Law & Legal
Career insights: Become a Solicitor
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You may have some interest in becoming a solicitor, and you may be thinking about undertaking online law courses. Before making any significant decisions, you should learn what it means to be a solicitor and what it takes to progress in the legal industry. This guide will answer all the essential questions on how to become a solicitor.
What is a Solicitor?
A solicitor acts on behalf of clients. They will offer legal advice and then enact this legal advice. The clients of solicitors may be private or commercial, though once qualified solicitors tend to specialise in one area or another. For instance, they may become a family solicitor, or they may be involved in litigation, property or tax. Solicitors in larger firms may also find themselves representing corporate clients in transactions or preparation for legal action in the courts.
Solicitors can undertake contentious legal work, often referred to as litigation. This is where one body is pitted against another. The solicitor may also be expected to manage alternative dispute resolutions such as arbitration or mediation. Then, there is non-contentious legal work, such as administering the buying and selling of different entities, dealing with estates, etc.
Why Would You Want A Career As A Solicitor?
A solicitor can help people, groups and companies solve problems and therefore be part of the action that seeks to further the needs of society. Most solicitors are interested in making a difference, and many undertake pro bono, or free work, for those who cannot afford adequate legal representation.
However, there are more personal reasons to want to be a solicitor. The earning power of someone working in the legal sector is impressive. Solicitors are amongst the highest paid professionals if they progress to the most prominent firms and are happy to live in the bigger cities. Even modest earning solicitors will enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.
Another personal reason to become a solicitor is the prestige that comes from seeking a career in law. People see the law as an elite career, and a legal professional tends to command respect. This is not without cause, as being a solicitor is an intellectual challenge. It will have taken years of education to become a qualified solicitor and an expectation that you will continue your education even as you work. Therefore, the level of respect, and pay, is a consequence of the hard work and talent it has taken to get to the point where you are called a lawyer.
What Skills Do You Need To Become A Solicitor?
The essential skill is academic ability. You will be expected to continue learning, demonstrating effective research skills and analytical thought. Law texts can be quite dense to read and require a strong command of the language within which you are working. Most commercial and business law is completed in English; therefore, you will need proficient English language skills. You should also master numeracy skills, as much work will be done in the fine details of a calculation.
There are soft skills essential to becoming a successful solicitor. You will need strong time management and project management skills. You will need strong attention to detail. Most important, you will need self-confidence and strong communication skills to battle for your client. You may be expected to go back, again and again, to make your case and demand a different outcome. Therefore, you will also need some resilience.
What Are The Different Types Of Solicitor?
One of the benefits of being a solicitor is that you can specialise in an area that most interests you. The different types of solicitor include:
- Personal Injury: for clients involved in accidents who believe they are owed compensation
- Estate Planning: a specialist in wills and trusts
- Conveyancing: a solicitor who deals with the buying and selling of property
- Bankruptcy: a solicitor who deals with legal issues resulting from financial difficulties
- Intellectual property: focuses on copyrights, trademarks, patents, trade secrets and industrial design
- Employment: for a company who has a problem with an employee or vice versa
- Corporate: for general help with the formation of a corporation, governance and compliance issues
- Immigration: specialism in visas, citizenship, refugee and asylum status, etc.
- Criminal: for those clients who find themselves in trouble with the police and potentially facing a criminal trial
- Medical Malpractice: this specialism requires expert knowledge of the law and a confident understanding of diagnosis and treatment.
- Tax: specialist in local and national taxation, a solicitor who can help those legally evade tax and those who have illegally avoided paying tax.
- Family: this could be a legal professional who deals with child custody, divorce, spousal support issues, as well as prenuptial agreements.
- Contract: a contract is a commitment in law between two parties. The drawing up of such a contract and any conflicts resulting in a breach of a contract requires a specialist solicitor.
- Civil litigation: if individuals wish to pursue legal action against an individual or organisation outside of the corporate world or criminal court, then they would need a solicitor specialising in civil litigation.
- General Practice: general practitioners will handle a range of legal issues that do not require a specialist understanding of one area of law.
How Much Does A Solicitor Earn?
The most accurate answer to this question is: it depends. It depends on where you get a job, the level of your qualifications and the amount of experience you offer. If you are newly qualified and looking to work for a smaller firm, then you are going to start somewhere between £25000 and £40000. However, if you have the talent and the ambition to work in the larger City solicitor firms, then you could be paid more than £80000 in your first year. The average starting pay in London is £65000, though this would still represent the salaries offered by larger commercial offices.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Solicitor?
The journey to becoming a solicitor post-A-levels will take six years until you are considered fully qualified. You will need to study full-time for three years at university to gain your degree. You will then need to complete a one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) post-graduate qualification, followed by two years as a trainee with a law firm. If your degree is not in law, then you will need to complete a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course followed by the LPC.
What Is The Difference Between A Solicitor, Lawyer and Barrister?
The term lawyer is a general term that can describe anybody working as a legal practitioner and is qualified to offer legal advice. Therefore, both solicitors and barristers can be described generically as a lawyer.
A barrister tends to provide specialist advice and will represent individuals and groups in courts and tribunals. This means they are the legal representative who stands up and argues your case. However, a barrister may also offer support through written legal advice. Barristers are hired by solicitors to represent clients and tend to become involved when advocacy is needed before the Court. The role of the barrister is to structure an argument representing the client's view of the events, making this presentation of opinions persuasively to gain a positive result.
