How to qualify as a solicitor in Scotland

Olivia Moore, careers development officer at the Law Society of Scotland, and Catriona King of the Faculty of Advocates, describe the practical stage in the Scottish qualification process to become a solicitor or advocate.

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‘Working in Scotland means that there are some areas of law you’re more likely to be involved in.’

In Scotland, the final step to qualifying as a solicitor is to undertake a traineeship. This is a two-year period of training, working under the supervision of a Scottish-qualified solicitor. The traineeship is a paid role and the traineeship must be registered with the Law Society of Scotland.

When in my legal training do I need to do a traineeship?

You’ll first need to have completed either a Scots law degree or the accelerated Scots law degree (for a non-law graduate). There is otherwise an alternative to the law degree, whereby you would undertake a three-year ‘pre-PEAT’ contract with a Scottish-qualified solicitor while completing the Law Society of Scotland’s professional exams. All aspiring solicitors must then undertake the professional education and training stage 1 programme (PEAT 1, also referred to as the diploma in professional legal practice), which is currently offered by six universities in Scotland. The traineeship then follows on as professional education and training stage 2 (PEAT 2).

A large portion of all trainees’ work will involve legal research, drafting agreements, attending client meetings and court, and corresponding with clients. ‘Being based in a Scottish office has its perks; we get the chance to work on smaller, unique local projects too,’ explains Murray Dunn, a corporate lawyer who trained at CMS in Scotland. ‘For example, there are a lot of renewable resources in Scotland so we’ve worked on hydro-projects and wind farms. You tend to get more responsibility because there are fewer people involved. The office is smaller so you get to know more people of varying seniority.’

‘The biggest perk of training in Scotland for me is that I live and work in Edinburgh. The city has a cosmopolitan atmosphere and an energetic cultural life, especially during the Edinburgh Festival in August when there is so much to see and do,’ says Craig Muir, who trained at the Edinburgh office of Shoosmiths LLP and is now a solicitor with DWF. ‘If there’s a drawback to working in Scotland it would be that, given the size of the Scottish market in comparison to England, there are perhaps less opportunities to specialise in more ‘niche’ areas of the law, for example competition law.’

How do I go about applying for a traineeship?

Obtaining a traineeship is a very competitive process, with approximately 85% of students who complete the diploma obtaining a traineeship. Getting an internship, shadowing experience or relevant work experience will help you gain exposure to a legal workplace environment, which may be beneficial in securing a traineeship. However, employers look beyond legal-specific experience and value transferable skills from other positions of employment, volunteering or extracurricular activities.

The format for making applications varies significantly and often depends on the size of the employer in question. Large firms and organisations attend university law fairs and advertise their positions through national jobs websites and universities’ career hubs. These employers will likely have a robust selection procedure, which could consist of application forms, psychometric testing, assessment centres and interviews.

Smaller firms may also have formal application processes, but you may have to be more proactive in seeking out these opportunities. Smaller employers might still advertise online or through universities, or you could make a call to find out how they recruit. Other small firms will rely on receiving speculative applications from students, which will require a strong CV and convincing covering letter.

It’s important to remember that the firm or organisation you are applying to will receive hundreds of applications; it’s vital that yours stands out, and for all the right reasons. Be mindful that you can’t rely on spell check for everything. Applications are often riddled with errors that can easily be avoided with a second read through!

Take your time to tailor your CV and thoroughly research the organisation you’re applying to. Demonstrating you’re commercially aware is important throughout the application process.

‘We look for bright trainees who have a real interest in practising commercial law,’ says Rob Wilson, partner at the CMS Edinburgh office. ‘A consistently strong academic record is important but promising candidates have to demonstrate more than a purely technical interest in black letter law – they need to be able to understand the sectors within which our clients work.’

Which legal organisations offer traineeships to aspiring solicitors?

