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Careers Centre

Solicitor

Sector Overview

This page has been written by Shona Mach, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Shona, or any of our advisers, visit our website.

Solicitors in England and Wales perform the same work as those in Scotland, but they do have differing legal systems, procedures and terminology as well as different training and entry requirements.

The profession has grown hugely over the last four decades. Around three-quarters of solicitors work in private practice firms of solicitors, owned and managed by the partners. These firms vary enormously in size and specialisation. There tends to be a divide between firms that serve the needs of commerce, e.g. corporate matters, commercial litigation, etc. and those that deal with clients with personal legal dilemmas, e.g. family, crime, personal injury, etc. The largest firms have hundreds of partners and assistant solicitors operating worldwide serving the needs of international business. The smallest would be a sole practitioner working in the local community.

As one would expect London’s legal sector predominates in the commercial sector. Regional centres such as, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester are now becoming major players attracting high quality work from leading businesses. Every city or town will have firms that service the local business community. Additionally general or ‘high street’ firms, providing a mix of personal and business law, may be found throughout the country. As a consequence of the reorganisation of publicly funded legal aid, many firms are withdrawing from providing these services with the consequence that the remaining firms specialise heavily in order to be cost effective.

Though the majority of solicitors work in private practice, and train there, many work for other organisations, e.g. in-house in commerce and industry, local and central government, charities, banks and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Over the last decade the number of women qualifying has increased substantially, with nearly 50% of new entrants now being female.

There are fairly major changes affecting the legal profession, particularly in England and Wales. Alternative business structure (ABS) licensing has made it possible for commercial organisations, from supermarket chains to haulage companies, to hire lawyers and sell legal services to the public. New routes to qualifying are expected to lead to the professionalisation of paralegal roles. This is summed up nicely in an article on LawCareers.net.

Students with an interest in law might also consider the role of Company Secretary. Company secretaries are responsible for ensuring that an organisation complies with standard financial and legal practice and maintains standards of corporate governance. Although they are not strictly required to provide legal advice, company secretaries must have a thorough understanding of the laws that affect their areas of work.

A unique element of the solicitor’s profession in England and Wales and of particular interest to students and graduates of St Andrews is the high level of recruitment of non-law graduates following a conversion course. Almost 40% of entrants to commercial practices (50% in some large firms) entered through this route in recent years. A much lower proportion of non-law graduates become solicitors in Scotland, though that option exists too.

Solicitor attributes profile

Key attributes needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes
The capability to assimilate large amounts of information quickly;  accuracy and attention to detail These are most likely to be developed and evidenced through your academic studies.

Communication skills:

  • The confidence to communicate complex information to others
  • Persuasion, both written and oral – convincing the court, client and opposing parties of your arguments and strategy
  • Interpersonal/people skills

Presentations within your course, and mooting or debating experience. A student representative role is also likely to offer opportunities to develop these characteristics.

CAPOD offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Sound analysis and application of problem solving skills As well as being developed and evidenced through your academic studies, taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put these into further practice
Demonstrable interest in business, and commercial awareness Membership of the University of St Andrews Law Society will allow you to speak with practising solicitors.  This should to be regularly supplemented by following business and legal news.

  Other key attributes demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • Stamina: the work can be challenging, with long working hours and deadlines to meet
  • Resilience when working in a stressful environment: set backs are inevitable and the ability to deal with constructive criticism is vital
  • Integrity: a keen moral awareness and commitment is needed to underpin legal analysis

Training in Scotland

To qualify as a solicitor in Scotland, you normally need to have completed the following three stages of training:

Bachelor of Scots Law (LLB)

As a graduate of a non-law subject, you are more likely to be interested in the accelerated law degree route which takes two academic years rather than the usual four for an Honours LLB degree.  A number of universities offer a dual Scots/English Law LLB.  The deadline for applying for these via UCAS is January 15th but there may still be vacancies beyond this date. SAAS will not currently consider covering the cost of fees for those taking a second degree.

Diploma in Legal Practice

The Diploma in Legal Practice is provided by the Law schools at the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Robert Gordon and Strathclyde, to whom applications should be made directly.

Diploma Funding: The Scottish Government has confirmed that from 2017-18, up to £10,000 will be available for any taught postgraduate course up to full Masters level at any Scottish higher education institute (HEI).

Training contracts in Scotland

After successful completion of the degree and diploma, all intending solicitors must serve a two year post-diploma training contract with a practising solicitor in Scotland.

Traineeships are available in many Scottish solicitors offices, ranging in size, geographical location and type of practice. Although most traineeships are in private practice, there are also opportunities in other organisations which employ solicitors in-house.

