The job of a solicitor is a rewarding and enjoyable one; it is varied and there are many areas to specialise in once you are qualified. While the training takes considerable commitment whichever route to qualifying you take, the hard work will be worth it.
Over 80,000 solicitors in England and Wales work in private practices; these range from sole practitioners to multinational firms with hundreds of partners and offices across the world. Many solicitors in private practice work with individual clients; others might work for a firm advising businesses and corporate clients in areas such as employment law, contracts or company mergers and acquisitions.
The list goes on. Another 5,000 solicitors work in commercial and industrial organisations dealing with their legal business in-house. Many solicitors are employed in local government: for the Government Legal Service, advising Government ministers and implementing Government decisions, as well as prosecuting people who contravene regulations. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is another career option for solicitors: it prosecutes the majority of criminal cases in England and Wales.
Becoming a solicitor can also lead to the opportunity of working abroad. Many firms have offices overseas where you can work in a variety of fields of law, while the Law Society's international division is constantly working to help provide new opportunities for the legal sector of England and Wales to work in new markets.
These are some of the careers you can pursue as a solicitor but, first of all, you need to qualify. There is more than one route to qualification, but all paths lead to the same destination.
The law graduate route requires a degree in law, which is usually three years long, and consists of foundation courses covering property law, criminal law, contract law and other subjects. Alternatively, many solicitors opt for doing an alternative degree to law followed by the common professional examination (CPE), which is a one-year conversion course. Either way, this is followed by a one-year, full-time legal practice course (LPC).
Alternatively, the Institute of Legal Executives provides other routes to becoming a solicitor, aimed at helping you qualify while working as a legal executive. This takes longer, usually a minimum of five years, but a degree is not needed: the minimum requirement is four GCSEs.
The LPC is the next step on the path to becoming a solicitor and is the vocational learning element of the process. It ensures you have the necessary skills to practice as a solicitor, such as advocacy skills, practical legal research, business law and practice, and problem solving. A number of colleges and universities offer the LPC. Applications must be submitted no later than 1 August in the year you want to start.
A training contract is the next step once the academic and vocational learning is completed. This is on-the-job training which, under supervision, allows you to apply what you have learnt in a working environment. This form of training will run for over two years full-time - or part-time over a longer period - and it can be undertaken in private practice, with government, the CPS or another approved organisation. The Professional Skills Course (PSC) must be completed during this time to qualify as a solicitor.
Competition for training contracts is always fierce and it is advised that you apply in the second year of your undergraduate degree. Some university students even arrange mini-training contracts in the holidays, to get a taste of life working as a solicitor.
Once you've done all of the above, you can apply to the roll of solicitors in England and Wales, entitling you to practice as a solicitor.
Whatever route you take to becoming a solicitor, there are always new opportunities to develop your skills, explore new areas of law and enhance your knowledge of it. The Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society is there to help young lawyers in all aspects of their career, and has recently launched a mentoring scheme that partners young, newly qualified solicitors with more experienced solicitors, providing a support network.
So, while reaching your goal of becoming a solicitor might seem tough on paper, there is support from the Law Society, other organisations and solicitors already in the profession to make it easier.
Paul Marsh is president of the Law Society. For more information on the Junior Lawyers Division, visit www.juniorlawyers.lawsociety.org.uk