What are the career options for legal professionals?

The legal profession encompasses many different roles. What are the options? What qualifications will I need? How long will it take? The links to descriptions of the job roles below aim to answer these questions and showcase different opportunities working in law.


Solicitor in private practice

Typical work activities

Solicitors deal with a wide range of work for a variety of clients, from work with local communities in the Highlands, to leading Scottish financial institutions in the cities.

Almost all practising solicitors in Scotland carry out many similar activities, which typically involve:

  • receiving requests for legal advice from current and potential clients and deciding on the most appropriate responses to make;
  • working out what needs to be done to solve a client's problems;
  • offering advice on the law, legal procedures and a wide range of associated issues;
  • drawing up contracts, leases, wills and other legal documents;
  • researching documents and case history to ensure accuracy of advice and procedures;
  • dealing with the sale and purchase (conveyancing) of land, houses and commercial premises and with the registration of such transactions;
  • checking all documentation thoroughly before signing and implementing;
  • representing clients in tribunals and in District and Sheriff Courts;
  • having rights of audience in the High Courts (solicitor-advocates only);
  • instructing advocates to provide legal opinions and to represent clients in courts at any level;
  • keeping up to date with changes in the law;
  • supervising more junior members of the team, depending on level of seniority;
  • coordinating and supervising the work of other staff;
  • attracting additional business from new and existing clients;
  • reading journals and attending courses as part of continuing professional development (CPD);
  • maintaining high standards of professional conduct while generating adequate practice income and ensuring that the fees earned exceed total costs and expenses incurred.

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Solicitor in-house

Many of those who qualify as a solicitor go on to work for a law firm. But around a quarter choose instead to work as a lawyer for other organisations and businesses. These are called in-house lawyers – and they are employed within government, local authorities, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, commerce and industry and many other organisations.

What is the role of an in-house lawyer?

In-house legal work differs from private practice as you only represent one client – your employer – rather than a number of different clients. However, you must follow the same basic rules and meet the same high standards as all other Scottish solicitors.

The type of work you carry out as an in-house lawyer will depend on the kind of organisation you work for. But you will probably have different responsibilities and a greater variety of work than colleagues in private practice. Often, you are expected to act as more than just a legal adviser, giving professional advice on a range of matters.

A career as an in-house solicitor

Career paths for in-house solicitors are varied. For example, a solicitor employed by an oil and gas company might specialise in drawing up commercial contracts while a procurator fiscal would be involved in the prosecution of crime.

Many solicitors do not train as in-house solicitors – though in-house traineeships do exist – instead moving into the role after they have qualified, sometimes at a later stage in their career. Solicitors often move between working in private practice and in-house.


Some solicitors working in private practice can experience working in-house through a secondment organised by their firm. For example, a trainee working in banking law may be given the opportunity to work in a bank, usually for a period of around six months. Likewise, many in-house traineeships involve a secondment to a law firm. Secondments give trainees and solicitors the opportunity to develop new skills and better understand client needs. 

Career tips

Around 10% of traineeships are in-house. Applying for traineeships both in private practice and in-house will increase the likelihood of securing a place.

Some areas of law may be more suited to in-house roles, others to private practice. You can find out more about the work of in-house lawyers on the Society’s website here.

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Accredited paralegal

A paralegal is a professional who, either by education, training or work experience, is employed to undertake legal work, but is not a qualified solicitor.

Click here to learn more about working as a paralegal and to read about the benefits and how to become an accredited paralegal.

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The legal profession in Scotland is divided into two branches – advocates and solicitors. Advocates are specialists in the art of advocacy, which is the expert presentation of a case in court and also involves advising clients on every aspect of litigation. The work of an advocate is, however, not confined to court cases. Advocates are often asked to provide opinions on a wide range of legal problems which do not involve a court dispute. Solicitors on the other hand usually carry on a more general type of legal practice than advocates. They normally practice in partnership with other solicitors. Advocates are sole practitioners who all work independently of each other.

When a person needs to consult a lawyer his or her first contact is with a solicitor. If the client needs the expert legal advice or advocacy which this requires, the solicitor may then consult an advocate. An advocate receives his or her work from solicitors who instruct him and who are responsible for payment of his or her fees.

Advocates offer the public a distinct and independent service which complements the services provided by the solicitor branch of the legal profession. Advocates offer specialist legal representation and advice to clients of solicitors and of members of certain other professional bodies. Thus practitioners in Scotland, in the cities and in rural areas alike, are able to serve their clients by drawing on a pool of independent lawyers who are skilled court pleaders and also advisers on a wide range of legal problems, both general and specialist.

Collectively, advocates offer an unrivalled range of skilled, independent, objective legal services. The fact that they have no contractual relationship with clients helps them to maintain a valuable extra degree of detachment relative to all of the services which they provide.

