The Role of the Solicitor
Traditionally solicitors have followed a very set path in terms of both education and professional development. Going through the method of getting a law degree followed by a two year training contract in private practice was the norm. However, the climate has changed and it is now recognised that those looking to qualify as solicitors as well as qualified solicitors themselves have much wider options.
One of the most obvious changes has been opening out the profession to those that do not have a first degree in law. By encouraging those with other degrees such as Economics, Mathematics and Sciences into the profession the skill sets become wider and this encourages solicitors to get involved in very different roles. More mature students are also choosing to study law bringing in a wide range of different skills to the profession to deal with the ever changing climate.
In House Legal Roles
Traditionally solicitors have undertaken their training contract in a private law firm that offers a range of legal service to several different clients. This takes place over a period of two years with four separate ‘seats’ of six months. In recent years there has been a drive towards offering training contracts within the in house role. Whilst this is commonly still only available in large organisations such as councils it now offers an alternative training route for solicitors.
The concept of the training contract remains present and all of those undertaking their training in house will be required to experience different types of law. Many qualified solicitors will also look to take on an in house role once they have gained experience in private practice. In house roles often offer greater job security and a better work- life balance making it the perfect choice for a solicitor looking for that next challenge in their career.
Public Sector Roles
There is a much greater demand for solicitors in an advisory role at all levels of government practise. As well as the typical legal roles that one would expect within the public sector such as advising on specific areas of law such as childcare and employment there are also wider roles in some of the government agencies such as the police or army which can offer entirely different legal careers.
Careers in these public sector roles will generally be available to those who are already qualified as solicitors although increasingly there are training contracts available. It is worth noting that the structure within the public sector is very different to private practice particularly in relation to time recording and therefore anyone who has trained within the public sector may find making the transition back to private practice difficult.
Life After Law
In many cases working in the law can be something that is seen as a temporary state of affairs with solicitors, particularly with those in private practice feeling that they would look to re-dress the work-life balance and look to expand their working horizons. Solicitors are recognised professionals and have a wide set of skills that are seen as desirable in many other roles that are outside of the law or peripheral to the law.
For example, solicitors will often look to move into a regulatory or educational role where they can provide information to others who are either training as solicitors or who are studying the law academically. Other possibilities include business consultancy or politics where the skills learnt and practised can be used in a wider context.
Considerations for Solicitors
Whilst there is a tendency to follow the traditional paths and to move from firm to firm when there is a suitable vacancy, longer term planning is desirable. As legal careers progress there is an increasing need to consider the next move and the best possible track to get to where the individual ultimately wishes to be. For example it is often thought that when a solicitor moves into an in-house position they may find it difficult to move back into private practice and these needs to be borne in mind as part of the planning.
As well as being a qualified solicitor additional qualification relating to business or accountancy will always be beneficial and may form part of the continuing professional development of solicitors.
Key Alternative Roles for Solicitors
Roles in-house working as legal counsel for a specific corporate body offering wider legal advice to one client.
Public sector roles that support the government functions such as education, welfare and police.
Education and training as a tutor or lecturer.