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18 Career Paths for New Solicitors in 2019 (and How to Choose the Right One)

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Introduction

If you are a newly-qualified solicitor entering the Scottish market in 2019, a great many career paths are available to you.

However, this amount of choice creates problems of its own. How do you choose?

To help, we’ve put together a guide outlining the various legal sectors and specialisms common in Scotland.

The guide is organised into two main areas: Private Practice and In-house.

Within each we list the different areas in which you can specialise, explaining what each solicitor does, any additional qualifications you may need, what type of person it would best suit, expected salary, job availability, and career opportunities.

We’ve also included some additional career paths it’s worth you considering.

It’s quite a long guide, so you also have the option to download a pdf version and read later.

Either way, I hope the guide helps you decide the next stage in your career.

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Private Practice

1. Real Estate Solicitor

a. What does a Real Estate Solicitor do?

Manages the purchase and sale of commercial property, from small shops through to the development of large-scale shopping centres, hotels and office buildings.

Normally a junior solicitor will support partners or associates by drafting leases, purchase and sale documentation, and liaising with clients over transactional obligations.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

Good attention to detail and the ability to identify potential issues surrounding purchases, sales and lease agreements.

Real estate suits solicitors who enjoy routine and structure, as the role often involves the utilisation of templates and the drafting of core legal documentation, so a good eye for detail is very helpful. 

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

Between £35k-£40k.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Lots. The skill set of commercial real estate solicitors has been in high demand since 2012.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

If you get a position within the right firm, you can quickly progress up the career ladder. Most private practices want to retain good staff in this area, so they are likely to promote early.

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2. Dispute Resolution Solicitor

a. What does a Dispute Resolution Solicitor do?

Manages the litigation process, be that for pursuers or for defenders. Involves attending various courts – Sheriff Court and Court of Session – and manages disputes to a successful conclusion.

Some examples of these disputes are contractual, property, professional negligence, intellectual property and international trade (IPIT).

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

It’s not compulsory, but some Dispute Resolution Solicitors undertake a Solicitor Advocate qualification, which allows them to represent their client directly in court, rather than through a third-party advocate.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You should be confident in standing up in a formal court of law and debating a point or position in a constructive, effective and persuasive manner.

You will also enjoy client interaction, have good attention to detail, and be able to get to the heart of an issue quickly and to the satisfaction of your client – if indeed, not both parties.

It’s also important you’re not afraid to have difficult conversations with your client, if required – particularly when the cost of pursuing a dispute is likely to exceed any anticipated gains.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

£30 to £38k.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Yes, a steady flow. There are a number of opportunities in Scotland across specialist areas such as commercial, property and contentious planning.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Career advancement is often dependent on the size and structure of the law firm and underlying team. There are particular good opportunities for all-rounders with strong court and client relationship skills.

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3. Banking and Finance Solicitor

a. What does a Banking & Finance Solicitor do?

Works with banking and finance institutions to provide a range of legal support. This includes the drafting of finance agreements between various parties, and the raising of finance to support corporate actions such as refinancing, mergers and acquisitions, management buyouts, etc.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

High attention to detail, the ability to grasp complex issues quickly, superb drafting skills, the ability to build strong internal and external relationships, and excellent communication skills.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

Around £37k - £40k.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Not many roles come onto the open market. Often firms will create a position if they become aware of an excellent candidate.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Strong. Banking and finance is a smaller and more specialist market than many other areas of the legal profession. Banking and finance will always be in demand, especially among larger firms. Able solicitors will always do well.

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4. Private Client Solicitor

a. What does a Private Client Solicitor do?

Manages an individual’s private affairs. This includes drafting wills, arranging powers of attorney, dealing with trusts and estates, and tax and investment planning.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

Not essential. However, many private client solicitors pursue a STEP Diploma in Trusts and Estates. Other useful qualifications include the ATT (Association of Tax Technicians) and the CTA (Chartered Institute of Taxation).

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You will enjoy building long-term relationships with clients and helping them manage their affairs.

Essentially, you should be empathetic – a ‘people person’ – and draw satisfaction from helping individuals bring structure and clarity to often difficult personal situations.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

Around £28k - £37k per annum.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

There is a good flow of roles in Scotland, across both small and larger legal firms.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

If you are a capable and talented solicitor you will rise through the ranks swiftly. Important to success is an ability to build your profile internally among other departments – such as employment, corporate and dispute resolution – allowing you to drive new business.

