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 role||Where 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.
- 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:
- Gained a Law degree (LLB)
- Completed a Diploma in Legal Practice.
- Completed a Training Contract with a recognised Scottish solicitor.
- The Law Society of Scotland does offers an alternative route to qualification, aimed primarily at those without a law degree but with substantial experience of working within a law firm, usually as a paralegal.
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.
IMPORTANT: these stages are subject to change in September 2020 following the SRA's decision to introduce the Solicitor's Qualifying Examination (SQE) in 2021. More information about the SQE can be found on legal sites, including University of Law, BPP, Chambers Student and LawCareers.Net
- Firstly, there is the academic stage, which is satisfied by either completing a qualifying law degree or, for graduates of other disciplines, a conversion course. The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), sometimes known as the CPE, is available on a one year full-time or two years part-time basis, covering the seven foundations of legal knowledge required for completion of the academic stage of training. Another option at this stage is the two year Senior Status Law Degree available at a number of universities listed below. Note that if you are a non-UK citizen who might want to practice in your own country in the future then it would be sensible to make sure that you take a degree (not just a Diploma) at this academic stage. Some GDL courses as well as all senior status law degrees, allow you to do this.
- Secondly, there is the vocational stage which, for would-be solicitors, is the Legal Practice Course (LPC), also available on a one-year full time or two-year part time basis. There are also some shorter, more intensive courses now offered.
- The third and final stage is the practical stage, which usually consists of a two year training contract in a solicitor’s practice or other legal department authorized for training by the Law Society (which is the professional body for solicitors).
- An alternative route for those without a law degree, but who already work in a legal office, is by joining the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) and becoming a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer. Legal Apprenticeships for school-leavers and non-graduates are also expected to increase, with government and employer funding available.
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.
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:
- Chambers Student - how to fund law school
- TARGETjobs - which law firms will fund your LPC and GDL course fees and pay maintenance costs?
- LawCareers.Net - Financing your studies: advice for funding the LLB, GDL, LPC and BPTC
Networks - why and how to use them
Why are networks important?
- Networking is particularly important and can really help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for an organisation you are applying to you will have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you.
- Join the University of St Andrews Students' Law Society which hosts regular events enabling you to meet and speak with law firms and others in the legal field. Employers are impressed if you say in applications that you have spoken with members of their firm at Law Society events, the University of St Andrews Law Fair and Employer Presentations. Use these opportunities to introduce yourself to representatives; ask for their business card so that you can make contact in the future.
- Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to keep up-to-date with employers and the sector.
Where alumni work now
- St Andrews graduates have gone on to work in law firms such as Farrers, Freshfields, Allen & Overy, Norton Rose Fulbright, Clifford Chance, Withers, Millbank, SGH Martineau, Dentons, DLA Piper, Pinsent Masons, Herbert Smith Freehills, Linkaters and Slaughter & May. The These alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews.
There are several ways to make contact with alumni:
- Saint Connect - the networking platform which allows you to connect with University of St Andrews alumni
- Join the Law (UK) Group to find mentors and to receive updates on events, competitions, jobs and other sector related news
- LinkedIn – Alumni Tool. This feature shows the career paths of 30,000+ alumni. By looking at 'What they do?' you can find around 900 alumni categorised as working in a legal field. As well as the law firms mentioned above, St Andrews alumni are also working in-house in companies such as United Biscuits, BT, Goldman Sachs and RBS
- Graduate recruiters - ask if they can put you in touch with any alumni now working for their company
- Friends and family - ask around your immediate social network for any contacts in organisations which interest you
- This networking video produced by Cass Business School gives excellent tips on effective networking
How to gain experience/vacation schemes
- Over half of successful training contract applicants have usually been selected after a vacation scheme with the firm offering the contract. It is possible to secure a training contract without a placement but you will need to show that you have acquired solid knowledge of the firm, the role and the sector in other ways eg work shadowing, talking to many lawyers, visiting courts etc.
- Vacation schemes are offered by larger commercial firms at Christmas, spring and during the summer. These websites provide searchable databases, and the directories available to take-away from the Careers Centre contain tables of available schemes. Firms vary as to when they will offer placements to non-law applicants so you will need to check websites on an individual basis. An increasing number of commercial firms also offer the opportunity to attend open days, which also have to be applied for on a competitive basis. Try to attend as many vacation schemes and open days as you can so that you are in the best position to make strong applications and the right choices when it comes to obtaining a training contract.
- Use websites and directories to identify smaller or non-commercial law firms, or employers with in-house legal departments to whom you can apply speculatively. The legal sector professional bodies' websites have searchable databases:
- It is essential that your application is as near to perfect as you can make it so seek advice and feedback from others including an adviser at the Careers Centre. Always prioritise quality of applications over quantity, using the websites listed under Key Links and Resources below to carry out detailed research.
- Enter competitions held by major law firms with vacation placements as prizes. Often, these involve the writing of an essay on a topical subject and can take less time than a vacation scheme application. Academic results may not be taken into consideration.
