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Solicitors provide advice to clients of all types about specific areas of law and they also represent their clients if disputes arise. These specific areas of law include property, taxation, finance, employment, and competition. Solicitors advise and represent large and small businesses and the type of work taken on varies from case to case.
Solicitors advise clients about legal matters and may also represent them in court. Alternatively, solicitors may be responsible for instructing barristers or advocates to act for their clients. Many solicitors choose to specialise in a specific area of law but irrespective of their area of expertise they all have to be constantly aware of changes in the legal system. Solicitors spend a lot of time researching cases similar to the ones they are dealing with at any moment in time for legal precedents. Accurate record keeping is also an important part of the job.
Although large legal practices, particularly those situated in the City, have a male-orientated reputation, the gender ratio is actually relatively equal.
Starting salaries vary depending on which part of the country solicitors are working in, as well as which firm they choose to work for. However, the minimum starting salary will be in the region of £16,000. If solicitors manage to get a job in central London in a large firm, the starting salary will probably be in the region of £30,000. As solicitors gain more experience, their salaries will increase rapidly. Senior solicitors in large firms can expect to earn around £100,000.
The responsibilities of a typical solicitor include:
- Meeting with clients to advise them on legal matters
- Creating documents and drawing up contracts relevant to the specific case
- Researching previous cases that may provide information relevant to the current case
- Supervising and overseeing official agreements between parties
- Researching a thorough case history of each case
- Attending court hearings
- Instructing advocates and barristers
- Negotiating with those attending a court hearing
- Reading law journals and attending frequent legal courses
To become a solicitor, individuals will usually need to meet minimum academic standards. This means completing a law degree or taking a Common Professional Examination or Graduate Diploma in Law after having completed an initial degree in any discipline. Entry to law degrees at all British universities is very competitive and individuals will need to obtain impressive A Level grades. Before accepting students on to the course, some universities require the completion of the National Admissions Test for Law.
Subsequently, the Legal Practice Course must be completed. Individuals can choose to complete this course in one or two years, depending on whether they wish to become involved in full-time or part-time study. Once these qualifications have been gained successfully, individuals will need to complete a training contract with a firm and, during this time, the Professional Skills Course must be passed.
The following skills are important for any solicitor:
- Good communication skills
- A careful and diligent attitude towards written work
- The ability to put up with the stresses and strains of the job
- The ability to work as part of a team
- A business-orientated mind
- A high sense of motivation
- Common sense
- The ability to remain calm whilst under intense pressure and scrutiny
- The ability to negotiate and remain diplomatic
- An analytical mind capable of assimilating and interpreting large amounts of information
- Good interpersonal skills
- A hunger to increase knowledge of legal matters
- A willingness to help others and appear sympathetic whilst remaining professional
Solicitors usually work in a busy office environment but they may also make home visits to clients or attend meetings in other offices. They should also be comfortable in a court environment, especially if specialising in criminal law. A 37 hour week is common in this profession but it is not unusual for solicitors to work outside these hours, even at weekends during busy times and tough cases.
Some solicitors will find themselves attending police stations during the middle of the night and may have to make themselves actively available to their clients during all hours of the day and night. As a result of the long hours and the tasks undertaken on a daily basis, the job can be very stressful but the larger companies do all they can to minimise the impact of stress upon their employees.
Since becoming a solicitor is an ambition held by many individuals across the country, it is extremely advantageous to be able to show evidence of previous experience. Having previous work experience with a legal firm shows that you have made an informed choice in applying to be a solicitor and have not simply applied on a whim. Many large firms run internships during the summer for students currently studying for a degree.
The major employers of solicitors in the United Kingdom include:
- Allen & Overy
- Clifford Chance
- Slaughter and May
- Herbert Smith
- Government Legal Service
Some solicitors choose to stay with the firm they trained with until they reach the level of partner. There is no definite time limit before an individual can be considered for partnership but solicitors will need to impress for at least six years. Other solicitors choose to move to different firms in order to specialise in different areas of law. Some individuals may choose to set up their own, private firm. Alternatively, further training will allow a solicitor to become a barrister.
Also known as…
- Legal adviser
What’s it really like?
Michael, aged 42, is currently a partner working for Lovells LLP. Lovells is a large law firm which has its headquarters in the City of London and has twenty-six offices located throughout the world. As a partner, Michael represents clients involved in disputes over international contracts. Many international contracts have arbitration clauses in them, which refer disputes under those contracts to the private dispute resolution process. Michel is responsible for dealing with these disputes.
He has been a solicitor for twenty years and during a typical day, Michael attends numerous meetings with clients and colleagues. During these meetings, various subjects will come under discussion. These subjects can range from the supply of iron ore to China or the supply of bananas in Indonesia. It may involve the client’s business in Equatorial Guinea or the construction of a new airport in Qatar. Furthermore, Michael makes sure that the team which he supervises fully understands the cases it is working on and he will hold meetings with his associates in order to talk through various points. He may also hold meetings with clients to help them draft various contracts.
Michael loves the infinite variety of his job and appreciates the fact that no two cases are ever the same. The area of law in which he practises is sufficiently broad to mean that he sees many different clients operating in many different parts of the world with very different problems. The legal challenges which arise from such cases are infinite. However, his job does involve a great deal of travel, which means that he has to spend a lot of time away from his family. Michael believes that this is the greatest drawback to his job as a solicitor.
For those looking to become a solicitor, Michael believes that a love of law is essential. Individuals must enjoy meeting with clients and revel in the challenge of working hard on complex issues. He believes that the law is a great profession and it offers many openings for different people but it does require hard work and dedication. Michael believes that if an individual is not sure whether becoming a solicitor is the correct move, they should probably not become involved with the job.
Michael also advises potential applicants to spend time working in a law firm during vacations. Furthermore, he believes that applicants should try to meet with lawyers to discuss the intricacies of the job with them. Michael believes that would-be solicitors should be encouraged to view the law in its broader, commercial context. No legal problem is divorced from the commercial reality which surrounds it and it is therefore extremely important for candidates to be able to demonstrate a good general business knowledge as well as a thorough understanding of the individual client’s business. This means that individuals will need to take an interest in politics and world affairs, as well as keeping up to date with economic events.
Michael believes that he has been lucky to have worked for the same firm throughout his professional life. He has been provided with the opportunity to develop and grow in a stable working environment and he is currently looking forward to more complicated and challenging cases arriving on his desk.