Many of the large firms recruit future trainees during their law degree. Smaller firms are often unable to finalise recruitment plans far in advance and traineeship opportunities arise all the time.

Training in England and Wales

There are currently three stages to qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales.  However, stages two and three are subject to change following the SRA's decision to introduce the Solicitor's Qualifying Examination in 2020.  There is lots of information about the SRA in legal publications - this LawCareers.net article is helpful.

Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) applications (for non-law graduates)

Applications for full time courses are made through the Graduate Diploma in Law Courses Central Applications Board

Applications can be made online anytime from September - institutions are notified weekly of new submissions. Early applications are encouraged and institutions select on the basis of academic achievement and motivation; most successful applicants will have at least a 2:1 and evidence of suitability for their intended career. Some institutions will give preference to those who can demonstrate good reason for their need to study at that particular institution e.g. living near home.

Applications for part-time courses are made directly to the institutions concerned.

Many employers are not overly concerned about where you do the conversion course, and there are no independent quality assessments available. An over-riding consideration should be the quality of the tuition as well as the academic rigour of the programme. Location might also be a factor you'd like to consider. Many students prefer to complete both this course and the LPC at the same institution, in which case it would be sensible to look at the reputation of the LPC course at the same time. Any course will encourage you to visit and be happy to provide more information. Some attend the annual Law Fair in St Andrews and many hold open days. Do bear in mind that, an increasing number of City firms have appointed a particular law school as their preferred provider. If you have your heart set on doing your training contract with a particular law firm, make sure you do your research before applying to the schools.

Senior Status Degrees

An alternative for non-lawyers to the Graduate Diploma in Law is to take a two-year Senior Status Law Degree, which includes the 7 ‘Foundations of Legal Knowledge’, which are required for admission to professional practice. This course is available at 19 Institutions on a full time and 8 on a part time basis. These include the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, City, Leeds, London (including Birkbeck), Oxford, Sheffield, University College of Wales (Aberystwyth and Cardiff). Contact the relevant Law Faculty for application procedures and prospectuses.

Legal Practice Courses (LPC)

Here too a central clearing system operates for full-time courses: Legal Practice Course Central Applications Board

As a non-law graduate, you will find that most institutions which offer both a conversion course (GDL) and the LPC will guarantee an LPC place to those who pass their conversion course. Many large commercial firms of solicitors now send their sponsored trainees to their chosen course provider where the course is delivered with the needs of those firms in mind.

Training contracts in England and Wales

Most, though not all, training contracts are offered by private practice firms, with the great majority in commercially oriented firms. The remaining positions are in the Government Legal Service, local government, the magistrates’ courts and legal departments in commerce and industry.

Nearly all firms, and in particular the commercial ones, recruit non-Law students. In the larger firms non-Law graduates may constitute up to 50% of the intake. Firms will state the timing for when they would like to receive applications from non-Law students on their websites. Many of the larger City of London firms have closing dates in January/February but the end of July in your final year is also a common date. You should check the websites of the firms that interest you.

One major advantage of gaining a training contract with a large firm is that they often pay your fees and some maintenance while you complete your two years training (GDL and LPC). Applications need to be made 2 years in advance of commencing the training contract, i.e. usually in final year of your non-Law degree.

Some small commercial practices and most ‘High Street’ firms will only recruit trainees during the year prior to the training period, i.e. while students are doing the LPC, or even for an immediate start.

Please note that you must make separate applications for a training contract and GDL.

Financing your Training

The cost of fees plus living expenses is high. This Chambers Guide table lists 2016/17 GDL fees. What are the possible sources of funds?

As discussed above, in England and Wales many commercial firms which take trainees will offer some form of sponsorship for undertaking the GDL and/or LPC. A small number of Scottish firms also offer some financial support.

The following websites give information about this and alternative sources of financial support:

Networks - why and how to use them

Why are networks important?

Where alumni work now

Your networks

 There are several ways to make contact with alumni:

 

How to gain experience/vacation schemes

 

How to get a graduate job (training contract)

International students (ie non EU)

International firms with a network of offices abroad need to recruit an internationally diverse workforce. You may be likely to be considered by a firm which has an office in your country of origin than by other firms, but your training is most likely to begin in the UK. Chambers & Partners has produced a handy list of American and Transatlantic Firms in the UK.

Applications, interviews and assessment centres

 

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources

Online

Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:

GoinGlobal

Books

To Take Away

Prospects

 

Diversity

University of St Andrews Law Society

Scotland

England & Wales

Professional bodies, training & regulation


Research law firms, vacation placements and training contracts

Legal/business news/commercial awareness

 

USA resources

Vault

The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The links below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.

 

Internships USA