24 October 2012
Being a solicitor can be a rewarding and lucrative career choice but, a lot of the time, being a solicitor means doing unexciting, tedious tasks and working very long hours.
When you get stuck in and start working on a matter that really challenges you all that hard work will have paid off, and if you want to, before too long you might find yourself well on the way to becoming partner.
The first stage in becoming a solicitor is to get a degree or to select a work-based training route, such as CILEx .
There are multiple options available but the most popular is to qualify with a law degree. You can find a list of the institutions that offer law degrees, their contact details and courses on the SRA’s website here.
A degree typically takes three years to complete if taken full time. However, some degree courses (such as ones that include time abroad) run for four years full time.
During your course, you will be taught the seven foundations of legal knowledge:
1. Criminal law
2. Equity and trusts law
3. European Union law
4. Contract law
5. Tort law
6. Property/land law
7. Public law (constitutional, administrative and human rights law)
You will also receive training in legal research.
Institutions use a variety of names for these foundation subjects, which may be studied in a series of modules or in combined units. Regardless of what the course is called or how the modules or units are configured, the curriculum is broadly equivalent across institutions. But, you cannot qualify as a solicitor without successfully completing the examinations and assessments in all of the seven foundation subjects.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA’s) pass mark for a qualifying law degree is 40 per cent.
The second stage in the process of becoming a solicitor is the vocational stage of training, which comprises the legal practice course (LPC), training contract and professional skills course (PSC).
Legal practice course
The LPC takes one year to complete if taken full time.
You can find a full list of institutions authorised to provide the LPC, their contact details and profiles here.
The LPC will build on your academic knowledge of the law and prepare you for your training and early years in practice. You will learn five course skills: practical legal research; writing; drafting; interviewing; and advising and advocacy.
During the course, you will study core subjects (stage 1) and elective subjects (stage 2). Stage 1 covers the three essential practice areas of business law and practice, property law and practice, and litigation, together with course skills, professional conduct and regulation, taxation, and wills and administration of estates.
Stage 2 is made up of three vocational electives chosen from a wide range of areas, including: family and children (private law); mergers and acquisitions; intellectual property; IT law and media and entertainment law. If you have a training contract by this stage, your law firm may stipulate which options you should take.
The SRA’s pass mark for all core and elective assessments is 50 per cent.
The training contract is the final stage of the process of qualifying as a solicitor and takes two years to complete full time.
The purpose of the training contract is to give you supervised experience in legal practice through which you can
refine and develop your professional skills.
You will gain practical experience in a legal environment (such as a law firm, a local authority or an in-house legal department) in at least three distinct areas of law. You will also be given opportunities to develop nine skills that you will need in practice:
1. Advocacy and oral presentation
2. Case and transaction management
3. Client care and practice support
4. Communication skills
5. Dispute resolution
7. Interviewing and advising
8. Legal research
You will be closely supervised and will receive regular feedback and appraisals throughout your training, with at least three formal appraisals.
You can start a training contract before you have completed – or even started – stage 1 of the LPC. Many students simultaneously study part time on an LPC while being employed through a training contract.
Make sure you get a copy of The Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook, which is produced in association with the Law Society and features over 1,000 firms offering training contracts – purportedly the only comprehensive list available to students. Published at the end of October, it will be available for free through university careers centres and law faculties.
Professional skills course
A key requirement of being a solicitor is passing the PSC. Most law graduates attend the PSC during their training contract.
The PSC builds on the vocational training provided in the LPC and requires the equivalent of 12 days of full-time attendance. It comprises three core modules as well as elective courses in specific practice areas.
The core modules are:
1. Client care and professional standards (two days)
2. Advocacy and communication skills (three days)
3. Financial and business skills (three days, plus exam)
You must also complete a minimum of 24 hours in elective courses, of which no more than half may be by distance learning. You can choose from a range of subject areas. Elective courses may be completed at any time during the training contract.
You can find a full list of PSC providers, their courses, locations and contact details here.
The minimum salary for trainee solicitors working in central London is £18,590 p.a. For trainees working elsewhere in England and Wales, it is £16,650 p.a.
In June 2012 the SRA announced that they did not believe that setting a minimum wage for trainee solicitors that was above the national minimum wage was in the public interest. This means that the minimum wages detailed above will be scrapped as of 1 August 2014.
After that date the only requirement on employers in terms of trainee salaries will be to pay trainees at least the main rate for employees under the National Minimum Wage Regulations – currently £6.08 an hour.
If you are lucky enough to secure a training contract at a magic circle firm, you can expect a starting salary of around £38,500 p.a. Once you complete your training contract, this jumps to around £59,500.
US law firms with offices in London offer the highest starting salaries, at around £50,000, which almost doubles after you qualify as a solicitor.
If you get a training contract outside of the capital, the salary will likely match the cost of living. Expect around £23,500 as the starting salary and around £35,000 post qualification.
A breakdown of salaries by law firm for trainees and newly-qualified solicitors can be found here.