What is a Solicitor
A solicitor is a legal professional who provides legal advice to clients. Clients could include individuals, businesses, international organisations and governments.
A practising solicitor could work in-house or in private practice. A solicitor working in-house provides a variety of legal advice for the company which they work for. Whereas a private practice solicitor is employed by a law firm and works for the variety of different clients which employ that specific law firm.
This article hopes to give an overview of the profession however to cavate the phrase “it depends” will be used throughout. The legal profession is unquiet as dissects all international sectors from trade to the art sector and commerce to the medical sector.
On a general level a solicitor is tasked with providing legal advice and solutions to clients however as with all professions there is variety in the responsibility of a solicitor dependent on the role, the firm, seniority level and sector.
A brief breakdown is explained below;
In the legal sector, there are two main streams of employment: in house roles and private practice.
In house is the term which describes solicitors which work solely for a singular business and their office is “in house”.An in-house solicitor is often specialised in the field which the firm operates info example a large construction firm may have a team of solicitors specialised in real estate, construction regulations and commercial contracts. The commercial benefit of having an in-house team is that it can costs the firm less in external legal fees. For common issues and practices, an in-house legal team is specialised enough to advise on these areas and such only the complex and highly specialised areas of work are contracted out to law firms.
An inhouse role can be categorised into 3 main sections, aptly summarised as “CAT”; contracts, advice and training.
Contract, as stated it is common for a business to have a legal department trained in the contract variety which is commonly used. For example, a legal department in a bank will have solicitors trained in the drawing of mortgage contracts.
Advice, often an in-house solicitor has a wider advisory role within the business not just tackling the contract drafting but also playing a role in the future of the business. The advisory side of an in-house solicitor role is an interesting trend which is being seen amongst many in-house counsel roles. Due to the skills attributed to solicitors, namely clear communication, attention to detail and wider sector knowledge, an in-house solicitor is in a good position to be strategic advisor to the business.
Finally training. An aspect of being an in-house solicitor concerns the mitigation of risk and ensuring compliance with the current and future law. To mitigate the risk of legal breaches in-house legal teams will often devise training programmes and policies for business staff to follow. Often these policies will include GDPR training and sector-specific training.
An in-house solicitor role can be summarised as “making the complex simple”. An in-house solicitor has to ensure compliance, provide advice and draft documents for their business colleagues who are unlikely to understand the complexities of specific areas of law.
Furthermore, there may be contentious solicitors within the firm whom are
specialised inlitigation. Although litigation traditional refers to the stage where a case reaches trial, commonly it covers alternative dispute settlement measures also. A contentious solicitor will be specialised in initial case investigation and evidence gathering for the client. Moreover, the solicitor will be schooled in the court system, filing dates and procedure.
The word is synonymous with swanky offices, Suits like characters, caffeine addictions and long hours. In simplified terms a private practice solicitor is employed by a law firm and the law firm is contracted by clients.
A private practice solicitor is often specialised in an area of law and a specific sector/jurisdiction. Within their area of expertise, a solicitor provides advice and guidance to clients. Your role in helping a client can take many forms from drafting contracts, acting on behalf of clients in negotiations and preparing a client enthralled in a legal dispute.
A key difference between in-house and private practice solicitors is their clients. As a private practice solicitor, you not only have to exceed clients’ expectations, but you also have to work to bring new clients to the firm. Client s are mostly interested in experience, trust, results and value for money. The former three are gained through law firms building a specialist team which gain sector and international recognition for their work. The latter is measured by the term billable hours. Billable hours are how a solicitor records their time and ultimately what it the service will cost the client. Some tasks such as photocopying and internal training are not chargeable to a client. However, chargeable tasks include drafting, emails and document review all of which are added to the client charge sheet.
