Reading time: four minutes
Not long ago, I was filling out a training contract application when I stumbled upon a question I’d never seen before. It seemed to be addressing me directly, almost accusingly: ‘Why’, it demanded, ‘do you want to be a solicitor?’
I stared at it, stumped. Thankfully, this wasn’t an interview, so I had time to collect my thoughts and prepare some sort of response. In the process of doing so, however, I realized I’d thrown myself too far into the deep end. The truth was, for all the applications I’d completed and all the shows I’d watched, I didn’t really know what a solicitor did. I had no real expectations of what I was signing up for. I mean, I had a vague idea, filling out forms, drafting emails and communicating using fancy legal jargon. But, of course, this wasn’t enough to inspire an answer. Not one that would be good enough for a training contract application anyway!
To remedy this, I decided to do some reading (and by reading, I mean watching as many ‘Day in the Life of a Solicitor’ YouTube videos as possible). In this article, I hope to provide you with the highlights of my research – including some historical context – to help give you an insight into what I think a solicitor’s day-to-day life entails.
Read LawCareers.Net’s Meet the Lawyer profiles to see how over 30 solicitors made the transition from student to qualified lawyer.
As a current English undergraduate student, I felt obligated to start at the very beginning: with the etymology of the word ‘solicitor’ itself. ‘Solicitor’ comes from the French word ‘solicitour’ (a discovery that really pushed the boundaries of what remains of my French GCSE knowledge) which means ‘one who conducts matters on behalf of another’. Though the word has been in use since the 1500s, its original definition still provides an accurate summary of what modern solicitors do today. A solicitor’s main role is taking care of legal issues on behalf of their client, providing legal advice and guidance, representing their client in the lower courts and, where necessary, preparing the required documents for a barrister, who’ll then take over from them if the case escalates to the higher courts.
That, in essence, is what a solicitor does – though this definition only scrapes the surface. As someone who’s never directly engaged with the law before, I wanted to know more. Specifically: What are the day-to-day demands of a solicitor? What kind of tasks would they be expected to do?
Based on my own research, I’ve found there are three main tasks a solicitor will typically perform:
1. Advising a client
A solicitor’s main role revolves around understanding how the law works. Clients will come to them with queries or issues and using their legal knowledge a solicitor will guide them towards action supported by their legal rights. The type of knowledge provided depends on the client’s issues and the solicitor’s speciality – this may range from the breakdown of relationships to purchasing a new home. On a day-to-day level, this often looks like meetings and interviews with clients, in which both groups discuss and prepare for potential future courses of action. In between these meetings, clients will often send over the relevant documents for the solicitor to peruse. So reading forms another integral day-to-day task.
A solicitor’s daily schedule usually depends on the client and/or case and a quick glance over any firm’s website will tell you, this is a job that wholly prioritises client satisfaction. In cases where a client is unable to afford legal aid, a solicitor’s guidance may take the form of what is known as pro bono work. Originating from the Latin phrase pro bono publico – for (pro) the good (bono) of all (publico) – this is effectively free help provided by the solicitor a client in need.
Check out these pro bono initiatives, they’re an excellent way to gain legal experience and provide vital services to those in need.
2. Drafting legal contract and documents
Based on their discussions with a client, the solicitor will then draft and negotiate legal documents and contracts. The crux of this task is to create and compile a legal case in support of the client These will then be used either by the solicitor in the lower courts, or by a barrister if the situation escalates to the higher courts.
The third task performed by solicitors is research. Put simply, this means looking into fields of law you’re unfamiliar with and reinterpreting them at every turn, especially when they get complex. I have to say, it was a relief to find this one out – there’s a comfort in knowing that no matter how far you progress within this field, you’ll never be expected to know everything.
Looking at it from a distance a day in the life of a solicitor doesn’t seem too different from what we’ve been doing as university or school students – research, writing, and reading. No matter what stage you’re at in your legal journey, whether you’re on the cusp of qualifying or like me only just getting warmed up, remind yourself that the things that seem so complex and overwhelming require (at a fundamental level) skills that you already possess.