In the UK, the definition of a solicitor is someone who is a member of the legal profession qualified to deal with legal matters such as conveyancing, drawing up wills and more. A solicitor can advise clients, represent them in the lower Court and instruct barristers to represent clients in UK higher Courts.
A solicitor’s role is to take instructions from clients, which can include individuals, groups, private companies and public sector organisations, and advise them on actions they can take from a legal standpoint.
In the event of a legal matter going to a tribunal or Court, a solicitor can instruct a barrister to act on behalf of a client – the responsibility of a solicitor is to prepare the case for a barrister. A solicitor advocate, who has Rights of Audience, can represent clients in the UK’s higher Courts in the same way that a barrister can.
To learn more about the differences between solicitors and barristers, see our dedicated guide.
Solicitors work very closely with clients and are often the first point of contact for people in need of legal advice. The work of a solicitor can be split into contentious legal work – for example a contentious probate solicitor would investigate contentious probate cases where the true wishes of a deceased person are called into question – and non-contentious legal work.
Contentious legal work involves resolving disputes between two or more parties, and often includes Court or tribunal appearances.
Non-contentious legal work focuses on the legal aspects of a business or personal matter – for example, dealing with a company merger or drafting a will.
On a day-to-day basis, a solicitor’s role can vary, involving tasks such as:
There are many different types of solicitors working across 24 different practice areas of law. The type of work that a solicitor does depends on the area of law in which they work. For example, the work done by a family law solicitor will be very different to the work done by an environmental solicitor.
If you want to be a solicitor, you will need to give some serious thought to the area of law that you want to go into as this will determine the type of work that you do.
Solicitors either work for a solicitors’ firm or in-house for a private or public sector organisation.
Most solicitors will start their careers with a legal firm, which offers a blend of on the job training while pursuing qualifications. The majority of solicitors will then go on to specialise in a specific area of law or practice multiple areas of law.
In-house solicitors are those that sit within an organisation’s legal department. For example, the BBC, several government departments and several charities have legal departments. The majority of in-house solicitors tend to start their professional careers with a law firm before making the switch to a legal department role within an organisation.
Most solicitor firms operate under standard 9 – 5 working hours. However, solicitors often work unsociable hours doing research and paperwork in order to be fully prepared, manage their workloads and meet deadlines.
In some cases – especially those who represent multinational companies or overseas clients – have to work across different time zones. Evening and weekend work is also not uncommon.
The working hours of a solicitor have to be flexible to fit around client needs, so the hours that a solicitor works can be unpredictable. However, the hours a solicitor works depend on the firm or organisation they work for – some offer more regular hours, others less so.
The only difference between a solicitor and a lawyer is where the terms originate from. ‘Solicitor’ is more of a British term, while ‘lawyer’ is more of an American term.
In the UK, ‘lawyer’ is not used to describe a specific role within the legal system, but is used as an umbrella term to cover anyone that works as a legal practitioner. In fact, the term ‘lawyer’ has no defined meaning in UK law, according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – the regulating body for solicitors.
The solicitor profession is a popular one in the UK. According to the SRA, as of May 2022 there are 156,055 actively practising solicitors and there are 215,567 solicitors on the roll across England and Wales.
Solicitor salary levels in the UK vary according to the area of law in which they work, and several other factors, including:
See our dedicated solicitor salaries guide for more specific income levels.
Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The industry body also regulates law firms and non-legal professionals within law firms. The SRA has a specific code of conduct that all solicitors must adhere to in order to best serve the interests of their clients and the public.
Individual solicitors or law firms found to be in breach of the SRA’s code of conduct could be subject to disciplinary action. The SRA website provides more information.
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