The legal profession is very broad and there is often a crossover between the work of solicitors and barristers: see lawcareers.net for more information.
What they do: According to figures from the College of Law, solicitors make up the largest part of the legal profession with some 100,000 practising solicitors currently working in the UK. They offer legal advice and counsel to clients, and, depending on the kind of firm they work for, could be involved in drawing up contracts between large multinational corporations, resolving employment disputes within large UK companies, or helping private clients arrive at a divorce settlement or draw up a will.
They also work with barristers and brief them on cases due to go to court. Solicitors may also plead cases themselves in front of a judge and jury at the Crown Court if they gain Higher Rights of Audience, allowing them to fulfil the same role as a barrister.
Who they work with: A solicitor can be employed at one of several levels within the profession. The top five “Magic Circle” firms in the UK (Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Allen & Overy, and Slaughter and May) and other large commercial firms work exclusively with major organisations and PLCs throughout the world, dealing with business and financial law. Slightly smaller national and regional firms will work with public and private companies, again advising on business law, litigation, tax and so forth, while “high street” firms work with private clients on more day-to-day matters including wills, probate and conveyancing. There are also niche firms specialising in specific areas of law, such as construction.
Solicitors don’t work exclusively for law firms. They can also be employed in-house by corporations, public bodies (such as the Crown Prosecution Service), government agencies or charities.
How to qualify: There are two routes into the profession. Applicants can take a three-year law degree (LLB) followed by the legal practice course (LPC) and a two-year training contract – much like an apprenticeship – within a law firm, before beginning work as a newly qualified solicitor; or those with a first degree in a separate subject can convert to law via the graduate diploma in law (GDL) before following the same LPC and training contract route. The GDL and LPC can be taken as full-time courses (lasting a year each) or part-time (two years each), and are offered at law schools throughout the UK.
Barristers are specialist legal advisers and court room advocates. They are independent, objective and trained to advise clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their case. They have specialist knowledge and experience in and out of court, which can make a substantial difference to the outcome of a case.
Alternative careers in Law
The Law Society website provides a decent overview of alternative careers in Law. Click here.
Most law enforcement is carried out by police officers serving in regional police forces across the UK. More here.