British attorneys come in two varieties: barristers and solicitors. Barristers present cases in court; solicitors handle non-courtroom legal matters. Most solicitors work in private practice, either alone or for a partnership. Some work as in-house attorneys for corporations or local government; other solicitors serve in the United Kingdom's Crown Prosecution Service, which handles criminal cases.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority is the professional group that oversees the U.K.'s solicitors, including setting minimum salaries. As of 2011, the SRA minimum starting salary for trainee solicitors working in central London is £19,240, and £17,225 for those employed elsewhere. The exact salary for a specific position may be considerably higher, depending on the location, the employer and whether you specialise in a particularly desirable branch of legal practice. Starting solicitors at commercial-law firms can pull down a £62,140 starting salary.
Ranges and Averages
The salary range for most solicitors, according to the British government, runs from £25,870 to £77,350, as of 2011. Solicitors who become partners at their law firm can make up to £103,350 or more, including a share of the firm's profits. The Career Builder website sets the average salary for solicitors of all levels of experience and in related jobs -- solicitors can eventually serve as coroners or judges -- at £53,820 in the United Kingdom. The site does not break down salaries by experience.
Would-be solicitors can either attend law school or gain experience as a legal executive, the equivalent of a paralegal. After they pass a legal exam, they must work under a training contract, usually for two years, before becoming fully qualified. Law firms may sign promising students to a contract while they're still in law school; other starting solicitors may have to network and hunt for contracts. The U.K. recommends that solicitors consider speculative applications, contacting firms even if they haven't advertised an opening.
Becoming a solicitor, like becoming an American attorney, can be expensive. A government rule limiting university fees to around £3,055 a year is scheduled to change in 2012, at which point schools will be free to charge up to £9,165 a year. If you don't graduate with a law degree and take the Graduate Diploma in Law course instead, that costs almost another £9,100. The Legal Practice Course -- mandatory for anyone who wants to become a solicitor -- costs £13,325. You can take out loans to cover the cost and repay them during your working career.