If you are taking the first steps in your legal career, you may have noticed that many jobs are advertised as ‘fee earner’ roles. So what exactly does this mean?
Broadly speaking, the staff in a legal firm can be split into two categories: fee earners and non-fee earners (sometimes referred to as support staff). Put simply, a fee earner is a member of staff who directly generates income for the firm. A non-fee earner’s role will largely support those fee earners.
So, if the work you are doing is charged to the client, such as drafting documents, meeting clients, or attending court, then you are a fee earner. The time you spend on each case will be billed and you will help generate income for your firm in this way.
If your duties involve tasks such as arranging meetings, dealing with paperwork, or carrying out instructions from a fee earner, then you are a non-fee earner. The work you do enables the fee earners to do their jobs and generate income.
This means that fee earners are usually qualified lawyers such as barristers, solicitors, or chartered legal executives. Some paralegals are fee earners too as, depending on their role, their work might be charged to the client. Those in a law firm who work in positions such as legal secretary, legal assistant, or barristers’ clerk are usually non-fee earners. This is not always the case as sometimes law firms employ solicitors, paralegals, or legal executives as non-fee earners to support other lawyers behind the scenes.
We’ve seen lots of questions such as ‘what is the difference between a paralegal and a fee earner?’ or ‘is a paralegal a fee earner?’ This answer is that it depends on the type of work that you do as a paralegal. With so many different roles and job titles in the legal industry, it might help to think of the structure of firms in terms of fee-earners and their support staff.
Duties of a fee earner
The specific duties of a fee earner will depend on what type of lawyer they are qualified as. Broadly speaking, a fee earner will be expected to work directly with the firm’s clients and give them legal advice, draw up legal documents, or even act on their behalf.
Fee earners are often representing their firms in front of clients or other legal professionals. This means that they must maintain a high level of professionalism throughout their work. A fee earner will be expected to be proactive with each case they are involved with and deliver a high standard of work for each client.
Their day-to-day duties might involve:
- Providing clients with legal advice
- Researching around a client’s case
- Drafting legal documents
- Negotiating with opposing lawyers
- Ensuring that any agreements reached are implemented
- Representing clients in court
- Instructing other lawyers on the case
Fee earner salary
This will largely depend on what qualifications the fee earner holds, the area of law they specialise in, and their level of experience. To give an idea of the range of salaries for fee earners, a qualified solicitor might start with a salary of around £25,000 which could rise to in excess of £100,000 per annum. A barrister might have a similar starting salary, but this could become a seven-figure salary in private practice. Paralegals on the other hand may have a slightly smaller starting salary which could rise to around £40,000 with experience.
For more information on what your salary could be as a fee earner in a law firm, take a look at our detailed job descriptions.
Fee earner qualifications
Again, this will depend on whether you want to work as a solicitor, chartered legal executive, barrister, paralegal, or other legal professional.
Solicitors and barristers usually have a degree from university. Barristers will then take the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and complete a year long pupillage before they can qualify as a lawyer. Solicitors need to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and complete a two-year training contract. To be accepted as a fully-qualified lawyer, they also need to pass the Professional Skills Course (PSC).
There are some alternative routes to gaining these qualifications. Take a look at your options in more detail with our law qualifications guide.
If you are more interested in becoming a chartered legal executive, our full job description will take you through all you need to know about qualifying. Similarly, our paralegal job description covers qualification routes, salaries, and responsibilities.
Is a career as a fee earner right for me?
If you are trying to decide between a role as a fee earner or a role more behind the scenes, there are several things you need to consider.
Fee earners are in the midst of the action. They are constantly in touch with their clients, maintaining a professional demeanor, and potentially representing their clients in court. The cases and the people you work with might be very varied. This type of work suits more confident, outgoing, and proactive individuals. The added responsibility of representing your law firm may also result in a bigger salary.
If you aren’t so confident with people or don’t enjoy working so much in the line of fire, you might want to consider a non-fee earner role. These positions are still essential and even fully-qualified lawyers take them on to provide vital support and advice for fee earners.
To find out more about what sorts of roles are out there for fee earners, take a look at our current vacancies. There are roles available for all types of industry professionals from solicitors to claims handlers.