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5. Corporate Solicitor

a. What does a Corporate Solicitor do?

Directly involved in managing the process of management buyouts, mergers and acquisitions and corporate restructures. Also involved in conducting due diligence and evaluating a business’ financial worth.

The work differs from banking and finance, as a corporate solicitor is involved directly in the actual transaction rather than providing support through the drafting of appropriate documentation. This can extend to the negotiations themselves.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You relish working in a fast-paced environment and riding the peaks and troughs of your workload. You enjoy the challenge of dealing with business owners and leaders with high demands and high expectations.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

Circa £36k to £40k.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

A comparatively high amount. A drop in the intake of newly-qualified solicitors following the financial crisis in 2008 has created a current shortfall of suitable candidates.

Although corporate work is a very rewarding area, some young solicitors are put off by the long hours.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Due to high demand and relatively low supply, opportunities for career advancement are excellent.

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6. Employment Solicitor

a. What does an Employment Solicitor do?

Deals with contentious and non-contentious employment issues. For example, advising HR professionals about policies, staff handbooks, terms and conditions of employment, and corporate restructures.

Contentious issues can include advising individuals or businesses on conflicts within the workplace, e.g. dismissals, conditions of employment, redundancies and tribunals.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You are a people person who enjoys giving individuals trusted advice, providing solutions, ideas and best practice.

When dealing with a contentious issue, you can construct a sound argument and get straight to the heart of a matter. You can find solutions in difficult, often seemingly intractable situations.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

Circa £30k to £37k.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Employment law has always been a very competitive area, as it’s seen as attractive work. Jobs do exist but they are well sought after.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Steady. Unless you are a really high performer, you should enjoy a gradual career progression where you become a trusted adviser and have the opportunity to grow your client base.

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7. Residential Property Solicitor

Edinburgh residential property.
There is always a steady stream of demand in Scotland for Residential Property Solicitors.

What does a Residential Property Solicitor do?

Managing the purchase and sale of all forms of residential property, including individual plots of land, flats, houses and other domestic dwellings.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You should be transactionally focused, well organised, good with people – particularly when it comes to managing their expectations.

You will have good attention to detail, with an ability to identify potential issues with deeds and other related residential property documentation.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

From £27k to £35k.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Yes, there is always a steady stream of demand in Scotland for Residential Property Solicitors, as long as the property market remains buoyant.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Good opportunities always exist for resilient and tenacious practitioners who can build a strong profile for themselves.

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8. Corporate Recovery Solicitor

a. What does an Insolvency & Corporate Recovery Solicitor do?

There are two distinct but related specialisms:

Insolvency: looking at the restructuring of an organisation when it runs into financial difficulties, often with the overriding aim of maximising returns for creditors.

Corporate recovery: the litigation side of corporate insolvency. Dealing with court actions to recover assets on behalf of clients.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

Let’s take each specialism in turn:

Insolvency: you need to be resilient and ‘comfortable’ dealing with people in high pressure and often distressing situations.

Corporate recovery: the ability to bring clarify to often confusing situations. Good investigative and problem-solving skills to help maximise returns for creditors.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

£30k to £40k per annum.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Currently, there are not huge amounts. It is quite a specialist skill set, and roles are scarce.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Good solicitors – particularly within smaller teams and legal practices – have many opportunities for progressing their career, especially if you are willing to move between firms.

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9. Insurance Litigation Solicitor

a. What does an Insurance Litigation Solicitor do?

Either defends or pursues an organisation or individual connected with an insurance claim.

The parties involved and the nature of the claims can be wide and varied, ranging from large scale incidents (e.g. Deepwater Horizon) to customers tripping on loose tiles in a shopping centre.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

It is not compulsory, but many insurance litigation solicitors undertake a Solicitor Advocate qualification, which allows them to represent their client directly in court, rather than through a third-party advocate.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You enjoy a busy workload, are methodical in your approach, have good attention to detail, and are well organised.

You should also be a strong character who likes the cut and thrust of debate.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

£28k to £35k per annum.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

There’s certainly no boom in jobs at the moment, but demand is always there – albeit at modest levels.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Opportunities lie predominantly within private practice. If you are good, you should rise steadily through the ranks – especially if you are adept at building strong relationships and generating repeat business.

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10. Projects, Energy and Infrastructure Solicitor

a. What does a Projects, Energy and Infrastructure Solicitor do?