The advantages of a full-time commitment to advocacy cannot be over-estimated. These include enhanced litigation skills, greater reliability in advisory work and the ability to take on cases of any duration.

Advocacy is the most important aspect of an advocate’s work. The good advocate will spend a considerable amount of time preparing cases for presentation in Court. In civil cases the advocate will have to prepare written pleadings, which are the foundation of a client’s case: a task which requires a special skill.

An advocate has a right of audience before the UK Supreme Court and the supreme courts of Scotland – the Court of Session (civil cases) and the High Court of Justiciary (criminal cases). Certain solicitors with extended rights of audience may also appear in these Courts. Advocates have, jointly with all solicitors, a right of audience before the lower courts – the Sheriff Courts (civil and criminal cases) and the Justice of the Peace Courts (less serious criminal cases). Advocates may also appear before a host of other decision making bodies, such as Employment Tribunals, the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland, planning inquiries, professional discipline tribunals and arbitrations.

The nature of an advocate’s business will involve him or her in long hours of work, including evenings and weekends. Frequently an advocate will be required to prepare for a case or write an opinion at short notice.

In the early years of practice it is unusual for an advocate to specialise in only one or two areas of the law. The Scottish Bar is proud of the tradition that its members are able to advise on an extensive range of subjects and to present cases in Court which raise diverse legal problems. Over the years many advocates build up expertise in one or more particular fields, but because of their early experience as Junior Counsel dealing with all types of cases they remain able to act in any case which they are asked to handle.

There are openings for an advocate in other fields. An advocate may join the public sector; he or she may join the procurator-fiscal service or the legal section of a Government department, such as the Scottish Government Legal Directorate and the Office of the Solicitor to the Advocate General, or may work as a parliamentary draftsman in, for example, the Office of the Scottish Parliamentary Counsel. In the procurator-fiscal service he or she will be engaged in the preparation of all criminal cases, and the prosecution of criminal cases in the Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Courts (as part of the public prosecution system which exists in Scotland). There are also opportunities within industry, commerce and in higher education. There are strong links in Scotland between the Bar and the Universities.

The Faculty also requires an applicant to have passed or been exempted from the following examinations:-
Roman Law of Property & Obligations
Constitutional & Administrative Law
Scottish Criminal Law
Scottish Private Law (i.e. Obligations including Contract and Delict, Property Trusts & Succession including Conveyancing, Landlord and Tenant, and Family Law)
Commercial Law & Business Institutions
International Private Law
European Law and Institutions

Should an applicant hold an LL.B degree but not passed all of the listed examinations, then he/she can sit the Faculty’s examinations in law for those subjects not covered by their Law Degree.

Intrants must satisfy the Clerk of Faculty that they have completed, subject to any exemption, a period of 21 consecutive calendar months, training as, or on the same basis as, a trainee in a solicitor’s office approved by the Law Society of Scotland.

However, the Faculty recommends that potential intrants undertake a full 24-month traineeship.

Entrance Examinations

Intrants are required to sit the Faculty’s entrance examination in Evidence, Practice and Procedure at the February diet prior to the commencement of pupillage that year

(pupillage usually commences at the end of September/beginning of October each year). All intrants successful in this examination at the February diet, or the May resit, are expected to commence pupillage that same year.

Anyone wishing information on the requirements for admission as an advocate for a qualified Barrister or lawyer from another jurisdiction should contact the Clerk of Faculty. Alternatively details can be found on our website.


Intrants are required to undertake a period of pupillage/devilling. This is dealt with in the following section.

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Solicitor Advocate

A solicitor advocate is a solicitor who has had extra training, so he or she can appear on behalf of their clients in all the courts in Scotland. Most solicitors can only appear in some of the courts in Scotland.

The technical description is that solicitor advocates are solicitors who have been granted extended rights of audience before the superior courts in Scotland: the Court of Session in civil cases; the High Court of Justiciary in criminal cases; and the Supreme Court and Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

This means that they can represent clients in the higher courts in the United Kingdom, alongside barristers and advocates.

What is the difference between a solicitor advocate and an advocate?

Solicitor advocates and advocates are both types of court lawyers.

Solicitor advocates are solicitors first and foremost, which means they have a general initial training in all areas of law and in dealing with clients, before deciding to specialise in court work. After gaining experience in court, solicitors can then take extra advocacy training and sit more exams. If successful the solicitors' rights of audience are extended, allowing them to represent clients in the highest courts in Scotland and the UK.

Solicitor advocates are regulated and trained by the Law Society of Scotland.

Advocates are lawyers who have focused purely on court work and are trained and regulated by a body called the Faculty of Advocates. They are self-employed specialists who are not usually approached by clients directly, but are contacted by solicitors whose clients need to be represented in court by a higher court advocate.