The solicitor will take the instruction from the client and offer legal advice. They may also undertake early litigation work that usually involves completing paperwork and communicating with the different parties. This could include writing letters, documents, contracts, or any material that is tailored to serve the needs of the client. It is likely they will be responsible for the preparation of papers for court.
A solicitor is also a negotiator and a mediator, seeking to conclude legal action short of formal litigation in the courts. This might involve requesting compensation, seeking the implementation of an agreement, calculating appropriate damages, and administering an estate or divorce.
What Qualifications Do You Need To Become A Solicitor?
The quickest route to becoming a solicitor is to undertake a law degree. Following graduation from your law degree, you will need to take the LPC. If you complete a degree in another subject, you will need to take a GDL to convert your degree and then take the LPC. All full-time formal education will then be followed by a two-year training contract with a solicitor's firm.
How Can You Get Legal Work Experience?
Gaining work experience is crucial to a successful career in the law. Although there is much studying to understand the different laws, cases and precedents, the practical application of this law requires hands-on experience. Work experience is an essential component of your CV if you hope to get a job after qualification.
There are schemes offered in the university holidays by some firms. If you are in your second or final year, you can spend time in a solicitor's firm and learn about culture, the way the work is organised, meet the partners and other solicitors, shadowing professionals in work with clients.
There is also something called a mini-pupillage. A normal pupillage is two years when you are on a training contract with a firm. This two-week pupillage is offered to undergraduates who can spend time working with barristers and solicitors. The competition for a mini-pupillage is intense and you should start applying for such experiences in all areas of law as soon as you can. Although first-year students are not discounted from such experience, second and final year students are preferred. However, if you begin applying from your first year, you increase your chances of success in the end. Alternatively, you can seek an internship, which is a longer-term contract with a firm, where you work for free for the entry on your CV.
Firms also offer insight days for soon-to-be graduates or second-year students. The more prominent firms invite in first-year students, hoping to spot the talent before other companies. If you are a talented lawyer, then you will be a significant asset for the partners. Therefore, attending these days is not just about getting experience with solicitors.
Another option is to send out a speculative letter to solicitors requesting work shadowing. These opportunities are unlikely to be advertised and will be a consequence of your endeavour. It is this endeavour that will look appealing to your CV.
Finally, getting spotted at debating and mooting competitions, where present legal arguments are debated with fictional cases, will be a huge benefit to your career.
How to become a Solicitor
- Attain Post-16 qualifications that reflect a high level of academic ability. The choice of A-level (or equivalent) will demonstrate your ability to complete high-level research and analysis.
- Complete a three-year degree, which does not necessarily need to be in law. If you have a specialism in mind, it might be a better idea to take a degree in that specialism, such as business or medicine.
- If you completed a law degree, you could move straight onto the LPC. If you completed an alternative degree, you would need to convert this qualification with a GDL, which will take an additional year.
- While completing academic study apply for work experiences, such as vacation schemes or open days.
- Complete a two-year training contract with a law firm.
- During your two-year training contract you will be expected to complete the Professional Skills Course.
- Qualify as a solicitor.
How To Become A Solicitor Without A Law Degree
Although you need a degree to become a solicitor, you do not need a law degree. You can complete a conversion course, which will take one year. The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) will convert your 2:2 (Hons) degree or better into one that will be applicable for moving onto an LPC. When reading blogs from serving solicitors, experience in other areas such as business could be an advantage.
How Do You Actually Get A Job?
Securing a training contract is highly competitive. It would help if you had first-class academic qualifications, as well as a strong record of work experience. Your CV will be the defining factor in your application. You can take the "cluster bomb" approach and send off multiple applications. If you believe your CV is average and you worry this is the only way to get spotted by someone, then this is certainly one way of getting a job.
Alternatively, you can think carefully about where you hope to practise law and what specialism you wish to pursue. You can investigate the different firms who offer the sort of law, and the kind of ethos, that will suit you. You will then shape a letter that is bespoke for that firm, as well as approach the company for work shadowing and open day opportunities. You will tailor your application to all that you know about the solicitors, thanks to the extensive research you will have undertaken. There is information on chambersstudent.com, and the rankings of solicitors are held in Chambers UK.
The quality of your written expression and case building will be on show in your letter. Therefore, the sending of a standard letter to lots of firms will likely be frustrating. You need to show your best self, both in terms of the quality of writing and in the quality of your intellect in the letter.
What Are The Career Progression Opportunities?
The standard progression of a solicitor is to senior partner in a company. There are lots of other more tangential ways of progressing your career in the law. However, the general expectation is:
- Trainee Solicitor
- Associate Solicitor
- Senior Associate Solicitor
- Senior Partner
Generally speaking, the senior partner is considered the shop window of the firm and they will likely deal with the most prestigious clients. They will be functioning primarily as a leader and not as a practitioner of law as such. The senior partner is elected by the partners to serve a term of three years. The level of the partner is linked to the level of equity they hold in the firm. It is worth researching individual solicitor firms to explore the structure and systems used.
Becoming a solicitor takes a good deal of resilience. It is a highly competitive field, with a long and arduous training programme. However, the level of prestige and the salary you will earn just rewards for the efforts to qualify. The opportunities to specialise and to follow imaginative paths make the law an appealing option. As well as making a lot of money, you are also in a unique position to make a significant difference in people's lives.