Thinking of becoming a solicitor? First things first; let’s clear up what it is they do exactly: A solicitor is the first point of contact for clients. It’s their job to listen to their client’s grievance and side of the case and provide general legal advice in the first instance. If and when a case escalates and proceeds to court, a solicitor will liaise with both the client and representing barrister throughout the case, carrying out varying tasks such as undertaking legal research, and collecting evidence, and instructing the barrister ahead of court hearings and trials. Some solicitors (solicitor advocates) also have rights of audience, which means they can represent their client in court as a barrister does.
Upon qualification as a solicitor, you would usually work with a firm of solicitors either in a high street, national or international outfit. There are various other organisations that you can work for, from the Crown Prosecution Service and the Government Legal Service to Legal Aid organisations and NGOs.
What skills do I need to become a solicitor?
Pursuing a career as a solicitor is a challenging, competitive and expensive process.. You have to be very strong academically, with good GCSE, A-Level and degree results. With hundreds of people aspiring to this profession, it’s important to be sure you have a strong enough academic background before you proceed any further..
And it’s not just about you academic achievements! Successful law applicants really are the all-singing, all-dancing types: You must have excellent social, communication and interpersonal skills as much of your work will be spent liaising with clients, colleagues and a host of other professional people. Public speaking skills are also vital within the everyday realms of a solicitor’s job; you must be comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people. The work is quick-paced and circumstances can change quickly at any momentso you must be able to absorb large amounts of information in a short period of time, whether it is in preparation for a court appearance or for a presentation to a high-profile client.
Finally, you are going to need a hack of a lot of energy and stamina if you think this is the career for you; late nights are a common occurrence, particularly in city law firms and the magic and silver circle.
The academic stage…
Many would-be solicitors study a qualifying law degree (LLB) first at undergraduate level, however this is not essential in order to train as a solicitor. Non-law graduates need to complete the law conversion course (GDL), a one-year full-time course, after graduating from an undergraduate degree.
Once you have completed a law degree or law conversion course the next stage of academic training is the Legal Practice Course (LPC) – another year-long programme which teaches the vocational aspects to being a solicitor.
The battle for a training contract
Now it’s time to secure employment with a law firm. After the LPC, the standard route is to complete a training contract with a law firm in order to qualify and practise as a fully trained solicitor. A training contract lasts two years and is comprised of several seats in a number of departments. After completion, the majority of trainees will stay on at the firm as newly qualified solicitors.
It is also possible to qualify via a period of recognised training, which would not take the form of a training contract.
Law students tend to apply for training contracts in their second and third year of university (and after graduation if previously unsuccessful), whilst non-law students tend to apply in or after their final year of university and afterwards. The reason for applying so early is that many of the large firms offer funding to cover or contribute towards the cost of the GDL and the LPC.
Before even applying for a training contract, many students apply for vacation schemes with law firms. These are paid work experience placements offered in winter, spring and summer. Many firms recruit their trainees from those who have done work experience with them previously.
The paralegal route
It is not unheard of for trainees to obtain a training contract by firstly becoming a paralegal. A small number of firms, particularly regional and smaller firms, have been known to recruit their trainees in this way, however, this is a much less established route. Becoming a paralegal cannot guarantee you will be able to work up to solicitor level in all cases.