You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! On second thoughts, you probably can. So we’re going to give it to you right now! So, keep reading if you want to find out all about the professional life of a solicitor.
Solicitors provide legal services to individual and institutional clients across a wide range of civil, commercial and criminal law issues. Solicitors collaborate with a variety of professionals (legal and non-legal) in the course of their day-to-day activities.
Given the vast and complex nature of law, it’s the norm for solicitors to specialise in a specific area of the legal profession. Most professionals within the legal fraternity choose one or several areas of legal practice to focus on and build their expertise in that area.
Broadly speaking, solicitors are classified into two main groups: commercial and non-commercial. Commercial solicitors focus on all legal matters relating to business, representing both individuals and organisations, though predominantly providing legal advice to companies.
Non-commercial solicitors also represent individuals and organisations, but these guys focus on issues falling outside of the business domain.
Commercial solicitors can focus on all kinds of legal practice, including: corporate, contract, competition, communications, commercial property, finance, employment, intellectual property, transport, sports and media law.
On the other hand, non-commercial solicitors concentrate on personal injury, family and tort law, criminal litigation, succession and inheritance, residential property and conveyancing, taxation, trusts and other similar areas.
While the actual day-to-day activities may differ for commercial and non-commercial solicitors, the underlying nature of their duties and responsibilities are similar.
If you become a solicitor, you’ll be holding initial discussions with your clients to determine whether or not your firm can help them with their legal problem. Following this preliminary consultation period, you’ll be advising clients on any further proceedings, such as the time required and the costs that they’re likely to incur.
When it comes to getting stuck into the hands-on legal work, you’ll be researching common and statutory law to prepare a case brief, as well as making necessary applications to the appropriate judicial forums. You will also be responsible for briefing barristers or advocates on cases where representation before the courts is required.
As you progress from a trainee position to become an associate, you’ll be responsible for supervising the work of junior staff, reviewing documentation, drafting contracts and keeping your clients informed of any progress on their case.
Finally, you’ll also be responsible for reviewing judgements and raising grounds for appeal (if there are any) in the case of unfavourable decisions or cases where the damages provided are inadequate.
Salary & benefits
Starting salaries for solicitors depend entirely on location, area of practice and the size and reputation of the law firm. Trainee commercial solicitors earn annual salaries of around £17,000 to £30,000, while trainee non-commercial solicitors can earn between £17,000 and £25,000 per annum.
Solicitors working in City firms (i.e. firms based in the City of London) and UK branches of large American law firms, however, are likely to receive higher starting salaries, ranging between £30,000 and £40,000 a year.
Trainees that focus on corporate law, dealing with high-end corporate transactions, major financial deals and mergers and acquisitions, tend to earn the highest amount.
Once you are fully-trained and you begin to progress through the ranks, your wages will increase significantly. If you eventually reach partner level within a major commercial law firm, you may even begin to earn over a million pounds a year.
Many commercial solicitors also receive joining bonuses, performance-based salary increments and bonus payments during the training contract period. Some firms may also pay all of a trainee’s course fees and give them a stipend while they’re studying for their Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) qualifications.
However, this does not mean that compensation packages for solicitors in other commercial and non-commercial practice areas are unfavourable. Large national and regional firms offer competitive salaries and benefits to attract and retain talented employees.
City firms in general will offer higher compensation packages across all practice areas, as compared to high-street, national and regional law firms.
The total time and effort required on the part of salaried solicitors are directly proportional to the compensation levels they receive, so high salaries will equal long and pressure-driven work schedules with stiff targets.
Solicitors working in non-commercial areas have it easier in terms of working hours, but the pressure during peak times is equally strenuous and stressful.
Weekend work is usually rare, unless a deal or case is nearing completion. Travel outside the office base is common.
The minimum entry requirements for trainee solicitors are the same, irrespective of the practice area. To enter this profession, you will need a strong undergraduate degree (2:1 minimum) in any discipline, including law. You will also need a consistently strong academic record, including good grades (As and Bs) at GCSE and A-level (a minimum number of UCAS points may also be specified), and an impressive array of extra-curricular achievements.
Candidates with undergraduate degrees in non-law subjects must complete the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which is also commonly known as the law conversion course.
All candidates also need to complete a year-long Legal Practice Course (LPC) before beginning a two-year training contract as a trainee solicitor with a firm of their choice, depending on whether or not they are successful in their application.
This is arguably the most competitive profession to try and break into. Consequently, you will need to tick all of the right boxes, while somehow standing out from the crowd at the same time, if you are going to have a chance of getting a training contract!
Training & progression
The two-year training contract is standard practice in all law firms, though the variety of practice areas and placements may be fewer in smaller organisations. Trainee solicitors usually do between three and six placements (a.k.a. seats) in various departments of the law firm, focusing each time on a different area of legal practice.
This gives you the opportunity to gain ‘on-the-job’ experience in a diverse range of disciplines. You will also usually get the opportunity to take part in formal in-house training sessions. It’s also necessary for all trainee solicitors to take the Professional Skills Course (PSC), a module-based programme covering ethics, client practice, management and financial skills.
Career progression is primarily meritocratic. Your progression up the legal ladder will be based on your individual performance and achievement of targets. Your practice area and the performance of the firm in general will also have a bearing on your career development.
The typical career path leads towards becoming a partner (equity or salaried). The next big step up though, once you’ve qualified, is to become an associate. Understandably, not everyone becomes a partner, and there is always stiff competition amongst solicitors for a limited number of positions.
Alternative options for career progression include: solo practice, government service, employment with a commercial enterprise which has a dedicated legal division, or conversion to an advocacy role which allows you to appear before judicial authorities.