What does a Solicitor do? The 5 Common Tasks
This may seem like an obvious question. But it’s surprising how peoples perceptions of what a solicitor does, and what they actually do, differ.
This misconception can be embarrassing for everyone – students, people seeking work in the legal profession or even people who need to deal with a solicitor in their working life.
The typical day of a solicitor will differ considerably depending on which area of law they practice. For example a solicitor working in criminal law will spend much longer in court. Generally speaking a solicitor will be involved in the following tasks:
Advising and interviewing clients is going to be a big part of being a solicitor. This could be face to face or via email or telephone. You will need to clearly and accurately explain legal matters to your client so they can peruse a certain course of action (or not!) It’s not all about the provision of legal information – you may be interviewing your clients to obtain all the relevant details. Without being in possession of all the facts you won’t be able to give the best advice.
A good example of this is criminal law – you need to get all the key details from a client before a bail hearing. Part of being a good solicitor, in all legal areas, is knowing what your client isn’t telling you, and being able to extract the key legal facts with your line of questioning. Remember, word of mouth spreads quickly so your client interaction is going to be key when getting repeat business or referrals.
Court / Negotiation
Barristers aren’t the only ones who need to be able to think on their feet and provide a persuasive argument. So what do solicitors do in court?
Solicitors have rights of audience in the lower courts (magistrates courts, county courts and tribunals). However before a court hearing there may even be the chance to informally negotiate an outcome. This form of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) is becoming more popular due to the costs involved with court hearings.
Quite simply a solicitor needs to be able to get the best deal possible for their client. Remember that this could be a commercial negotiation too, solicitors are often the ones tasked with negotiation due to their familiarity with the various clauses which make up contracts. Obviously this will frequently be done by commercial solicitors.
When people think about being a solicitor they don’t always think about the mounds of paperwork they need to fill in. It’s going to be a very big part of the job regardless of the area you work in. You will need to Understand the relevant forms which need to be mailed, presented to a judge, or submitted online.
Sorting out the paperwork of your clients or reviewing the paperwork of your colleagues is also going to be a major part of the job.
In commercial law contract drafting will take up a good portion of your time – all of the clauses need to be perfectly constructed and all liabilities limited. Some big commercial agreements can even be hundreds of pages long! Whatever sort of solicitor you are, it’s going to be hard to avoid filling in forms. Hopefully you will have a legal assistant or paralegal to share the work with!
If you’re a partner in a firm the name of the game really changes. You will still do work similar to solicitors but you will also be responsible for the business side of the firm.
So marketing, employment and deciding the future direction of the firm is going to take up much of the day. Keeping an eye on your competitors is also a must, and monitoring current market trends and legislation is essential. It will be your job to make sure that the firm not only stays profitable, but continues to expand run smoothly.
Your commercial awareness will really be tested and so will your people skills. Your actions will have a big impact on the direction the firm takes in the future. This is especially true in firms with less partners.
Research and preparation is essential before any of the above tasks can be properly completed. No matter how good you are at thinking on your feet, you still must prepare.
No two cases / clients are exactly the same.
And that’s not to mention the constant research which goes on to keep up to date with the latest cases and legislation. In the legal world standing still is moving backwards. These days a lot of legal research will take place on the internet using websites like WestLaw or Lexis so being an efficient user of technology is also a must.
Part of being a good solicitor is knowing when to delegate a task to a paralegal or assistant. Some research tasks can be very time consuming.
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