It depends on is a keyword with this section. Generally, the legal profession and the service that solicitors provide is highly specialised as such the salary reflects this. The following information has been provided by the Law Society. As a trainee, the salary will be dependent on the terms of the contract however the Law Society recommend a minimum of £22,541 in London and £19,992 outside London. Commonly each year of the training contract will see a rise in salary. The greatest variation of salary can be seen in the qualified solicitor bracket as it depends on geographical location and years post qualification.
Average annual salaries by region; Greater London – £88,000, South of England – £56,000
Midlands and Wales – £46,000 and North of England – £43,000.
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The legal profession is undergoing the biggest facelift in decades as the route to become qualified has changed.
This question entirely depends on your degree and the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam(SQE).
The traditional route to qualification can be seen below. As a caveat to the stages set out, there is also the option to undertake the GDL and LPC without the sponsorship of a Law firm.
In response to growing criticism of the traditional route to qualification the Solicitors Regulation Authority has created the SQE (the cost being the main reason). The SQE was created with the aim of better preparing aspiring solicitors as well as dispelling the notion that the traditional route to qualification is ‘better’.
Alternative there is an opportunity to qualify as a registered CILEx, the Chartered Institution of Legal Executives) fellow. Qualification requires passing the CILEx exams and undertaking a period of employment.
The CILEx route is different as individuals specialise early choosing one practice area and studying to an advanced level. The most common areas of specialism include Family, Conveyancing, Criminal and Probate. Comparatively the LPC and SQE route allow for greater breath of study.
So, in response to ‘What will I need to do to become one’?
Qualification in the legal profession is changing but not as quickly as you may think. The traditional route, through the completion of the LPC, is not to be phased out until 2031. However, as a final point the legal profession still holds academic integrity
The legal profession deals daily with highly sensitive and complex material as such there is a limitation on applicants whom are looking to have legal work experience. Instead of there being a requirement for legal work experience many firms look for applicants who can demonstrate the key skills of the legal profession.
Whether the solicitor is working in private practice or in house the most paramount skill is communication. A solicitor’s main role is advising clients on how to secure compliance and chose a course of action to overcome foreseen, as well as unforeseen legal hurdles. Often these tasks involve complex legislation and require a quick decision. You will need to look around corners to understand the long-term implications of your advice. Therefore, a solicitor must have persuasive, clear and confident explanations to give to clients. Although a client may be a market leader or sector experts, they are more likely to be interested in the potential outcomes rather than technicalities.
Therefore, it is necessary to demonstrate this skill whether through employment, extracurriculars or employment. Experience in a customer-facing industry where you can demonstrate active listening, appropriate customer response and clear instruction is the best way to show this skill. Hospitality experience can demonstrate that you have engaged with a variety of individuals in a fast-paced industry.
This skill is one that arguably defines a solicitor from a barrister. While a barrister will have to work with the wider team of the instructing solicitors and sometimes a wider litigation team, a solicitor work in teams within their office and sometimes in other jurisdictions. Teamwork is a tricky skill to balance and demonstrate, ultimately different firms look for different characteristics in their solicitors.
That being said to be a solicitor it must be shown that you are able to work effectively and professionally with different personalities. To demonstrate this any experience where you have worked in a wider team would be beneficial whether this be in a professional, sporting or extra-curricular setting.
Attention to detail
This is a skill that I believe sets the legal profession apart from other sectors as this skill is of the upmost importance to the integrity of the sector. Solicitors handle high volumes of extremely confidential material which if it falls into the wrong hands can lead to expensive, profit ending and in some cases life-ending consequences. Although you may believe this an exaggeration imagines an ex parte non-molestation order being disclosed to the respondent who has a history of violence, the consequences would be catastrophic. From a commercial viewpoint, unclear phrasing in a contract or incorrect figures could lead to increased liability of a firm and future litigation proceedings. Both scenarios highlighted could be mitigated if the correct attention to detail to followed.
A solicitor is a specialised legal professional and such must demonstrate an interest into the sector they specialise in. Different sectors require different skills for example; family law requires empathy and commercial law requires business acumen.
