PRIVATE PRACTICE LAW FIRMS
A law firm is the traditional and perhaps most common employer of Solicitors. There are many types of firms you can choose to work for. Opportunities range from high street practices, which may handle a range of private client matters supporting individuals by, for example, drafting wills, handling conveyancing and matrimonial and other disputes and possibly also dealing with criminal defence. Larger firms may be known as “full service practices” and these may handle commercial work for their clients and their client’s businesses as well as offering the range of private client service. The largest firms are national or international in the scope of their activities and these firms often handle only commercial law.
In a law firm you will tend to specialise, or at least focus on one area of law and represent a variety of clients on a host of different matters each with their own deadlines. In addition to the day to day legal work undertaken, solicitors must play a part in the running of the business in which they work. They learn to sell the firm’s services (as well as cross sell other work the firm may undertake) to bring in new clients and to think commercially about possible new opportunities. Accurate record keeping on the number of hours worked is key to being able to charge clients correctly and therefore to the profitability of the firm. Many solicitors will record their activity throughout the day in 6 minute time slots – few enjoy this process!
IN-HOUSE – LEGAL COUNSEL
Both Solicitors and Barristers may work in-house and often make the move having gained experience in private practice first. Specific roles and work vary enormously. You may be the sole in-house Solicitor or be part of a large team.
In-house Solicitors and Barristers advise the business for which they work, as they would advise the external clients if they worked in private practice. They work to identify the best solutions to a range of situations. In a large organisation solicitors work on a wide range of commercial matters; they are unlikely to handle any private client work.
Most roles in-house do not require professionals to record their time, or to focus as much on business development; their clients are internal to the business for which they work.
Senior Legal Counsel in an in-house team often has a strategic function within the company, with the opportunity to play an integral part of the wider commercial activities of a business possibly up to the level of the company board.
Counsels’ Chambers is made up of a group of Counsel (Barristers), who are all self-employed. Just as solicitors’ practices may specialise in a range of different areas so Chambers may offer a narrow or a very wide range of specialisms. There are Chambers in Birmingham and in other major regional cities in the UK, but many barristers are in Chambers in London. Every barrister belongs to one of the four Inns of Court, Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn. In London each inn has its own area and most chambers are located in or close to these areas. Each Chambers will have its own set of clerks whose responsibilities are to support the barristers. Clerks organise the allocation of work to junior barristers and will negotiate fees with instructing solicitors, file papers at court and generally ensure the smooth running of Chambers. Some Chambers have recruited professional non-lawyers to market and run their businesses.
The Public Sector can offer exciting opportunities for a career in law. It may be of particular interest for those with a disability who may need special arrangements in order to be able to work effectively. The public sector has a more stringent duty of equality than that in the private sector and may be more able to provide the right working environment for those with any special vulnerabilities. The following areas may be of interest:
- Crown Prosecution Service – criminal advocacy in the Criminal Courts
- Legal support for HM armed services
- Other public bodies, Universities, Fire Service, Police
- Court Service – for example magistrates’ court clerks
- Central Government/Treasury Solicitors – solicitors may be doing work of national importance and will be expected to work on the priorities of the government of the day. Solicitors will be subject to the Civil Service Code of impartiality.
- Local Government – some small District Councils may only have one solicitor with larger City authorities having substantial departments providing the opportunity to specialise in many areas of legal work.
All of the above offer the potential opportunity to work across a range of specialisms and some roles, for example, those in the Crown Prosecution Service, offer the opportunity for solicitors to obtain higher court rights. Most, but not all, offer the chance of traineeships – this is not currently possible in the legal departments of the armed services.