What does a solicitor do: overview of the solicitors’ profession

Overview of the solicitors’ profession
Solicitors advise individuals and companies on a wide range of matters, from employment to real estate.

What do solicitors do?

Solicitors are often the first port of call for clients who want a legal problem solved – whether that client is an individual selling their house or a company buying another company. Solicitors tend to specialise in one area of law, such as family, criminal or employment law. There are solicitors’ firms in every town and city in the country but the work of solicitors varies enormously depending on the size of the firm and the type of client.

Typical duties for a solicitor include:

  • providing legal advice for clients
  • writing and preparing (called ‘drafting’) legal documents
  • conducting research into legal cases and legislation
  • meeting with clients (often to build professional relationships) and other professionals (such as barristers)
  • representing clients in court as an advocate (although this is more commonly done by a barrister).

Who do solicitors work for?

Solicitors can either work ‘in private practice’ for law firms (which range in size from high street firms to large, international firms) or work ‘in-house’ as part of an organisation’s legal department (these organisations might be large companies or government bodies).

Clients can be anyone needing legal advice, from individuals to organisations. The type of client that solicitors will advise will depend on what area of law they specialise in and the type/size of employer that they work for. Some firms will specialise in a particular area of law, such as real estate or shipping law.

Qualification and training

You need a degree to become a solicitor, and there are routes into the profession through university study or a solicitor degree apprenticeship. If you choose to study at university, you can become a solicitor with either a law degree or a non-law degree.

What is the SQE?

A new qualification process for solicitors is being introduced. Aspiring lawyers with law degrees and non-law degrees will need to complete the SQE (solicitors qualifying examination) after graduation. This is made up two different stages and requires applicants to have completed two years of relevant work experience, which will typically be done through a training contract (see below).

Graduates with non-law degrees do not have to have completed a postgraduate conversion course, known as the GDL (graduate diploma in law) or the CPE (common professional examination), before taking the SQE. However, it is recommended as conversion courses will teach graduates the legal knowledge they will need to complete the SQE assessments. You may be able to complete an SQE-specific conversion course.

What is the LPC?

If you have, or will have, already started your degree before the introduction of the SQE, you will have the option to qualify through the existing system: the LPC (or ‘legal practice course’). The LPC is made up of two stages, which can be taken ‘back-to-back’ or with a break between the two stages. Typically, a full-time LPC course will take a year of study. Aspiring lawyers with non-law degrees who wish to complete the LPC will need to complete a conversion course (usually the GDL or CPE).

What are training contracts?

Instead of graduate jobs, aspiring lawyers with university degrees will apply for training contracts. These are two-year training courses with law firms where, typically, graduates will experience six months in four different legal areas – from banking law to tax law. In each seat trainees will work in teams and learn from experienced solicitors and partners.

Successful completion of this ‘period of recognised training’ (as training contracts are sometimes known), as well as professional skills training and/or the SQE, will allow trainees to be entered onto the Law Society’s ‘roll of solicitors’ and become a newly qualified (or ‘NQ’) solicitor.

Who can become a solicitor?

The solicitors’ profession is a very competitive sector to enter – you’ll need a consistently strong exam record to get in and a determination to succeed. You’ll need As/8s and A*s/9s at GCSE level (or equivalent), between AAB and A*AA at A level (or equivalent) and a 2.1 or first in your degree (the top two grades you can get).

Key skills for solicitors

The key skills that solicitors need are:

  • good attention to detail
  • research skills
  • people skills – you’ll spend a lot of your time communicating with clients and other lawyers
  • the ability to write and speak clearly and communicate complicated information, often to non-lawyers
  • knowledge of what is happening in the legal world and beyond.

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