




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