Solicitors provide advice and assistance to individuals and organisations on legal matters ranging from employment disputes and human rights breaches to separation and divorce.
The also provide guidance on complex commercial transactions, as well as mergers and acquisitions.
As a solicitor, you would:
- meet clients, find out what help they require and establish what you can do to help
- research different areas of law in order to suggest appropriate courses of action for clients
- draft documents such as letters and contracts
- act on behalf of clients in negotiations and occasionally at tribunals or in court.
Types of employer
As a solicitor, you could work for:
- a firm of solicitors
- an in-house legal team – for instance with a private company, or within local government
- the Government Legal Service
- Crown Prosecution Service
- an alternative business structure – an organisation which provides legal services but is funded and controlled by a company (such as the Co-operative Group).
Skills and abilities
Solicitors need a number of core skills including:
- interpersonal skills and the ability to build relationships with clients and colleagues
- communication skills both written and oral, including good listening skills in order to understand the client’s issues and concerns
- the ability to analyse, interpret and summarise large volumes of complex information in order to provide advice to clients
- accuracy and attention to detail (mistakes can be very costly)
- commercial awareness – the ability to understand a client’s business and the environment in which it operates
- dedication, commitment and resilience
- problem-solving skills and the ability to identify appropriate solutions
- a professional approach to work, integrity and a respect for confidentiality.
To become a fully qualified solicitor, you must have a qualifying law degree or a degree plus conversion course, either the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or Common Professional Examination (CPE).
After that, you’ll need to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which offers a one year vocational training (or two years part-time) in an educational setting. Then you’ll need to do a two-year period of recognised training (formerly known as a training contract) with a firm of solicitors.
Changes in training regulations
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced in April 2017 the introduction of a new solicitors' assessment called the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which all those looking to qualify as a solicitor will have to sit once the changes are implemented in 2020. Find out more on the Solicitors Regulation Authority website.
You can apply for conversion courses and LPC courses from the November of your final year, though there is no longer an official closing date. Recognised training in the larger firms of solicitors are awarded as early as the summer vacation before the start of the final year, or during the final year for non-Law student applicants.
Professional training in Law is expensive, particularly if you need to complete the GDL in addition to the LPC. The bigger firms offer sponsored training contracts with LPC course fees (and sometimes a maintenance allowance) included.
The Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme (DAS) offers assistance with LPC fees to exceptional individuals who face or have overcome exceptional obstacles to qualify as a solicitor.
Other funding options include bank loans, professional and career development loans.
To become a solicitor, it’s crucial that you take part in work experience. Not only will work experience allow you network, which in turn will aid you in the future recruitment process, it will help you to decide if this sector is right for you.
You can find opportunities within high street firms, commercial firms or legal departments in local government and in house in larger organisations:
These offer lots of opportunities, but they’re often hidden from view as smaller firms hardly ever advertise. Having neither the budget nor the need, they are guaranteed to receive more applications than they can cope with.
Start your search by checking whether any friends or family have connections in high street firms. If so, try to arrange to speak to them about their work and about possible work experience opportunities.
Failing that, a good starting point is the Law Society’s Directory of Solicitors. Here you can search for solicitors firms by location and also by area of practice (eg property lawyers in Cardiff).
You’ll need to use a well-designed CV and speculative covering letter and to apply early on in the term prior to the period in which you are hoping to gain experience. Be persistent – you may make many applications and not receive as many positive replies as you would like. It is appropriate to ask for a week or two of experience or less if the firm is only willing to consider very short term requests. Any work experience will be useful.
If you’re not having much success asking for work experience, consider asking instead about work shadowing opportunities (which implies less effort on the part of the firm) or even for a possible meeting with a solicitor to carry out what careers advisers like to call an information interview – in other words a chat during which you can ask questions about the day to day work, what the solicitor enjoys most and least about his work, etc. This type of more modest request may be easier for a firm to accommodate.
Many of the larger law firms – mainly commercial firms – offer structured and paid periods of work experience called vacation schemes. Firms are predominantly interested in hearing from law students in their second year, although many will consider finalists and graduates.
Deadlines for many but not all summer vacation schemes is 31 January, but check individual firms’ websites for details and keep an eye on LawCareers.net which carries a useful listing of vacation scheme opportunities and deadlines.
In the last couple of years, there has been a significant increase in the number of firms offering insight programmes aimed specifically at first year students – these give students a taste of life as a commercial solicitor, and an opportunity to discover more about the skills needed for the job.
If you’re a non-Law student
If you’re intending to convert to law, you can apply for work experience opportunities in the final year of your first degree, and even in your second year, for summer schemes with some firms. A number of firms run Christmas schemes for non-law final years.
Other firms offer workshops for non-law students, which are the next best thing to a vacation scheme, as they can give a very good insight into life at a firm. Keep an eye on law firm websites for application details – some open on 1 October and close again in mid-November for winter placement schemes. Keep an eye on law firm websites for details and on: LawCareers.net
There are other places you can try as well as law firms when it comes to gaining relevant experience. If you’re interested in commercial law, experience in a commercial environment eg bank, insurance, accountancy office, for example, will be useful. If you’re keen on property law, you could consider estate agent work.
Also consider the legal department within your local town or county council, or a big organisation which has its own legal department. Many large companies have their own legal departments and work experience here is equally valid.
Improving your employability
To increase your chances of getting a job as a solicitor, you may want to volunteer, attend one of our events, where you can meet employers from all over the country, or join a professional body.
You can also sign up for workshops, courses and masterclasses to help you to develop your skills.
Find out more
Careers and Employability
- Telephone:+44 (0)29 2087 4844