When it comes to pursuing a career in the legal profession most of us are familiar with the role of a lawyer, however, equally as necessary, is the role that a solicitor plays in the legal system. This article will tell you everything you need to know about how to kick start your law career as a solicitor, from the qualifications that are required to the different routes available once you qualify.
What Does Being a Solicitor Involve?
The primary role of a solicitor is to provide legal advice to clients on a range of topics and above all to protect the rights of individuals to ensure the appropriate treatment by both private and public bodies. Some solicitors are specialised in a particular area of expertise, for example, criminal law. A lawyer’s specialised area determines the advice that they can offer on individual issues. Three of the main areas of expertise involve:
Solicitors are responsible for undertaking legal research and collecting evidence ahead of court hearings and trials. The work of solicitors is highly important and brings with it a great deal of responsibility. Another task that is common for solicitors to undertake is the liaising with clients and representing them in court. Therefore, the role involves a wide range of responsibilities, showing that no two days will be the same!
Qualifications Needed to Become a Solicitor
To become a qualified solicitor, it is vital that you have a robust set of academic qualifications. It is advised to take humanities subjects such as English, History and Law at A Level as these disciplines build on both written and analytical skills which are essential in the everyday activities of a solicitor.
After achieving secondary qualifications, the next typical step is to study an undergraduate degree at university. The most common course to enrol in the UK is the LLB Law degree. This course typically takes law students three years of study or four years to complete if you intend on graduating with Honours. In completing the course, you will receive a thorough grounding in the principles and areas of law and will become well equipped in your knowledge of the legal system. Upon graduating with a qualifying law degree, you can then move on to pursue the Legal Practice Course which involves hands-on experience working as a trainee solicitor.
To become a qualified solicitor, it is vital that you have a robust set of academic qualifications.
However, if you do not have a degree in law do not fret! You can still become a solicitor with a non-law degree particularly with one in a humanities subject. Once you have achieved this, you can then enrol in a law conversion course such as a Common Professional Examination which is a postgraduate law course in England and Wales taken by non-law graduates wishing to become either a solicitor or barrister. The Law Conversion Course is normally a one-year course tailored to non-law graduates and is designed to teach you the skill set and functional roles that solicitors carry out. Upon completion, you then move on to complete the Legal Practice Course which normally takes up to one year to complete if you intend on studying full time and two years if studying part-time.
After achieving the academic qualifications relevant to becoming a solicitor, the next step in the process is to complete recognised training which will enable you to put your legal knowledge and the skill set learned to the test in the workplace and become fully qualified.
It is also possible to become a solicitor without holding an academic degree. For candidates in this position, the usual route is through a solicitor apprenticeship, although this route takes typically from five to six years to fully complete. Employers will also want to see evidence of undertaking a portfolio of work experience, so it is a good idea to organise work experience at a law firm and shadow solicitors during periods such as the summer.
The route to becoming a solicitor in Scotland is slightly different to that in England and Wales. While most Scottish solicitors have an LLB Law degree, there is the option to enter into a three-year pre-diploma training contract with a Scottish solicitor which allows candidates to build up a body of knowledge in a relatively short space of time. This route combines full-time work and study which gives candidates experience of what the job entails. At the end of the contract, trainees sit the Law Society of Scotland’s professional exams which puts candidates learning to the test and this is followed by attaining a graduate diploma in law before you start working professionally.
Skill Set Required
As well as achieving solid academic qualifications, successful solicitors possess a wide range of transferable skills that are key to their everyday tasks.
Excellent Communication Skills
As solicitors are required to communicate with a wide variety of people, it is essential that they can communicate effectively both written, through emails for example, and verbally.
Confidence in Public Speaking
The ability to speak in front of a crowd is also an important skill that is needed as solicitors often speak at court hearings or to high-profile clients. Therefore, it is necessary that they can do so eloquently and with ease.
Good Organisation & Attention to Detail
An obvious one, but it goes without saying that solicitors need to efficiently organise their workload and pay close attention to detail as they are responsible for organising and preparing important documents such as court cases.
Energy & Stamina
Being a solicitor is not a typical 9 to 5 job; therefore, you must be willing to put in extra hours when needed and remain dedicated to the task. An example of this is working late nights to complete work for more challenging cases.
Different Employment Routes Available
Upon passing the solicitors qualifying examination it may be possible to be offered a training contract by the company that trained you. Typically, when you start out you work under the supervision of a senior solicitor to learn the ropes of the trade.
When you become a fully qualified solicitor, there are several routes that are open to you – for example:
The paralegal route is sometimes a beneficial way of building up to work at a solicitor level. As a paralegal, you carry out jobs such as administrative tasks, organise case files, network with clients and conduct legal research. The role acts as a bridge to becoming a qualified solicitor.
Solicitors in England and Wales are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority which is responsible for regulating the professional conduct of more than 125,000 solicitors. The SRA provides both resources and guidance for law professionals.
The route to becoming a solicitor is without a doubt a gruelling process but the successful career and benefits that you will reap upon qualifying will more than make it worth all the effort!