Trainee solicitor

Understanding What A Solicitor Does

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.

Specialised solicitors

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.


Am I Too Old To Train As A Solicitor?

If you’ve decided that you would like a career change, and that you are interested in becoming a solicitor, then there are plenty of options available to you. Although there is no upper age limit on people who are training to become a solicitor, it is worth considering the time that training takes, and the expected costs, which you may not be able to recuperate if you are very close to retirement. However, there are plenty of opportunities available for mature students (people over 35) and career changers.

If you do not Have an Undergraduate Degree…

If you do not already have an undergraduate degree, you may want to consider taking a degree in law at university. Degrees last 3 – 4 years when they are studied on a full time basis, and you can expect fees of up to £9000 per year, in addition to your standard living costs. This degree will give you a strong backing which allows you to understand how to do research, as well as how to understand many aspects of law in England and Wales.

During this course, you will be given an overview of a wide range of different areas of law, but you will not be asked to choose a specialism. Alternatively, you may be able to progress straight on to the Common Professional Examination, if you have equivalent qualifications or experience.

If you already have an Undergraduate Degree…

If you have already completed an undergraduate degree in another subject, you can take the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or a Graduate Diploma in Law to help to give you an academic basis to progress with. These courses fit the majority of material in which is studied in an undergraduate law degree, however the course is only 1 year long, meaning that it is very intensive. These courses can cost up to £10000 to complete, depending on which institution you choose to take the course at.

Some courses will accept people who do not already have an undergraduate degree, so long as they are able to demonstrate that they have equivalent qualifications or sufficient workplace experience.

Both of these routes lead mature students on to the Legal Practice Course, the training contract and the Professional Skills Course. All candidates who take the academic route to qualification, (be they mature students or regular student), take these final three steps if they want to become a fully qualified, practicing solicitor.

If you are already working in a Legal Environment…

If you are already working in a legal environment, then there are slightly different options available to help you to become fully qualified. The Chartered Institute of Legal Executive (CILEx) acknowledges the fact that many people working in the legal environment are able to pick up some of the skills necessary to become solicitors, and therefore they offer an alternative route to allow career progression. However, this route can be very difficult and time consuming.

If you progress via the CILEx route, you are expected to take exams and do your learning whilst continuing to work in a legal environment. Most people who are aiming to qualify via this route will qualify as a chartered legal executive, before deciding whether to continue on with the aim of qualifying as a solicitor. The majority of candidates will still be expected to do a CPE, although they do this part-time whilst working.

If you are deemed to have shown enough experience in your employment history, the SRA (awarding regulatory body) may allow CILEx candidates to skip the practice-based training elements of qualification. This “earn-whilst-you-learn” route is very popular amongst mature students who do not want to study full time.

Drive And Determination

If you have the drive and determination which is required to become a solicitor, then you are not too old to begin your training. However, if you do decide to pursue this as a career choice, you will need to think very carefully about how to support yourself and any family if applicable.

Being a solicitor can be an interesting and rewarding career once you are qualified, but getting to that position can be a hard slog. Nonetheless, many legal firms welcome mature candidates with open arms, because they have more life experience.