To really understand what a solicitor is, it is somewhat important to understand that there are two main types of lawyers in the UK, of which a solicitor is one, and barrister is the other. Whilst the boundaries between the two professions are slowly becoming more blurred, there are still some differences between the two.
In general, the main responsibilities of barristers involve representing people in court, whereas solicitors tend to do most of their legal work outside of the courts; however there are always exceptions in both cases. For most people who need a lawyer, their first point of contact will be with a solicitor. In some cases, such as those which end up in the higher courts, a barrister may be called in to work with the solicitors to provide representation. Those who need a solicitor may not ultimately end up being represented by their first point of contact, because the solicitor that they speak to first may not be the best person to speak to. However, they will usually be able to point people in the right direction to access the legal support that they need.
Areas of employment for solicitors
There are a number of different areas in which a solicitor can be employed. Solicitors can work on their own, as part of a small law firm, as part of a large legal organisation, or in the legal department of any business or firm. Depending on which area a solicitor works in, the work that they do is likely to be slightly different. For example, a solicitor who is employed as part of the legal department in a business or firm will only represent the interests of that firm, but may have to understand that firm’s rights and obligations in regards to a wide variety of business tasks, whereas a solicitor who works as part of a small law firm may work with a lot of different clients.
Types of work
Much of the work done by solicitors is desk based, although there may be the opportunity to leave the office and visit clients in independent locations. The types of work which are regularly done by solicitors include advising clients, drafting documents, conducting research and checking legal contracts. Whilst solicitors often work on their own, they can sometimes work in teams or with support staff, such as a legal secretary.
A solicitor may also be expected to liaise with or negotiate with solicitors who are representing another party. It is important that solicitors have the necessary skills to communicate effectively with other people, because this will help them to understand the needs of their clients and to get the best possible results for their clients.
Most solicitors who make court appearances as an advocate for their client will only represent clients in a magistrate’s court or a county court. For most cases which reach the higher levels of court, a barrister will be drafted in to act as an advocate, although they will normally be supported by a team of solicitors. At present, a few top solicitors are able to work as advocates for clients in the higher courts.
During training, most solicitors will choose an area of law to specialise in. Because law is an expansive field, it is easier to offer the best levels of service if you are able to focus on just one area of law, and therefore many solicitors will have a specialism. Areas of specialism can include; wills and probate (what will happen to a person’s estate once they are deceased or incapacitated), business law, employment law, small claims cases, accident claims or family law (child custody and divorces etc).
Some solicitors will have had the opportunity to specialise in more than one of these areas. Law firms will often include solicitors who cover a range of different specialisms, so if they themselves are not able to help out with a case, they will be able to pass clients on to a colleague who is better placed to provide assistance. Many solicitors for example are also well-networked, so that if they do not actually work with a person who can help, they will know of an external candidate who may be able to help instead.