updated on 09 March 2020
After completing your training contract/period of recognised training (and from 2021, passing both stages of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam), you will be a qualified solicitor. As well as being admitted onto the roll of solicitors and gaining your practising certificate (for a fee paid by you or your firm), you will need to secure a job.
Most newly qualified solicitors (NQs) prefer to stay on with the firm at which they trained – firms invest time and resources into training because they want you to work for them once you qualify.
But sometimes a firm’s staffing needs change and there is no longer a place for every NQ by the time they qualify (eg, because of a merger or a downturn in a particular area of work).
Some NQs prefer to move firms after qualifying, attracted by higher salaries or a different practice specialisation or location. If you do want to move on, you can search LawCareers.Net’s 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
Your job title is likely to be ‘solicitor’ or ‘associate’. Normally, you will work under the supervision of a partner or senior associate, and will be paid a fixed salary.
The working life of an associate varies considerably according to the type of firm you are at, your supervisor, the areas of work in which you are practising and your own skills. 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 in different practice areas and our Meet the Lawyer section, which profiles lawyers’ experiences at different firms.
Many NQs aspire to increased seniority in the firm. Previously, most solicitors worked toward becoming partners, but in the modern profession partnership is not an ambition shared by all lawyers – there are many other options to pursue such as working in-house. If being made a partner in your firm is your aim, you will likely first be promoted to senior associate, then salaried partner and, finally, equity partner (see below).
Continuing professional development
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires every solicitor to keep their skills and knowledge up to date, so training does not end with the training contract. Solicitors are encouraged to think about their training needs and take the initiative in booking themselves onto relevant courses.
There are several different types of law firm partnership.
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 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.