- No vacation scheme: alternative work experience: this useful LawCareers.Net article suggests other ways of obtaining work experience relevant to a legal career.
How to get a graduate job (training contract)
- Gaining a training contract is not easy, so it is essential that your application is as near to perfect as you can make it - seek advice and feedback from others including an adviser at the Careers Centre. Always prioritise quality of applications over quantity.
- Apply early - many firms hold assessment days and make offers throughout the period when applications are open. Evidence shows that applications which are completed in a rush close to deadlines are less likely to be of high enough quality to be successful.
- Use the websites listed below under Key Links and Resources to carry out your detailed research into the sector and the firms which are most suited to you.
- Recruiters are pretty unanimous in what they look for. Leading commercial firms will expect applicants to have a 2.1, predicted or attained, and AAB grades at A-level or Highers (equivalent). Other employers may have slightly lower academic requirements, but all are agreed on the need for applicants to show appropriate knowledge and motivation. In addition they will be looking for: evidence of good interpersonal skills; a variety of sustained interests which reveal a high level of achievement; evidence of initiative, flexibility and responsibility; a genuine interest in the commercial world; knowledge of the firm applied to and justification of your suitability for it; language skills can be a plus, provided other criteria are met; scientific or other knowledge/interest may also be valued, particularly in relation to the sectors in which their major clients are based. For international firms, evidence of a global outlook is essential.
- A strong and genuine interest in the business world is vital for work with a commercial firm. The links under Legal/business news/commercial awareness below are some suggestions of online news sources. Remember to sign-up for newsletters, alerts and social media to keep up-to-date.
- Join the University of St Andrews Students' Law Society which hosts regular events enabling you to meet and speak with law firms and others in the legal field. Employers are impressed if you say in applications that you have spoken with members of their firm at Law Society events, the University of St Andrews Law Fair and Employer Presentations.
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
- Application procedures
The selection process for vacation schemes and training contracts varies between firms, but typically includes the following:
- An online application form
- Online tests, sometimes including a Watson Glaser Critical Thinking test
- Interview - can by telephone or skype; usually face-to-face and included within an assessment day
- Assessment Day - often including case study and interview with partner/managing associate
- You need to be aware of what the recruiters are looking for. Typically, large firms use 'competency-based' selection processes but some have adopted strengths-based, scenario-based or other models. Read employers' websites and brochures carefully.
Key UK links and resources
Careers Centre resources
Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:
- Book an appointment with a careers adviser
- Search for vacancies (Job Shop, internships/work experience, graduate jobs)
- Register for events
- The Careers Centre subscribes to GoinGlobal, a specialist website with information and job vacancies worldwide.
- Chambers and Partners directory
- All you need to know about the City
- All you need to know about Commercial Awareness
- City Career Series - Commercial Law Handbook - A guide to the basic knowledge required for commercial law interviews and internships
To Take Away
- Chambers and Partners Student Guide
- The Training Contract and Pupillage Handbook
- Lex 100
- TARGETjobs Law
- Prospects Law
- The Gateway
- Aspiring Solicitors: promotes diversity within the legal profession. Organises events, competitions and mentoring for students from under-represented groups who are 'aspiring solicitors'.
- Rare: specialises in helping ethnic minority candidates, but also places a particular emphasis on helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
University of St Andrews Law Society
England & Wales
Professional bodies, training & regulation
Research law firms, vacation placements and training contracts
- Law Careers Net: Legal publisher’s site, the most comprehensive list of training contracts with an email service too. Subscribe free to LC.N Weekly, their newsletter for future lawyers.
- My LCN. Get organised - My LCN allows you to analyse your employability, save your list of favourite firms and vacancies, diary events and deadlines, create an information library of news and articles and more.
- Chambers Student Guide online version of the take-away Student's Guide to Law Firms and the Bar. Contains detailed descriptions and ratings of law firms based on interviews with trainees and market resources. Careers information and details of law school, vacation placements and training contracts
- Chambers Student Guide - where to start Guide to help you make sense of the different types of law firm and focus your research
- Chambers and Partners: Very useful for researching specialist areas; gives comprehensive firm coverage, and examples of clients and work carried out.
- Lex100 - Student guide to law. Compare firms, read about the legal application process and blog about the legal market.
- The Legal 500 - analyses the capabilities of law firms across the world
- TARGETjobs Law
- Lawyer2B- students' guide to a career in law
- The University of Law - Future Lawyers Network: includes their unique 10 StEPs legal employability programme
- Rate My Placement: Find out about students' experiences of legal placements
- The Job Crowd - reviews of law firms written by trainees and vacation students; interview tips
- All About Law
- The Legal Aid Practitioners Group: Useful information about working the in the publicly funded sector
- The Lawer Portal (TLP) – resources for anyone considering a career in law. Includes free, step-by-step guides for students on preparing LPC and BPTC applications, as well as applying for training contracts or pupillage.
Legal/business news/commercial awareness
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.
- Washington Internships in Law and Policy - published by Internships, USA. If you're interested in working in DC, this is the place to start. Nearly 300 organizations offering internships affecting change. (Access via subscriptions)