Solicitors give legal advice to clients on issues such as conveyancing (buying and selling property), civil and criminal court actions, drawing up wills, family law (divorce, child custody and support) and some financial matters. Clients may be individuals or organisations.
You could be:
- giving clients advice on law and legal procedures
- drawing up legal documents such as wills, title deeds or contracts and writing letters about legal issues
- accompanying clients in order to advise them in confrontational situations, for example when they are interviewed by the police
- visiting clients in their homes, at their business premises, in police stations or in prison
- collecting evidence for use in your client's defence, for example photos from the scene of crime
- preparing paperwork for court
- researching documents and case histories
- representing your client’s interests and speaking on their behalf in the lower courts, or instructing an Advocate to do so (Solicitor-Advocates may speak on behalf of clients in the higher courts – see the Getting On section below)
- keeping up to date with changes in the law.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates may vary, depending on:
- where you work
- what kind of work you do
- whether you work with a private firm, a public company, or a local authority.
The Law Society of Scotland sets the minimum rates for trainees. Currently, the recommended starting salary for trainees is £18,000 for the first year of training.
Newly qualified solicitors may earn around £25,000 to £38,000 a year, rising to around £55,000 with experience. Salaries for higher earners are sometimes over £100,000 a year. For criminal solicitors much of the income comes from Legal Aid.
Trained lawyers working for the Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS) can earn £46,889 a year, rising to around £55,828 a year with experience.
- You work from an office but you may have to travel to visit clients.
- You may also spend time in the law courts where you must wear a gown and dark, formal clothes.
- You may have to work long hours when you are preparing an important case.
- It can be a pressurised job that is mentally demanding.
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- The foundation stage is usually to complete a qualifying four-year LLB (Foundation Programme) law degree at a Scottish university.
- Remember that completing an LLB degree does not guarantee that you will eventually qualify as a solicitor.
- For entry to the LLB degree, you need 4 or 5 Highers at A and B, preferably passed at a single sitting. (Check university prospectuses for the entry requirements for individual LLB courses). You normally need Higher English. Some universities also specify Maths or a science subject, or a social studies subject, or a modern language other than English at National 5.
- If you apply to the University of Glasgow to study Law you have to sit the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT). You must register with LNAT to sit the test. You must apply through UCAS as well.
- Students studying the LLB law degree at the Universities of Dundee and Strathclyde can take enough English law modules to achieve a dual-qualified degree, allowing them to qualify to practise in England, Wales or Scotland.
- Graduates with a minimum of a 2:1 degree in a subject other than law can study for an accelerated degree in law at several institutions.
- Robert Gordon University offers an online LLB course for graduates unable to attend a course on campus. It is available on a part time and full time basis. Applicants will usually need a degree (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline such as law, business, management, history, modern studies, journalism or other similar subject. Places will be limited. The course can be studied over two, three or four years.
- An alternative way to qualify is to do a 3-year pre-Diploma training contract while working full time with a qualified solicitor and studying for the Law Society of Scotland’s own examinations. Visit their website for more information.
- Pre-Diploma training places are very limited and entry is extremely competitive.
- The first stage is to complete a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice. The Diploma is the first stage of Professional Education and Training or PEAT, the term used to describe the postgraduate stages of becoming a solicitor.
- The second stage before qualifying is to complete a two-year training contract with a practising solicitor in Scotland and at least 60 hours Trainee Continuing Professional Development (TCPD). This post-Diploma training is known as PEAT 2.
- Traineeships can be difficult to find and entry is very competitive.
Many Solicitors work in private practice. Some practices are large, with specialised departments. Others are small and individual solicitors may deal with a wider range of cases. There is often a division between solicitors who do court-related cases (matrimonial, criminal and civil) and those who deal with non-disputed cases (conveyancing, tax, trust work, company work).
Outside private practice, solicitors work in business, commercial and public bodies. Others work in non-profit-making Law Centres based in disadvantaged areas. They offer free legal advice on issues such as welfare rights, tenants’ rights, homelessness, juvenile crime and equal opportunities.
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What Does it Take?
You need to be:
- able to communicate with people from all backgrounds
- good at speaking in public
- honest and trustworthy
- able to read and understand large amounts of information
- able to work well under pressure and meet deadlines
- able to deal with several cases at the same time.
You need to have:
- a good memory
- sound judgement
- the ability to pay attention to detail
- skill with figures for carrying out financial work.
- After completing the first year of training, you can apply to be a solicitor holding a restricted practising certificate to gain court experience. This must be supported by your employer.
- With consent from your employer, you may apply to the Law Society for a secondment to spend up to six months of your training in the Brussels Office of the three Law Societies (England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).
- At the end of the traineeship, the training firm is asked to certify to the Law Society that you are a fit and proper person to become a solicitor. You can then apply for a full practising certificate.
- The Law Society of Scotland runs a series of courses to help your continuing professional development.
- You may get a salaried partnership and would be more involved in running the firm. If you are a full partner you would be expected to invest in the firm and would then share fully in making decisions and in profits.
- After 5 years' relevant experience, solicitors may qualify as Solicitor-Advocates. To do so, you must take a training course run by the Law Society of Scotland and pass the advocacy exams. If successful, you can then practice as a Solicitor-Advocate, presenting cases in the higher courts – the Court of Session, the High Court of Justiciary and the House of Lords.
- You may train to become a procurator fiscal, which is a qualified solicitor who investigates and prosecutes all crime in Scotland.
For the session 2017/18, eligible full and part time students studying the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (PEAT 1) can apply for a postgraduate tuition fee loan of up to £5,500. You start repaying the loan once you are earning more than £17,775.
In addition, eligible full time students can apply for a living cost loan of up to £4,500. Repayment conditions are the same as for the tuition fee loan. See the Student Awards Agency Scotland website for full details.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) is a publicly funded organisation that is responsible for assessing if there is enough evidence to take legal action against someone who is suspected of committing a crime. They then present the case against those who are taken to court. They also investigate all sudden and unexpected deaths. They employ around 1700 staff, with around 500 of those being solicitors. See the job profile for Procurator Fiscal
Another potential source of employment for law graduates is the Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS). GLSS is a community of lawyers working in Scottish Government. They usually recruit around five or six trainees each year.
The following organisations may be able to provide further information.
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