Life as a solicitor
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Once you have finished the training contract you will be entered onto the roll of solicitors. You can then apply for a practising certificate and, if you wish, join the Law Society as a full member. You, or your firm, will have to pay for this.
Perhaps more important is the practical consideration of securing a job. Most newly qualified solicitors (NQs) prefer to stay on with the firm at which they trained, where they are familiar with both the practice and the members of staff. It is good news for these NQs - it is unlikely that a firm will have invested the time and resources in training you if it had not projected that a permanent place would be available at the end of it. That said, it is possible that the firm's staffing requirements may develop in a way that was not anticipated (eg, through a merger or a downturn in a particular area of work) and that there is no longer a place to offer you.
Some NQs prefer to move firms after qualifying, attracted by, for instance, higher salaries or a different practice specialisation or location. If you do want to move on, you can search our database of firms by type of practice, location and size. In any event, make sure that you get a final decision from your firm in good time so that you can consider your options and give yourself a chance to look for an alternative if necessary. This means that you will want to know the firm's plans three to six months before you qualify.
Life as an associate
Having qualified and been employed by a firm, your title will almost certainly be that of assistant/associate solicitor. This means that you are an employee of the firm, normally working under the supervision of a partner or senior associate, and will work on a fixed salary.
The working life of an associate varies considerably according to the type of firm you are with, the partners supervising you, the areas of work in which you are practising and your own abilities. In general, you will be expected to work hard and take responsibility for your own clients without constant supervision. To find out more about what it might be like, read our profiles of solicitors working at different law firms in different practice areas.
Most NQs work eagerly towards increased seniority in the firm. Associates can become senior associates, then salaried partners and finally full-equity partners (see below). You do not always need to go through all of these steps - it is possible (though unusual) to go straight from associate to equity partner.
Continuing professional development
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires every solicitor to update their skills and knowledge constantly, so formally assessed training does not end with the training contract. Since November 2014 solicitors are no longer required to undertake accredited training or register 16 hours of professional development per year, although firms can still stick to the old model of professional development for now. This will remain the case until 1 November 2016, at which point all firms must switch to the SRA’s new professional competence programme, which will allow solicitors greater choice over the learning and development they need to undertake to remain competent in their specific areas of practice.
Although many firms are developing alternative career structures by enhancing the status (and pay) of associates, the ultimate career ambition for most solicitors in private practice is to become a partner. Law firms are partnerships and are therefore owned and managed by the partners (salaried partners have a similar status to full partners, but do not have a share in the firm). How long it will take you to become a partner will depend on both you and the firm you are at.
In general, you can expect to wait eight or more years for partnership at a large commercial firm and perhaps a little less at a smaller firm. Again, much will depend on your own abilities (and probably a bit of luck!).
You should also bear in mind that many law firms operate a 'lockstep' partnership system. This means that as a new equity partner, you will not have the same share of the profits as a more senior partner. While this is the norm, a number of firms now have a share/remuneration structure based on partner profitability and revenue generated.
One development within the profession - especially among the larger commercial firms - is that partnership is no longer seen as a life-long tie to one law firm. A significant number of partners are changing firms in order to secure higher earnings, develop their practice in a different way or simply escape from their colleagues and a culture in which they do not want to work.