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Becoming a Solicitor in England and Wales

Becoming a solicitorIf you are interested in the law and want to pursue a career advising clients and acting on their behalf in legal
matters, then a solicitor’s job could be ideal for you. Your clients can be individuals or companies.

Clients will come to you with a legal problem and you as their solicitor will decide on the way forward to solve their problem through legal means. This could include referring the case to a barrister to get specialist legal advice and if necessary, to appear in court on your client’s behalf. As a solicitor you would constantly need to be updated on changes in the legal system.

However the process to becoming a solicitor isn’t easy and involves the challenge of undergoing exams and funding studies with no guarantee of a job at the end. What’s more, on becoming a solicitor you may have to work long hours or work under pressure to meet deadlines while ensuring that consistency and precision are maintained at all times in dealing with the bulk of information.

Yet it can be appealing in several ways and an exciting career choice if you’re up for it! Here we take a look at the benefits of becoming a solicitor and how to achieve this goal.

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The benefits of studying an LLM program

If you want to become a solicitor in England or Wales it is by no means necessary to have studied an LLM program, however there are many career advantages to having this qualification under your belt. A Master of Laws is a great addition to any CV as it demonstrates a thirst for knowledge and the ability to learn information on a specialist subject. This improved knowledge, in areas such as European Law, International Law or Business Law, will make you a much more appealing candidate for any job and set you apart from the others. Plus, nowadays LLM programs often have a practice-based approach, which will give you invaluable work experience and the potential to network. Find out more about studying an LLM program here.

Why becoming a solicitor can be an appealing career choice

• It can widen your career opportunities by giving you options to work in private practice,  in-house with companies or in the government

• You get to be the main point of contact for new clients if you are with a law firm, allowing you do build client relationship skills and meet new people

• It gives you the chance to combine your legal expertise, inter-personal skills and commercial acumen giving you overall professional gain

• You will learn skills including research, logical reasoning, communication and ability to handle pressure – all of which are transferable skills that can be used to explore other employment areas

• You have the opportunity to interact with overseas legal professionals while handling cross-border transactions giving you exposure to the international legal market

As a solicitor you could work in a range of areas, including:

• Private – providing legal services such as Conveyancing, probate, civil and family law, litigation, personal injury and criminal law

• Commercial – advising and acting for client companies in contracts, tax, employment issues and company mergers and acquisitions

• In-house – providing legal advice while working within organisations such as companies, government or local authorities

• Crown Prosecution Service – examining evidence to decide whether to bring cases to court.

The work of a solicitor

The work of a solicitor depends upon the area of law in which they practice. For instance, in a city firm the predominant focus areas are commercial/banking law, given the nature of client’s businesses.

In general, the work of a solicitor involves a range of activities including:

• Providing legal advice to clients, instructing barristers or advocates to act for clients

• Representing clients in court

• Researching on points of law, negotiating contracts and preparing legal documents

• Attending meetings and negotiations

• Preparing papers for court

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is the regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales and sets the regulations and standards for the solicitors' profession, including entry and training requirements.

Essential skills needed to be a solicitor

 Determined and highly motivated

 Strong spoken and written communication skills

 Ability to analyse and manage large amounts of information

 A high level of accuracy and attention to detail

 A desire to work with people

 Persuasive manner in a position to influence

 Ability to work under pressure and manage several cases at once

Apart from these attributes, the Law Society also stresses on the need for having,

 Professional responsibility – personal integrity and an ethical approach – this forms the basis of solicitor/client relationships.

 Commercial awareness

 Numeracy skills – the ability to understand financial statements and interpret accounts.

 Personal effectiveness skills – the ability to manage your time, prioritise conflicting demands, delegate and plan projects.

 Problem-solving skills

 IT skills – you will need to be proficient in word processing, case management systems, spreadsheets, financial accounting packages, email and information retrieval systems

 Commitment to continuous personal development – Taking part in voluntary as well as compulsory activities will enable you to define and refine your skills in real-life situations.

Solicitor statistics

As per the SRA, as on 31 July 2013 there were 158,644 solicitors on the Roll, and 127,676 solicitors with practising certificates.

Data for population of practising solicitors, from 2009 to 2014

Number of Practising Solicitors in England and Wales

Solicitors in the UK & Wales

Source: SRA

How do you become a solicitor in England and Wales?

Up until recently the route to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales was studying a law degree or a degree in any subject followed by a law conversion course. Students then needed to study a Legal Practice Course (LPC) and then complete a training contract at a law firm. However this is all bein standardised with the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) that is being phased in during 2021 as the new centralised way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. It will replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is the former route to practicing law, and once the transitional phase is over law schools in England and Wales will stop offering the LPC. The SQE is a new system of exams divided into two stages – SQE1 and SQE2 – that will be introduced from September 2021, and all prospective candidates will have to pass both stages of exams to qualify as a solicitor. As well as passing both stages of the SQE, prospective candidates must complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and demonstrate that they have suitable character to work in this field.

Put simply, to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales through the new SQE route you need to:

1. Have a university degree in ANY subject.

2. Pass SQE1 and SQE2 exams.

3. Complete two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).

4. Demonstrate suitable character.

The SQE differs from the LPC in that it is a series of exams rather than an actual course, as a result of this the SQE does not involve any direct education or training. New law conversion course options will be launched alongside the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to offer students a range of options to prepare for the SQE.

Read our article on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination for the complete lowdown.

What about overseas lawyers or law students?

If you are an overseas qualified lawyer...

…and wish to work in the UK, then the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) will apply to you. Run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the authorised assessment provider under the scheme is Kaplan QLTS. Before you apply, check on details of the scheme, including the list of recognised jurisdictions. Before you can undertake the QLTS assessment you are required to obtain a QLTS certificate of eligibility from the SRA, which requires you to provide evidence. The QLTS certificate of eligibility is usually issued within 30 days of receipt of your application and remains valid for a five-year period from the date of issue.

Qualified European lawyers

There is an alternative transfer route for qualified lawyers from the European Union who intend to practise in the UK. The conduct requirements for Registered European Lawyers are explained in the SRA Code of Conduct 2011

If you are an overseas student interested in becoming a solicitor in England & Wales

Students from outside the EU should follow the guidance provided by the Home Office UK Border Agency with regard to student and work permits.

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