The best way to develop sector awareness is through reading articles, journals and gaining experience in the sector. Lexis Nexis provides practice guides for different sectors offering clear and logical examples of how a practising solicitor tackles legal issues. Also, with a quick Google, there are websites and blogs which give sector updates and insights into sector changes. Law firm websites and blogs which specialise are also great resources for keeping sector enthusiasts updated. The LawMiracle commercial news website is recommended as it considers the legal impact of business news, providing a practical understanding of the role you will be undertaking.
As a solicitor, you often draft and plan for there to be no foreseeable problem within the course of action. However external and sometimes unforeseeable forces such as Brexit, COVID-19 leaves the task of problem-solving to a solicitor. Either working in house or private practice a solicitor will always have to find the most suitable solution for a client. Sometimes problem-solving involves solicitors thinking creatively to overcome drafting issues or mitigate risks.
As stated, formal work experience is not often a requirement for becoming a solicitor. However, ideas of gaining experience are listed;
- As a law graduate you can apply to become a Paralegal, although competitive, this opportunity would give a great insight into the sector.
- Experience in a high street firm shadowing a solicitor.
- Formal vacation schemes with law firms, often advertised on their website.
- Volunteering experience at a University Pro Bono clinic, Citizens Advice Bureau or as a McKenzie friend.
- Taking part in debating and mooting competitions.
- Join a legal blog as a content writer. Here you are able to explore your favoured areas of law in greater depth.
- Undertake a free virtual internship with FORAGE, an online platform which hosts pre-recorded virtual internships.
The legal sector is vast and with it the opportunities are endless. There is a pyramid structure to a private practice law firm with partnership being at the apex. Following qualification, a trainee becomes an associate solicitor and typically works under the supervision of a partner or senior associate. With the years post qualification (PQ) comes increased responsibility, as the most years PQ the less senior supervision required. Associates are often the bridge between a trainee and the partner providing trainee teaching and billable work output.
The route to partnership is different across firms and can occur through either internal promotion or lateral hire. Most law firms are structured as partnerships where a partner could either hold partnership in equity or non-equity. An equity partner gains a share in the firms profits and liabilities whereas a non-equity partner receives a higher salary.
It is a misconception that barristers are the only legal professional which can become Judges. In practice a Judge is qualified legal professional who has the required legal experience, no matter the background. A solicitor is required to have at least 5 year PQ experience practising law before they begin the process to becoming a judge. The Judicial Appointment Commission is tasked which assessing and selecting legal professionals to become Judges. Along with letter of application and references a judicial candidate must undertake analytical tests. These written tests aren’t aimed at evaluating whether a candidate knows the “law to the T” they tests are there to evaluate the decision-making process of the candidate. Whether the candidate can identify the issues at hand, apply the law but most importantly give a balance decision.
Commonly a solicitor working in private practice can applying to become a Judge part-time or on a fee-paid basis. As a fee-paid Judge, the solicitor is paid a set amount for their judicial work no matter the length of time required for the case. A solicitor may choose to become a full-time Judge and move into the public sector.
A solicitor can also choose to work for the Government Legal Department, GLD. In the GLD a solicitor would work with the government, advising on complex and politically sensitive issues. Examples of such issues include changes to current policy, planned reform policy and the issue of late, Brexit. Often GLD solicitors would play a paramount role in the planning and execution of government policy ensuring that planned policy is legal. The areas of law covered by GLD are broad and include; litigation, employment, European and commercial.
Another sector of interest is risk and compliance which is deemed to be the fastest-growing area of employment in the City of London. A compliance analyst can be employed within a law firm or financial firm and has the role of ensuring compliance with stated regulatory requirements. Following the 2007 downturn there has been a series of financial regulation overhaul and to assist firms have rapidly expanded their risk and compliance teams. As a compliance analyst, you would be responsible for the development and implementation of compliance policies as well as the corresponding legal administration tasks. Business non-compliance can result in billions of pounds in fines being imposed, hence the growth of the employment sector.