Historically only advocates could appear in the higher courts in Scotland and the UK but, since 1993, solicitor advocates have been entitled to appear there too.

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Qualifications and experience

To qualify for appointment as sheriff a person must be and have been an advocate or solicitor for at least 10 years. Because of the nature of the office, those appointed should be practitioners of standing, whether Queen’s Counsel, advocates or solicitors with considerable court experience. Before appointment, the person would in many cases have had some experience of the shrieval bench as a temporary or part-time sheriff.

Initially, before sitting alone, a sheriff will normally undergo five days of specific training plus five days sitting alongside an experienced sheriff.

As the jurisdiction of the sheriff is vast, he or she must have a grasp of every aspect of law, both civil and criminal, as well as mastery of the rules of evidence. Each sheriff requires to devote considerable time to maintaining an up-to-date knowledge and awareness of the relevant law, rules of evidence and procedure. Each sheriff requires to read a substantial number of law reports and other relevant publications in order to keep abreast of the many changes that occur in the law. Sheriffs require to be aware of the legislation of both the UK and Scottish Parliaments as well as the decided case law and jurisprudence of the Scottish courts and the European Court of Human Rights.

Each sheriff requires to be versatile and to be able to deal with whatever type of case is put before him or her at short notice and to maintain a sound judicial temperament at all times. Many sheriffs will require to deal with various different types of business during the course of each working day, whether in court or in chambers.

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Qualifications and experience

1)    People are formally eligible for appointment as a Senator if they are:

a)    Advocates of five years’ standing;

b)    Writers to the Signet of ten years’ standing who have passed the examination in civil law two years before taking up their seat on the Bench;

c)    Sheriffs Principal and Sheriffs who have exercised their respective functions continuously for a period of at least five years; and

d)    Solicitors who have had rights of audience before either the Court of Session or the High Court of Justiciary or both continuously for a period of not less than five years.

2)    Persons who are appointed Senators have to demonstrate a degree of competence as a lawyer that marks them out from their peers.  This competence needs to be demonstrated not only in the practical application of a branch or branches of the law to the highest standard, but also in a facility to work equally effectively, in any branch of the law that they may have to consider in the course of their judicial duties, including new or emerging areas of the law.

3)    A Senator must now retire on his or her seventieth birthday.

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Non-solicitor roles in the legal sector


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The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (based in London), also offers work experience opportunities open to candidates from backgrounds that are currently underrepresented. In 2014, it offered the following work experience schemes: Future Talent Scheme, the Fast Stream Summer Diversity Internship Programme, Whitehall Social Mobility Internship Programme, Graduate Internship Programme, Government Economic Service Summer Student Placement Scheme. Details of work experience opportunities are published in Spring each year: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-office/about/recruitment

Vacancies within different government departments and public agencies are published centrally on the Civil Service recruitment gateway: www.civilservicejobs.service.gov.uk

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Each autumn the Scottish Law Commission employs a small number of law graduates as legal assistants for one-year fixed-term appointments.  These posts are open to candidates who have a first or upper second class honours degree in Scots Law, or any other similar academic qualification that provides evidence of relevant knowledge and understanding of Scots Law. Applications from other suitably qualified candidates who have relevant experience may be considered in exceptional circumstances. Additionally, the Scottish Law Commission also offers a limited number of short (unpaid) work experience placements to 3rd and 4th year law students and to those studying the accelerated LLB or Diploma in Legal Practice. For more information, please visit the Scottish law Commission’s website: www.scotlawcom.gov.uk/working-with-us/

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has offices around the UK, including in Glasgow, and occasionally advertises for positions that may be suitable for candidates with an LLB. Vacancies are advertised on their website: www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/about-the-commission/jobs

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The Centre for Scottish Public Policy is an independentpublic policy think tank, which is a member of the Adopt an Intern scheme.  Opportunities to undertake an internship with this organisation will be advertised on the Adopt an Intern website: www.adoptanintern.org.uk/adopt-an-intern.html

The Law Centres Network is the peak body of a national network of law centres. It offers paid and voluntary opportunities in legal, policy and research roles on its website: www.lawcentres.org.uk/

Social Investment Scotland is a registered charity and social enterprise, which provides business loans to third sector organisations. Job and internship opportunities for research assistants with this organisation may be advertised on its website www.socialinvestmentscotland.com/, or on the Adopt an Intern website: www.adoptanintern.org.uk/adopt-an-intern.html

The UN Refugee Agency is the UN body charged with leading and coordinating international action to protect refugees and resolve refuge problems worldwide. It routinely offers internship programmes for its London office and publishes voluntary work and other employment opportunities on its website: www.unhcr.org.uk/about-us/jobs-and-internships.html 

