Career as a Solicitor

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Sophie Cooper works as a solicitor for an international law firm, managing their pro bono department. 'Pro bono publico' is Latin for 'for the public good'. It is the provision of free legal advice to individuals, the voluntary sector and charities.

How did you enter this career as a solicitor?

I was very fortunate to be appointed as the first pro bono manager of any London law firm. The firm was exploring how it could use the skills of commercial (or business) lawyers to help those that were disadvantaged as part of a charitable commitment. I worked with them to develop a policy and put it into practice.

What type of work do you undertake?

We represent those who are facing eviction from their homes, victims of crime with applications for compensation, and the elderly and disabled who are applying for benefits such as disability living allowance. We also advise young entrepreneurs and those who are blind who wish to be self-employed.

We advise community businesses that employ those excluded from society such as ex-offenders or the homeless. We also have a human rights practice advising prisoners who face the death sentence. In total, we advise over 200 charities and individuals a year.

What equipment do you use?

Most solicitors use computers for word processing with digital dictation and spreadsheets. I also use the internet and legal materials for research. The research is usually on points of law, interpretations of legislation and previous cases.

What was your route into this career as a solicitor?

After law school, I trained at another London firm and qualified there in immigration and employment. However, I really wanted to work in an area which crossed the divide between business and human rights. This is why my present job really suits me.

What training have you received?

The usual vocational legal training in England and Wales, which involves taking the Legal Practice Course (LPC) after graduation, followed by a two-year training contract with a firm of solicitors. I tend to keep up to date by attending lectures on human rights, corporate social responsibility and charity law.

What hours do you work?

I usually work from 8.30am to 7.00pm. Sometimes I have to work a bit longer.

What do you like best about your career as a solicitor?

I feel pleased that we can offer support and help to people who have difficulty getting to grips with the complexities of our legal system. Also, I never know what each day is going to bring, as clients vary so much and their problems are so diverse.

What are the skills needed?

To be a good pro bono lawyer, you first have to be a good lawyer and sympathetic to the needs of the clients. You must also be able to motivate and persuade busy people to volunteer their valuable time to needy cases without expecting payment.

Sophie's route to her career as a solicitor

  • Degree in Economics and Law.
  • Attended law school.
  • Qualified as a solicitor.
  • Masters Degree in Theory and Practice of Human Rights.

Sophie's solicitor tips

  • Work hard and be focused on what you want to achieve.
  • When you finally become a lawyer, remember to volunteer your professional expertise on a regular basis to those who are disadvantaged.

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Salary of a solicitor

  • Salaries for trainee solicitors start from about £15,000 to £17,000 a year.
  • A qualified solicitor in a small practice might earn from £25,000 to £50,000, and a partner in a small firm may earn between £40,000 and £80,000.
  • A partner in a large firm or working as head of an in-house legal department could earn £100,000 a year, or more.

How to become a solicitor

Training to be a solicitor involves a combination of academic and vocational training:

  • Applicants need a law degree, or a non-law degree followed by a law conversion course such as the Common Professional Examination (CPE), a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or a Senior Status Law Degree.
  • Non-graduates with the appropriate experience or relevant academic qualifications can also take the CPE or train as a solicitor through the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX).
  • In Scotland, students take either a LLB degree in Scottish Law or, for non-law graduates, a two-year graduate law degree. For those with H grades or HND qualifications, there is a three-year period of training including the Law Society of Scotland's Professional Examinations.
  • The next stage is to do the Legal Practice Course (Diploma of Legal Practice in Scotland).
  • Lastly, all solicitors have to do two years of vocational training on the job – called a training contract – after completing academic study.
  • Training can be very expensive and quite often has to be paid for by the student. It is important to consider the possibility of obtaining a training contract before undertaking the latter part of training. Competition for places is fierce.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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