Manages large scale infrastructure projects from initiation to completion. Acts as an intermediate between the client and other departments within your firm, e.g. Corporate, Real Estate, Banking & Finance.

These infrastructure projects can include anything from renewable wind farms, schools and hospitals, railway lines, bridges and drainage systems.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

Not essential, but a recognised project management qualification such as Six Sigma or Prince 2 would be an advantage.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You are confident with clients and excel in communicating complex information in layman terms.

Extremely well organised, you can manage many tasks simultaneously and have excellent attention to detail.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

£34k to £35k and upwards.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) aren’t as popular as they once were, and the Scottish Government is not as active in this area. As a result, job availability has declined slightly.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Although not a massively populated area of law, good opportunities for career development do exist within Projects, Energy & Infrastructure.

This career path gives you great profile within a law firm, as the interconnected nature of the role means you will be known by many across the business – most importantly, the firm’s partners.

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11. Technology, Media and Telecoms Solicitor

Man using computer.
Involves working with a range of organisations in an advisory role, often negotiating on their behalf and across a wide range of agreements and contracts.

a. What does a Technology, Media & Telecoms Solicitor do?

The role is focused predominantly on the drafting of commercial contracts. This could take the form of IT outsourcing contracts, intellectual property and general advisory work.

It involves working with a range of organisations in an advisory role, often negotiating on their behalf and across a wide range of agreements and contracts.

GDPR would be a good, recent example.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You should be naturally outgoing, as this area involves a lot of client-facing work. You will enjoy the drafting process, be highly analytical and possess good all-round legal skills.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

From £36k per annum.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Lots. It’s an increasingly busy area of private practice. GDPR has had a big impact, but there’s also more activity across the corporate space – outsourcing of services, fledging fintech companies needing advice, and sales, mergers and acquisitions in financial services. All of this requires reviewing and redrafting outstanding contractual obligations.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Excellent. Career prospects are good because of high demand. Opportunities exist to progress within an existing law firm, move to a competitor, or take an in-house role. Indeed, there are lots of junior (less than six years post-qualified experience) in-house roles at the moment.

Which brings us on to the in-house careers available to new solicitors across Financial Services, Industry & Commerce, and Public & Third Sector.

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In-house

12. Financial Services Solicitor

a. What does an in-house Financial Services Solicitor do?

Advises the company and its internal stakeholders on a course of action, making them aware of the risks involved but in a commercially-minded and pragmatic way.

Matters of interest include contractual issues, litigation, compliance, regulatory, employment and company secretarial. Legal advice also extends to the company’s range of financial products, e.g. pensions, savings, trusts, funds, etc.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You will have strong communication skills, be an effective influencer, and be adept at managing client expectations.

You should be creative and find solutions in difficult situations. An enabler rather than a blocker, you should still be confident in challenging those around you, but in a non-confrontational manner.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

£32k per annum and upwards.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Yes, there exists a good pipeline of roles. This is commensurate with a healthy financial services sector in Scotland, and a growing trend of businesses bringing legal expertise in-house.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Good, but you should be mindful of the differences between private practice.

In-house legal roles within financial services companies sit within a much flatter structure than their private practice counterparts.

This means that your job title might not change as quickly, but the scope, level of responsibility and variety of your role will.

To climb the career ladder more quickly you will probably need to move within the sector.

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13. Industry and Commerce Solicitor

a. What does an in-house Industry & Commerce Solicitor do?

Very similar to the types of work a Financial Services in-house solicitor does. Rather than relating to financial products, however, legal advice will extend to the specific products and services of the industry and commerce firm you are working in.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

Again, similar to Financial Services. Good communication skills, and persuasive and pragmatic. You will be focused on what’s best for your business.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor?

From £30k per annum.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Over the last decade or so, there has been a steady demand for Industry & Commerce in-house solicitors.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Again, similar to Financial Services. A flatter structure than legal private practice makes for a steadier career progression, but this is often balanced by greater variety and responsibility.

If you are ambitious and hungry, moving between companies may be the best route to rising up the ranks.

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14. Public and Third Sector Solicitor

a. What does an in-house Public & Third Sector Solicitor do?

Working on behalf of the Scottish Government, a local council, university or charity, it involves advising internal stakeholders on a whole range of different legal matters.

This can include contractual issues, compliance, regulatory and litigation.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You should have strengths similar to those required within Financial Services and Industry & Commerce – good communicator and influencer, strong problem-solving skills, and a general ‘can do’ attitude.

