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Self-employment is becoming a more attractive prospect for professionals in almost every industry – and solicitors are no exception. Not only does self-employment allow you to have greater control over the work you do, but you’ll be able to choose your hours and have more flexibility in your life.
If you’re a budding solicitor, you may be wondering what it takes to set up shop alone. While it’s not always the easiest path, it’s certainly an achievable goal if you’re willing to work hard and learn some essential skills.
Self-employment isn’t right for everyone, but if you already doubt that the environment of a law office is going to suit you in the long term, it’s definitely worth exploring what freelancing has to offer.
What is a self-employed solicitor?
Before learning how to become a self-employed solicitor, it’s important to understand exactly what it entails. As the title suggests, a self-employed solicitor works for themselves independently of any other law firm. This means that to be considered a freelance solicitor or sole trader, you must adhere to the following limitations set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
All self-employed solicitors must:
- Be self-employed and cannot register as a Company or LLP
- Trade using your own name
- Not have any employees
- Not claim to be or advertise themselves as a company or firm
Becoming a self-employed solicitor
While a large percentage of law graduates will aspire to work in a dedicated law firm or as part of a legal team for a corporation, self-employment is also a viable path to follow. Here are some steps you need to take:
Develop an understanding of taxes
Being a self-employed solicitor means developing some business acumen as well as familiarising yourself with all the technicalities that come with being a sole trader.
One of your biggest considerations as a freelancer will be taxes. You will need to track all your income and expenses carefully while setting aside money to pay your tax bill at the end of the year. It can be helpful to seek guidance on self assessment tax return forms or use accounting software to make the process as smooth as possible.
You should also familiarise yourself with any allowances and exemptions you may qualify for, as these can significantly reduce your tax bill. For example, if your annual income falls below the personal allowance threshold of £12,570, you will not need to pay income tax.
Obtain the necessary qualifications
Even self-employed solicitors must have all the qualifications necessary to practice law in a professional setting. If you still haven’t decided which educational route to take, you have a few options to choose from.
Most aspiring solicitors will start their journey by taking a law degree at a university. This will usually span three years, but it’s important to choose a course that’s accredited by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Doing so will ensure that you are fully qualified to work as a solicitor. Courses not certified by the SRA may require you to undertake further training, adding additional years to your studies.
However, you will still have to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) once you finish your degree. The purpose of this is to give you the chance to build the practical skills you will need to practice law. It draws upon the theory you already know from your degree and helps you become a more fully-rounded solicitor.
If you chose to complete a degree at a university that wasn’t related to law, many institutions will provide you with the opportunity to convert to law. You may qualify for a conversion course even if you’ve already completed a degree, but many students decide to make the switch after their first year of study. Conversion courses are more intense than traditional law degrees, as they pack all the information you need to know into a much shorter space of time.
Aspiring solicitors who would rather avoid university can choose to take an exam called the SQE or enter the profession through an apprenticeship.
Regardless of the educational route you decide to take, you must complete a training contract with a law firm to be considered a fully-qualified solicitor. It usually takes around two years and will prove that you have the competency to practice law in a professional setting.
Sell your services and sign up to a network
Once you’re fully qualified, you will need to begin finding clients and selling your services. One of the best ways to begin doing this is by creating a web presence and utilising digital marketing strategies to reach your target audience.
Your website should have information about the work you’ve completed in the past, your qualifications, and the services you offer. In order to appear legitimate to potential clients, it’s a good idea to register with the Law Society, which you can showcase on the ‘About’ section of your website. As for digital marketing, it’s up to you whether you decide to pursue SEO, social media, or paid advertising to attract clients.
If digital marketing isn’t in your budget or will take longer than you’d like, consider signing up to a network to find leads more quickly. Depending on your specialism, there will be a number of networks available to self-employed solicitors that can connect them with potential clients. There’s usually a fee to pay for this service, but it can help you to find business more quickly when first starting out.
Is being a self-employed solicitor right for you?
Being self-employed isn’t for everyone, but the only way to find out if it suits your lifestyle is to try it out. Some solicitors decide to wait several years before pursuing freelance work, as being more experienced can make it easier to find clients and charge higher rates. However, if you’re sure that the flexibility that comes with self-employment is something you want, it’s worth taking the plunge and working hard to achieve your true goals.