Employers offering traineeships range from small practices to international firms; local councils; in-house legal departments of businesses, and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). The work you’ll be given as a trainee is dependent on the type of firm or organisation you join. In large commercial firms, trainees will be part of a larger team and and may typically have a small part to play in a very large process involving other team members. In smaller, niche and regional practices, trainees’ roles will differ and there may be more frequent opportunities to gain client exposure and early responsibility. A large portion of all trainees’ work will involve legal research, drafting agreements, attending client meetings and court, and corresponding with clients.

What sort of work will I do on my traineeship?

There is no requirement for you to undertake your traineeship in any particular area of law and you don’t have to work in that same area as a qualified solicitor. During the two years you might focus on conveyancing, for instance; or you might prefer to experience several different areas. In many firms, especially larger firms, you’ll work in up to four departments in different ‘seats’. At small firms you’re likely to do work for a range of different departments while staying in one place. Where possible, law firms and organisations will try to accommodate trainees’ seat preferences, but decisions will depend on business requirements and trainee numbers. Some law firms also offer trainees the opportunity to do a seat in another office (or even country) or with a client’s in-house legal department – these are known as secondments.

‘As a trainee, the work varied across the different seats,’ says Murray, who enjoyed a secondment to an oil and gas company in Aberdeen as a trainee, continues. ‘One of my seats was in property law so I did a lot of registering documents and checking securities. Elsewhere, I reviewed contracts to make sure that they make sense and flag up any points that need to be clarified. Sometimes I drafted basic contracts, but that was often left to the more senior solicitors.’

‘Working in Scotland means that there are some areas of law you’re more likely to be involved in than if you were working in London for example; these include agricultural property, and oil and gas law,’ explains Craig. ‘As Scotland has its own legal system, magic circle firms often also refer us work with a Scots law element.’

How will I be assessed as a trainee solicitor?

During the traineeship you’ll regularly review your progress with your supervising solicitor and you must meet the PEAT 2 outcomes in order to qualify as a solicitor. Trainees must complete specific continuing professional development (CPD) and employers may require trainees to undertake specific training too.

What happens after the two-year traineeship?

At the end of the two-year period, upon successful completion of your traineeship, you will apply to be admitted to the roll of solicitors and then be known as a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor. Some NQs will stay on to work with the firm or organisation they trained with; however, you’ll usually need to apply for a role. Your employer isn’t obligated to keep you on, but also if you want to move to a different firm or organisation or work in a different area of law, you are free to do so. Whether the training organisation is large or small, though, it will always recruit trainees with the ultimate aim of producing a well-rounded, employable NQ at the end.

Trainees transitioning into NQ employment has been relatively positive with 90% of trainees from the last practice year employed as solicitors just over six months after admission.

Qualifying as an advocate

In England and Wales, they’re known as barristers; in Scotland, they’re advocates. All advocates are members of the Faculty of Advocates. To become an advocate you will usually need to complete a Scots law degree and the PEAT 1 diploma in professional legal practice and a period of training known as a traineeship. The first step in the process of joining the Faculty of Advocates is known as ‘matriculating as an intrant’. Details of how to go about matriculating can be found on the Faculty’s website .

The Faculty sets a list of subjects which must be passed before an intrant can become an advocate – if these haven’t been covered by your degree, you can sit the exams through the Faculty. Aspiring advocates also need to pass the Faculty’s exam in evidence, practice and procedure. The next stage is known as ‘devilling’, the Scottish term for pupillage. Devilling involves a combination of participating in training courses, and spending time with devilmasters, shadowing them in their work. You must also sit and pass a series of assessments. Devilling typically begins in October and lasts for nine months. It’s worth noting that you need to matriculate (at least) around one year before you hope to begin devilling.

Although the period of training known as devilling is unpaid, scholarships to assist devils during this period are available. Upon completion of devilling, you will be called to the Bar, and this is when, among other things, you’re able to represent people in court.

TARGETjobs Law would like to thank Olivia Moore, of the Law Society of Scotland, and Catriona King, of the Faculty of Advocates, for their help with this article.

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