However, the Public & Third sectors are generally slower paced than others, with more procedures, processes and bureaucracy to navigate. You should be comfortable – and even relish – this.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

£28k upwards.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

A good flow of opportunities, particularly within local councils and government.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Flatter structures than private practice mean that career progression isn’t as fast. However, if you are happy to move between organisations, or be patient for your next opportunity, you should prosper.

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Other career paths open to newly-qualified solicitors

15. Company Secretarial

a. What does a Company Secretary do?

Looks after the governance, compliance and day-to-day running of the business. This involves, but is not limited to:

  • Filing records with Companies House
  • Maintaining and updating company records
  • Managing various committees – audit, risk, etc.
  • Setting agendas
  • Establishing and maintaining a governance framework
  • Ensuring company follows all guidelines set out by relevant regulators

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

Not essential, but it would be helpful if you have a qualification from ICSA, the professional body for governance.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

Very organised, articulate with good attention to detail. You should have a strategic approach, with a strong ability to plan. Good relationship-building skills are also desirable.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

Wide-ranging, from £25k to £35k per annum.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Yes, a good flow across many sectors, despite it been a sparsely populated group. In Edinburgh, for instance, it is suggested there are only around 150 professionally qualified company secretaries.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Fairly good. But speedy career progression will probably involve moving from company to company.

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16. Compliance and Regulatory Solicitor

a. What does a Compliance & Regulatory Solicitor do?

Ensures the business is anticipating downstream regulations and preparing for timely compliance.

Also makes sure appropriate process and procedures are embedded across the organisation to meet existing regulation, e.g. anti-bribery and corruption, anti-money laundering, FCA regulations, etc.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You are methodical, process driven, and have good project management skills. You can analyse lots of complex legal information and translate into digestible, layman terms for internal stakeholders.

It is also helpful if you are relatively ‘thick-skinned’ and resilient.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

Starting from £30k per annum.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

There are huge amounts of regulations – both existing and to come – across many sectors in Scotland, particularly financial services. It is an area of high demand.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

Good. It is a busy and growing area which is constantly changing. This continual state of flux creates lots of opportunities for talented solicitors.

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17. Commercial Solicitor

a. What does a Commercial Solicitor do?

Work is predominantly based around commercial contracts but with a more operational focus – advising businesses and individuals on deals.

Activities involve carrying out due diligence, helping negotiate the deals, and doing significant amounts of analysis and costings.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You should enjoy the cut and thrust of business, relish negotiations and have a good eye for detail and a head for figures.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

£38k to £43k per annum.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

Steady and now growing, especially with a recovering oil and gas sector.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

With the right skills, experience and personal attributes, a career in Commercial Law can take you in all directions within an organisation – consulting, supporting the finance director, and even rising to the very pinnacle of the business.

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18. Research / Professional Support Solicitor

A bookshelf filled with books
Being a Research Solicitor involves utilising your legal skills to investigate, digest and summarise huge amounts of information.

a. What does a Research Solicitor do?

Conducts research and analysis on a variety of topics and across a broad range of different sectors.

Involves utilising your legal skills to investigate, digest and summarise huge amounts of information. A good example would be analysing the testimonies of hundreds of witnesses as part of a public enquiry, e.g. the Hillsborough Enquiry.

You would also be involved in providing training material or keep a team of lawyers up to date on legislative changes or general updates within their chosen specialism.

b. Do I need any additional qualifications?

No.

c. What would make me particularly suited to this career path?

You will be extremely analytical, with a real gift for distilling large amounts of data down to the critical points of an investigation, enquiry or project.

d. What is a typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitor in this area?

£28k upwards.

e. Are there many jobs of this kind in Scotland?

The demand for Research Solicitors is consistent but modest across Scotland.

f. What are the likely opportunities for development?

They are not huge in Scotland. Greater opportunity exists in London and the Southeast.

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Conclusion

After reading this article, you should now have a good grasp of the different areas of specialisms open to you as a newly-qualified solicitor in 2019.

Although these careers all share the fundamentals of good legal practice, they can vary hugely in subject matter, skills needed and the types of people best suited to them.

The path you choose to follow this year will shape your entire career in law. It’s an important decision. Take your time. Do your research. And speak to as many people as you can.

Once you have decided, give it your all.

Good luck!

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Andrew Inglis
Senior Business Manager – Legal
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