The European Union offers traineeships to university graduates across its many institutions. Traineeships may be paid or unpaid and vary in length. More information can be found on this website: http://europa.eu/about-eu/working-eu-institutions/index_en.htm

The International Criminal Court offers internships to young professionals who are in the early stages of their careers. Internships are offered for a period between 3-6 months. The Court has strict eligibility criteria and more information can be found on its website:


Justice is a law reform and human rights organisation that conducts research and analysis and raises awareness of human rights issues in the UK. Each year, this organisation appoints 2-3 law graduate interns as part of its internship programme. These placements occur in the summer and winter each year. Details of the programme can be found on its website:


Shelter Scotland is a housing and homeless charity in the UK. It advertises research opportunities on its website: http://england.shelter.org.uk/

Goodmoves is a recruitment website for the voluntary sector. If you are interested in opportunities in this sector, its website is an excellent resource for finding vacancies: www.goodmoves.org.uk

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News Direct is a political intelligence company providing daily monitoring of political news and parliamentary proceedings across the UK. It advertises graduate trainee researcher and reporter opportunities on its website: www.newsdirect-uk.net/

The Scottish Youth Parliament is a forum for elected Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament to debate issues and run projects and campaigns that are relevant to the needs and concerns of Scotland’s youth. Policy and research internships, as well as other employment opportunities, are advertised on its website www.syp.org.uk/

The Scottish Parliament also advertises positions on its website: www.scottish.parliament.uk/

Other useful websites include:

Public Policy Jobs and Internships: www.policyjobs.net

Policy Library: www.policylibrary.com

Political Jobs: www.politicaljobs.net

Association of Professional Political Consultants: www.appc.org.uk

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The Scottish Courts Service advertises vacancies available in the courts within Scotland. Some vacancies will be open to law graduates, such as the role of Judicial Assistant. Vacancies are advertised on its website: www.scotcourts.gov.uk

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The Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB)is a non-profit organisation that provides free advice to individuals on a range of legal and social issues, such as employment, housing, immigration and discrimination.  CAB has offices around Scotland and offers numerous volunteering opportunities and some paid opportunities. These opportunities may involve face-to-face work with CAB’s clients or telephone advisory roles. Full training is provided. Vacancies can be found on CAB’s national website: www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Law Centres also offer free legal advice on a number of areas of law. Law centres are operated by solicitors and offer voluntary and employment opportunities for law graduates. There are a number of law centres in Scotland, which can be found on this website: www.scottishlaw.org.uk/lawfirms/lawcentres.html

The Immigration Advice Service is an immigration firm that provides legal advice and assistance to individual and corporate clients. It has offices in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Immigration Advice Service regularly recruits for immigration caseworkers and administrative staff. Further information about vacancies can be accessed on its national website:


Other useful recruitment websites for this sector include:

Legal Action Group: www.lag.org.uk 

Legal Aid Practitioner’s Group: www.lapg.co.uk

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Legal publishing offers a variety of job opportunities in areas such as editing, production, sales and marketing, and rights. Examples of graduate roles include: editorial assistant, copy editor, production assistant, rights assistant, and sales representative. Many legal publishing companies in the UK are based in England. For example, Oxford University Press is an international academic publishing house and a department of the University of Oxford. It offers a number of positions for graduates, including: editorial administrator, editorial assistant, sales executive and sales administrator.Each year it also advertises opportunities to join its summer internship programme. Information about its recruitment and internship programmes can be found on its website: http://ukjobs.oup.com

The Law Society of Scotland’s Journal publication and online jobs portal is produced by Connect Communication, which is a media organisation that produces publications for a number of industries. Positions may be advertised on its website: www.connectcommunications.co.uk/what-we-do

GTI Media operate Target Jobs’ website, which is a recruitment website for many industries, including the legal sector. Vacancies are advertised on GTI Media’s website: http://gtimedia.co.uk/company/opportunities-us

Other vacancies in the Scottish legal publishing sector may be advertised on the following website: www.lawcareers.net

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A number of recruitment companies specialise in recruitment for the legal sector. Such companies include: Hays: www.hays.co.uk; Hudson: www.hudson.com; Reed: www.reed.co.uk; G2 Legal: www.g2legal.co.uk/; Adecco: www.adecco.co.uk; PRG: www.prgrecruitment.com; Frasia Wright Associates: www.frasiawright.com 

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Police Scotland offers a variety of roles for both uniformed and non-uniformed officers, such as police officers, special constables and support staff. Vacancies are published on its website: www.scotland.police.uk/recruitment/

The Scottish Prison Service offers a number of roles for candidates with a law background, such as their specialist roles in legal services and prisons. Vacancies are published on its website: www.sps.gov.uk

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