A solicitor is a lawyer who deals directly with clients by giving legal advice, preparing legal documents and representing a client in court if necessary. A client will usually contact a solicitor first to seek initial advice on a legal matter.
Solicitors are represented by the Law Society and controlled by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. They can work for small or large firms and can be sole practitioners or in a partnership. The Legal Services Act 2007 now allows boht Legal Disciplinary Practices and Alternative Business Structures. Solicitors can form companies rather than partnerships and the company does not need to be owned by solicitors.
The quickest route to becoming a solicitor is to complete a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) approved qualifying law degree. This contains complusory foundation/core topics such as: legal research, obligations and public and criminal law. There are also optional modules such as: environmental law, intellectual property and consumer law.
If a person has a degree in another subject, they are required to undertake an additional training course, this being the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). This covers the foundation/core topics of any SRA-approved law degree. The student must apply for a student membership of the SRA before continuing to training.
The next stage in becoming a solicitor is to complete the vocational training. This is the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and develops the skills needed to practise as a solicitor. The course is practically-based and focuses on skills such as client-interviewing, negotiation, drafting documents, business management and advocacy. The course is either one year full-time or two years part-time, with an average cost of £12,000.
The final stage of training is a two-year contract with a firm of solicitors or an organisation authorised by the SRA to take trainees. The trainee must gain experience in at least three different areas of English Law. During this time a student will be paid a minimum of £16,650 per year.
The Professional Skills Course
During the training contract, the trainee and satisfactorily complete the Professional Skills Course, which builds on the vocational training provided by the LPC.
Admission to the Roll
Upon successful completion of all of the above, the person is now a qualified solicitor and will be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors and is able to apply for a practising certificate.
Solicitors undertake a wide range of work. The majority of a solicitor's work is in private practice. They may decide to work for the CPS, local or national government or in the legal department of a commercial or industrial business. Their work includes:
- Providing legal advice to clients
- Drafiting legal documents
- Conveyancing - the transfer of property
- Wills and probate - dealing with the estate of a deceased person
- Matrimonial and family matters - eg divorce and child custody
- Negligence - eg personal injury claims
- Negotiating on behalf of their clients
- Advocacy - only recently been allowed in the Solicitors' Higher Rights of Audience Regulations 2010. which allows a solicitor to apply for the higher courts qualification. This allows them to adovate without the need for an experience or mandatory training requirement, as long as they demonstrate the required practical skills and have passed the advocacy module of the LPC. They will be required to sit and pass assessments.
- Deal directly with clients, forming a contract which then allows both parties to sue for breach of contract if need be. See Griffiths v Dawson 1993 and White v Jones 1995
- In Hall v Simons 2000 the House of Lords decided that advocates could be liable for negligent advocacy
- An unsatisfied client must use the solicitor's firm's complaints procedure first. If this does not solve the issue, the complaint will be dealt wiht by the Office for Legal Complaints (set up in Legal Services Act 2007, with all complaints being referred to the Legal Ombudsman. LO has the power to to ask the solicitor to apologise to the client, give back any documents the client may need, carry out more work if this can solve the issue, refund or reduce legal fees, or pay compensation of up to £30,000
- The SRA will investigate any alleged professional misconduct of solicitors. If there is evidence of serious misconduct, the case will be put before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal who can fine, reprimand, suspend or remove the solicitors from the roll.