I want to know
where they work
What do they do?
Where do they work?
What do they earn?
How many are there?
What do I need to be one?
What’s the training?
How do I apply?
A solicitor gives legal advice to clients and represents them in negotiations or disputes. The client will usually be a company, an organisation or an individual who owns rights to intellectual property (or wants to make use of someone else’s rights). The buying and selling of IP is at the heart of so much national and international business, so, as well as having a fine legal mind, a successful solicitor will need a business brain too.
The work can involve anything from writing contracts or to pursuing legal action on behalf of clients. Increasingly, solicitors appear in court arguing cases (instead of, or alongside, a barrister) particularly in patent disputes.
The relationship between the client and solictor is often close. The solicitor may even be involved in major business decisions and is often the person who needs to find commercial solutions. So, even in a legal dispute, often the best result is not a trial and a triumph in court, but rather workable result that’s good for business.
The work varies from one solicitor to another, but even for individuals, each day is different. Most find themselves specialising in a particular area, and they often develop their own law practice or might move on to work in industry, in government or in the courts.
Solicitors often work in private practice (law firms). But many work in-house for a company, in local or central government or in the court service. Obviously, if you work in a private business where, in effect, your employer is your only client, then your work may be less varied than in a law firm with many clients, but you may also find yourself more involved in the whole company’s business strategy.
The law firms where IP solicitors work are usually either small specialist practices or a department that’s devoted to IP sitting within one of the big, national or global law firms. There’s often an international aspect to the work.
Law firms are generally run and owned by senior solicitors, commonly known as ‘partners’ who earn their living by sharing the firm’s profits, while the junior solicitors get a salary. These partners have often worked their way up through the ranks of the firm, starting out as trainees, or sometimes they’ve joined later in their careers from another firm.
IP solicitors need legal skills, but also business skills like negotiating deals, commercial acumen, interpersonal and communication skills and teamwork. Working in some specialist areas, such as patents, it’s uself to have a technical background – such as a science degree – but it’s not a barrier if you don’t.
Typically, to become a solicitor, you need a degree. If it wasn’t a law degree, you’ll need to do the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) course afterwards. Then, you need to do the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Both courses are offered by a number of law schools and universities in and outside London.
Some law firms have relationships with particular law schools and will even sponsor students through the course(s), paying their fees and maybe helping out with living costs.
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Once they’ve done the Legal Practice Course (see above), trainee solicitors hope to get a training contract – two years of practical, on-the-job training usually at a law firm, but occasionally in a company or government legal department.
Trainees must get practical experience in at least three areas of English law. These won’t all necessarily be within IP, but they’ll give you a chance to develop skills in both contentious and non-contentious work, ie. legal work involved in resolving disputes and in avoiding them in the forst place.
To get their experience, most trainees spend six months in four different departments (known as ‘seats’), supervised by senior solicitors. Depending on the practice, you might spend six months working in another office or at a client.
Trainees do most of the stuff qualified solicitors have to do, particularly the more routine tasks: researching and analysing documents and previous cases to be sure that advice and procedure sis accurate; corresponding with clients and solicitors working for the clients you’re opposing or doing business with; attending meetings and negotiations with opposing parties; preparing papers for court; checking all the legal paperwork before it’s signed.
Although this is all real work, the training is closely supervised. Often there’s a training company involved and your won’t just learn the legal ropes, but also technical skills, soft skills (ie. broad business skills) and professional skills like presenting and negotiating.
If you succeed at the training, the law firm will probably offer you a permanent job as a qualified solicitor, specialising in your chosen area.
Varied work with real impact on business decisions.
Getting it wrong can have big consequences for your clients.
You can either approach smaller law firms directly or most of the big firms have a graduate recruitment programme that will be easy to find out about on their websites.