A job in justice: how to become a solicitor
Becoming a solicitor is a walk in the park - said nobody, ever. But if you are prepared to knuckle down, there are plenty of avenues you can follow to do your ambitions justice. Here are some quick pointers on how to become a solicitor.
Who do you think you are?
So, you want to be a truly great solicitor? That requires more than the ability to interpret a specific area of the law. You also need incredible attention to detail, the ability to frame a scalpel-sharp argument and - let’s be honest - a decent pinstripe suit wouldn’t go amiss either.
More than anything, you need A1 communication skills. Your career will require you to interact meaningfully with lots of different types of professionals. You will also need the ability to talk about complex areas of the law in a way that makes sense to non-legal people. Oh and you’ll be reading and writing a lot, so literacy is key.
As for soft skills, expect to become adept with time management, problem solving, planning and collaborating.
How do you learn the trade?
Plenty of people dream of becoming a solicitor. Far fewer people realise that there are several routes you can take to make it happen. And no, a university degree isn’t obligatory.
Most law firms have a balanced intake of trainee solicitors from both legal and non-legal backgrounds. In fact, expertise in a non-legal field can work to your advantage.
University, here we come!
Admit it. You’re simply not going to be satisfied until you have photographic evidence of your begowned self-hurling a mortarboard up towards the stratosphere. Yes, it’s the uni life for you! And the most obvious degree to study is an LLB law degree, which will take you between three and four years to complete. (Exeter University has an exceptional course.)
Yet a law degree isn’t compulsory.
In fact, you can study anything you like at undergraduate level - though English, History, Maths, Science and Engineering related courses seem to be well-received by most law firms. Following graduation from a non-law degree you will need to complete a law conversion course, such as the Graduate Diploma in Law, which will take another one or two years.
Whichever degree you study, the next step is to complete the hallowed Legal Practice Course (LPC), which takes between one and two years. You are then free to apply for a two-year training contract with a law firm, during which you will complete the Professional Skills Course. Then - and only then - will you be able to apply to become a fully fledged member of the Law Society as a qualified solicitor.
The apprenticeship route...
Don’t want to go to university? No problem. Channel your inner Erin Brockovich and climb to the top without the expense of academia. Thanks to CILEx you can complete a six-year law apprenticeship while working in paid employment at a solicitor’s firm. In essence, you progress your career prospects while gaining crucial real-world experience on the job. Even better, it’s likely that your employer will pay for your studies. So, you won’t be left having to climb out of a trench of debt once you’re qualified. Another bonus? When your employer sponsors your development, it’s in their best interests to help you work towards a long, happy and rewarding career. Sounds good to us.
What qualifications do you need?
We won’t sugar coat it. Law is competitive. There are lots of wide-eyed wannabe solicitors out there, each gunning for a limited number of positions. Strong academic performance will boost your chances of achieving your ambitions. So, if you’re choosing the university route, a 2:1 (Hons) degree should be your minimum aim - especially if you want to land a training contract with a top firm. Similarly, if you’re following the apprenticeship route, good GSCE and A Level results will stand you in good stead.
And yet a 2:2 or a third degree is no reason to give up hope. Likewise, some firms will take you in and provide an apprenticeship without A Levels. The key is to make sure your applications stand out in other ways - by gaining work experience, for example. You should also consider making speculative applications to small, independent firms - rather than the giants of the legal world.
What will you do, where will it be?
There are many, many different areas of law that you can choose to specialise in: commercial, property, family, criminal law, medical negligence - the list goes on and on.
Likewise, there are several different types of organisations you can choose to work for - beyond private law firms. For instance, you could work for the Crown Prosecution Service, where your role would be to examine evidence and decide whether to bring cases to court. Or you could work as part of an in-house legal department for larger public and private organisations.
There’s a lot of choice out there. That gives you plenty of opportunity to carve a career that’s right for you.
Salary levels for solicitors in the south west
Okay, the million-dollar question: how much can you earn as a solicitor? It’s only fair that your salary should reflect the hard graft that you put in to qualify as a solicitor, right? The reality is that solicitor salaries vary greatly. It all depends on your chosen area of practice, your experience, the type of employer you work for and where you are based in the UK.
During a recent survey (April 2018) we found the following salary ranges to be typical of legal positions in Devon.
You be the judge...
Becoming a solicitor isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There’s a lot of training involved, the work is challenging and the hours can be long. But if you have the drive and ambition you can expect a career that’s intellectually stimulating, incredibly varied and richly rewarding - both emotionally and financially.
Is it right for you? The jury’s out. But if you’d like some help finding a career in legal, please get in touch and we might just be able to help you find your dream job. Try us.
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