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updated on 03 March 2023
After completing your training contract or qualifying work experience (QWE), as well as passing both stages of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), or the Legal Practice Course (LPC) (if you’re eligible to qualify via this route) you’ll 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’ll need to secure a job.
Most newly-qualified solicitors (NQs) prefer to stay 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’s no longer a place for every NQ by the time they qualify (eg, because of a merger or a downturn in a specific 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’ll 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 ‘trainee solicitor’ or ‘associate’. Normally, you’ll work under a partner or senior associate’s supervision and will be paid a fixed salary.
The working life of an associate varies considerably according to the type of firm you’re at, your supervisor, the areas of work in which you’re practising and your skills.
In general, you’ll 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.
It’s the norm for NQs to aspire to increase seniority in the firm. Previously, most solicitors worked towards becoming partners, but in the modern profession partnership isn’t 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’ll likely first be promoted to senior associate, then salaried partner and, finally, equity partner (see below).
To get an insight into the journey from trainee to associate to partner, watch this Meet the Lawyer interview with a partner at Slaughter and May on our YouTube channel.
Ongoing professional development
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires every solicitor to keep their skills and knowledge up to date, so training doesn’t end with the training contract/QWE.
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 don’t have a share in the firm). How long it’ll take you to become a partner will depend on both you and the firm you’re 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 won’t have the same share of the profits as a more senior partner. While this is the norm, several 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 to secure higher earnings, develop their practice in a different way or simply join a firm with a culture that’s more suited to them.
Read our Commercial Question – weekly articles written by leading law firms designed to get you thinking about commercial issues.