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THE LEGAL PROFESSION IN ENGLAND & WALES: SOLICITORS (B1+)

In England & Wales, the legal profession has two main branches: solicitors and barristers. Both solicitors and barristers are lawyers, but there are significant differences between them. In this post, we will look at solicitors.


A solicitor is a qualified legal practitioner. Most lawyers who practise in England & Wales are solicitors [1] and most of these work in private practice for a law firm. There are many different areas in which a solicitor might practise [2], including:


  • Company and commercial law

  • Family law

  • Criminal law

  • Personal injury

  • Landlord and tenant law

  • Employment law

  • Intellectual property law


· Conveyancing (the process of transferring ownership of land from one person to another – for example, when you buy a house)


Traditionally, solicitors spend a lot of time taking instructions from their clients and drafting documents. Depending on the kind of work a solicitor specialises in, these documents might include:


· Documents for the purpose of litigation, such as witness statements, court documents (such as statements of case), and so on

· Contracts and other legally binding agreements, such as trust documents

· Wills [3]


Solicitors also provide legal advice to their clients. They advise [4] them on a wide range of matters about their case. They may advise on contentious or non-contentious matters. [5]


The main and general difference between solicitors and barristers is that solicitors generally spend much of their time in an office. Barristers, generally, spend much of their time in court. There are other differences, but we will look at those in the post on barristers.


Most solicitors are employed by their law firms, work ‘in house’, and will therefore receive a salary and obtain other benefits of being employed, such as holiday entitlement and a pension.


Training

Many solicitors have law degrees. However, some have non-law degrees and must first do a law conversion course, such as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The next stage is to complete a 1-2 year course called the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and, from 2021, take the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in order to qualify as a solicitor. You also need to complete a two-year training contract with a firm of solicitors. During the training contract, trainees will spend time attached to different departments in a law firm, to give them experience and help them decide which area of legal practice to specialise in.


The solicitors’ profession is represented and governed by a body called the Law Society of England & Wales (the Law Society). Complaints regarding the conduct of solicitors are dealt with by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).


Text Notes

[1] In March 2019, there were approximately 128,000 solicitors practising in the United Kingdom, compared to 24,000 barristers.

[2] Note the different spellings of ‘to practise’ (a verb) and ‘the practice’ (a noun).

[3] A will is a legal document which deals with what will happen to your property when you die. For example, you may want to leave (bequeath) your property to your children.

[4] Note the different spellings of ‘to advise’ (a verb) and ‘the advice’ (a noun).

[5] ‘Contentious’ basically means there is some kind of dispute with somebody else (for example, a breach of contract, which might lead to litigation). An example of matters which are ‘non-contentious’ is conveyancing.



EXERCISE

Complete the following sentences using a word (in bold) from the text above.


1. A solicitor who is involved in ………………………. work will spend much of their time drafting documents for court, such as witness statements and statements of case.

2. A ……………….. is a document which sets out what you want to happen to your property and personal possessions when you die.

3. The area of law which deals with the transfer of land from one person to another is called …………………………………

4. The legal profession is divided into two distinct …………………….; namely, solicitors and barristers.

5. A person who seeks advice and representation from a solicitor is called a ……………………











ANSWER KEY

1. litigation

2. will

3. conveyancing

4. branches

5. client


Note: This material is for study and educational purposes only. It is not legal advice or guidance. If you need legal advice, you should consult an appropriate legal advisor.


© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2021


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