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									The Solicitor’s Profession

                                                                                    July 2007

What do solicitors do?                                        ties that arise during the year. Otherwise, industry or
                                                              a public sector employer such as the Government Le-
Solicitors provide a range of legal services to compa-        gal Service or charities such as Liberty are interesting
nies, organisations and individuals on a wide range of        and popular options for solicitors post-qualification.
legal issues, in diverse areas of practice.                   If this is your goal, find out what sort of firms solici-
                                                              tors there came from.
Three key factors shape a solicitor’s day-to-day work:
 • Types of firm;
 • Areas of practice; and                                     Areas of practice
 • Types of clients.
                                                              The work of all solicitors may be characterised in
                                                              terms of problem solving. Solicitors help to find solu-
Types of firm                                                 tions to their client’s problems within the framework
                                                              of case law, statute and regulations. This skill is key
The majority of solicitors work in private practice in:       to the practice of each and every solicitor. However,
 • High street firms;                                         the context of such work varies greatly across the
 • Medium sized firms;                                        vast array of practice areas within the profession. In
 • Large commercial firms; or                                 large City firms for example, there will be a distinc-
 • Niche firms, specialising in a particular area of          tion between the finance and litigation/dispute reso-
   practice e.g. art litigation.                              lution departments. Solicitors in the former will give
                                                              advice on structuring deals and may go on to guide
                                                              a transaction through to completion. Litigation law-
The type of firm you join has a huge impact on your           yers’ work on the other hand may involve overseeing
training contract and your future career as a lawyer.         a client’s internal investigation or representing a
For example, it is likely to determine the amount of          trainee. Maybe this might be explained by the fact
client contact you get, the departments you will be           that solicitors take trainees’ legal knowledge and
able to sit in and opportunities for travel. However be       client in court or at a public inquiry. Other depart-
wary of generalising and applying to many different           ments normally found in large commercial firms are
types of firm. Research each firm you apply to care-          tax, employment, competition, pensions and environ-
fully. Where possible play to your strengths by apply-        ment.
ing to those firms that you genuinely are very inter-
ested in. Your interest may have arisen through previ-        Medium sized and smaller firms may offer specialist
ous work experience you have undertaken, from your            advice on a niche area e.g. publishing, entertainment
degree subject which has led you to believe you would         or conveyancing but others will offer a huge spec-
enjoy the type of work that they undertake or because         trum of services. Some firms will assist with almost
you feel your personality is suited to the kind of work-      anything that comes up when a client walks through
ing environment that a particular type of firm would          the door and you might find yourself dealing with
offer. Find out by looking at biographies of lawyers on       housing, employment tribunals, human rights, probate
the firms’ websites to see what sort of experiences           (wills) and small claims cases.
working at that particular firm affords.
Many students overlook opportunities that exist in in-
dustry, charities and in the public sector. It is occasion-
ally possible to undertake a training contract in these
sectors. Check with the Careers Service for opportuni-

Careers Service Contact Details:             0207 430 5306 or 0207 633 4539
The Solicitor’s Profession

                                                                                 July 2007

A solicitor’s practice therefore does not necessarily be-   specific law firms and will make you come across as
come more varied the larger the firm. In fact it is usu-    more motivated in applications and at interview.
ally the opposite case with newly qualified solicitors      Finally, whatever area you think that you may want
being expected to specialise within one department          to work in you will be able to find out far more
immediately. It is therefore important to think carefully   about the organisations involved by taking advan-
about how you want your expertise to develop during         tage of the vacation placement schemes offered. This
your training contract and post-qualification. Do you       is an invaluable way of finding out what different
enjoy working in an unpredictable environment or            solicitors do.
would you prefer knowing everything there is to know
about a particular narrow specialisation within law?
Read the papers and the legal press to find out what        What qualities do firms look for?
practice areas genuinely interest you. Research training
opportunities and lawyer profiles at various firms and      Each of the organisations mentioned above may be
identify which best suits your ambitions. There is guid-    looking for different qualities in their trainees. For
ance later in this booklet about how to do this.            instance, in the brochures for large commercial firms
                                                            you might see that they want team players who are
                                                            deal-driven and business-oriented. A high street firm
                                                            may be looking for someone who is a self-starter
Types of clients                                            with a proven interest in a particular area of law
This is another factor that goes to shape a solicitor’s     e.g. crime. However, all organisations will be looking
practice and will have a huge impact on your experi-        for applicants who are highly motivated with well
ence as a trainee. For example, two solicitors might        thought through reasons for pursuing a career in the
both practice litigation.                                   relevant area of law.

If Solicitor One works predominantly for international      One of our tutors recently conducted an informal sur-
banking clients, he or she may very rarely go to trial.     vey of a group of London solicitors who are or have
Disputes may reach a private, negotiated settlement or      been involved in the recruitment or training of trainee
end up in arbitration. There may be interim applica-        solicitors. The question posed to the group was:
tions made and it is likely that a barrister may be in-    ‘What do you think might be the top three character-
structed for these. Solicitor One may have one large       istics of a great trainee solicitor?’
matter taking up most of their time for a year.
                                                             • The responses came back as follows:
Solicitor Two may have a criminal litigation practice        • Helpful attitude/enthusiasm/ability to smile;
and be in court every week doing bail applications           • Willingness to ask if you do not understand;
and pleas in mitigation. He or she may have a large          • Willingness to learn;
number of clients with whom they are dealing at any          • Attention to detail;
given time.                                                  • Doing what you are asked to do;
                                                             • Common sense;
Ask yourself who you can see when you imagine your           • Ability to work in a team;
future clients. Do you want to work for private clients,     • Sense of humour;
the homeless, charities, start-up Internet companies, or     • Efficiency; and
global businesses whose problems may make headlines          • Legal knowledge.
in the FT (to name a few)? Identifying the sort of clients
whom you would like to work for will help you target

Careers Service Contact Details:             0207 430 5306 or 0207 633 4539
The Solicitor’s Profession

                                                                       July 2007

You might be surprised that legal knowledge only
came up in one of the response. Possibly even more
surprising is that none of the respondents listed intelli-
gence as an attribute that they were looking for in a
great intelligence for granted on the basis that they
recruit individuals whose university and law school
backgrounds speak for themselves.

Three of the listed items got equal second place in
terms of the number of times they appeared in the re-
sponses. These were:
 • Attention to detail;

 • Sense of humour; and

 • Helpful attitude/enthusiasm/ability to smile.

This emphasis on personal attributes (rather than pure
academic ability) was also highlighted by the number
one response in the survey. This was common sense.
From the results of this admittedly informal survey, if
you want to become a trainee solicitor you will need to
demonstrate to your future employer that you possess
common sense alongside the other personal qualities
listed above. It will be expected that you will have a
good academic track record and relevant work ex-
perience. But in addition, as this section has outlined,
successful candidates will have reflected on what type
of solicitor they want to be, and why and they will
have researched around the subject carefully.

Careers Service Contact Details:   0207 430 5306 or 0207 633 4539

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