UncategorisedWhat is the Etymology of the word Solicitor

31 July 2023

The word “solicitor” has an interesting etymology. It comes from the Latin word “solicitare,” which is a combination of “solus” (meaning “alone”) and “citare” (meaning “to summon” or “to call”). In medieval Latin, “solicitare” evolved to refer to someone who was appointed to manage legal matters on behalf of another person, essentially acting on their behalf or “summoning” attention to their legal needs.

Over time, the term was adopted into English and took on the specific meaning we know today. In the legal context, a solicitor is a legal professional who provides legal advice, prepares legal documents, represents clients in lower courts, and handles various legal matters, typically in common law jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and other countries influenced by British legal traditions.

Note that the roles and titles of legal professionals can vary between different countries and legal systems. In some places, the term “attorney” or “lawyer” may be used instead of “solicitor.”


From the second edition (1989):


(səˈlɪsɪtə(r)) Forms: 5–7 sollicitour, 6–7 -or; 5 solicy-, 5–6 solyci-, 6 solysy-, 5–7 solicitour (6 -oure), 6 solisitor, 6– solicitor. [ad. OF. sol-solliciteur (mod.F. solliciteur), f. solliciter solicit v.: see -or.]


1. a. One who urges, prompts, or instigates. Obs.

1412–20 Lydg. Troy Book i. 3797 And of þis Iourne chefe solicytour Was Hercules, þe worthi conquerour. 1540–1 Elyot Image Gov. (1556) 56 Solicitours and furtherers of dishonest appetitis. c1555 Harpsfield Divorce Hen. VIII (Camden) 254 One that was the chief incenser and solicitor of the first divorce. 1600 Holland Livy xxiv. xxxv. 533 No bad sollicitor by word of mouth to further & follow the cause. 1722 Wollaston Relig. Nat. vi. 144 Promoters or instruments of‥wickedness; such as‥solicitors in vice.


b. A thing serving to instigate, etc. Obs.

1594 T. B. La Primaud. Fr. Acad. ii. 265 Ioy and hope‥were bestowed vpon him to bee spurres and sollicitours to induce him to seeke after God. 1607 Scholast. Disc. agst. Antichrist ii. vi. 41 It hath been vsed from time to time, as an agent and a sollicitor to arme the people‥against their lawfull Lordes. 1699 Atterbury Serm. vii. (1737) IV. 203 We usually blame the body to an high degree, as‥the sollicitor to every evil act, all that defiles the man. 1751 Affecting Narr. H.M.S. ‘Wager’ 104 Extreme Hunger and Thirst which were our Sollicitors at this Time, will prompt one to the most desperate Undertakings. 

2. a. One who conducts, negotiates, or transacts matters on behalf of another or others; a representative, agent, or deputy. Obs.

c1425 Lydg. Assemb. Gods 912 Hooly heremytes, goddes solycitours, Monasteriall monkes [etc.]. a1513 Fabyan Chron. v. (1811) 73 The whiche Paterne had ben solicitour for ye Frenshe Kyng in the foresayd matier. 1546 Langley tr. Pol. Verg. de Invent. viii. ii. 145 Pius the II…instituted the new College of Solicitors & Proctors by whose Counsaill and aduise all bulles and grauntes wer made. 1638 R. Baker tr. Balzac’s Lett. (vol. II) 35, I come not therefore as his Solicitour but as his bare witnesse. 1655 Fuller Ch. Hist. ix. 203 The principall pillars of the Presbyterian party‥applied themselves by their secret solicitors to James King of Scotland. 1702 W. J. tr. Bruyn’s Voy. Levant lv. 216 Next to him is the Father Sollicitor, who ought to be a Spaniard born. 1741 Middleton Cicero (1742) I. v. 388 His principal Agents and Sollicitors at Rome were his Brother Quintus [etc.].


b. spec. An official having charge of the King’s or Queen’s interests. Obs.

1460 Rolls of Parlt. V. 388/1 The Sollicitours for the Quene mad leve of Cli. 1503 Ibid. VI. 536 Thomas Lucas, the Kyngs Solisitor. 1555 N.C. Wills (Surtees, 1908) 235 Mr.‥Cordall, our soveraign Ladie the Quenes Sollicitor. 1608 Chapman Dk. of Byron v. ii, Where the King’s chief Solicitor hath said There was in France no man that ever liv’d Whose parts were worth my imitation.

3. a. One properly qualified and formally admitted to practise as a law-agent in any court; formerly, one practising in a court of equity, as distinguished from an attorney.
The rise of solicitors as a class of legal practitioners, and the gradual recognition and definition of their status, are illustrated by the first group of quotations. For the Scottish usage see Bell Dict. Law Scot. s.v.

(a)1577 Sir T. Smith Commw. Eng. ii. i. (1589) 44 Solicitors are such, as being learned in the lawes, and informed of their masters cause, doe informe and instruct the Counsellors in the same. 1598 R. Barckley Felic. Man (1631) 398 After that sollicitors were suffered in the middest of them all, to be as it were the skum gatherers of suites. 1653 [F. PhilipsConsid. touching Ct. Chancery 18 Sollicitors (a race of people was not allowed or heard of in the Law about 100 years agoe). 1681 Trial of S. Colledge 6, I know not but he may be criminal that brought you those Papers: for we allow no Sollicitors in cases of Treason. 1729 Act 2 Geo. II, c. 23 §3 (An Act for the better Regulation of Attornies and Solicitors). No Person‥shall be permitted to act as a Solicitor‥unless such Person‥be admitted and inrolled‥in such of the said Courts of Equity, where he shall act as Solicitor. 1765 Blackstone Comm. III. 26 To practice in the court of chancery it is also necessary to be admitted a solicitor therein. 1835 Penny Cycl. III. 66/1 A solicitor in any court of equity at Westminster may be sworn, admitted, and enrolled an attorney of his Majesty’s courts of law. 1843 Act 6 & 7 Vict. c. 73 §21 Be it enacted, That‥there shall be a Registrar of Attornies and Solicitors. 1873 [see attorney n.1 3].
(b) 1584 Lodge Alarum Bij, They finde out‥some olde soaking vndermining Solicitour. 1654 Fuller Two Serm. 76 Let Diligent Attorneyes so faithfully solicite, let painefull Solicitours so honestly Agitate [etc.]. 1679 Est. Test 27, I have heard a‥famous Lawyer say, he thought he was one of the ablest Solicitors in England. 1721 De Foe Moll Flanders (1722) 262 Had she employ’d a petty Fogging hedge Solicitor,‥I should have brought it to but little. 1798 C. Smith Yng. Philos. III. 58 Sir Appulby‥found it convenient to suppose I was willing to await his reference to his solicitor. 1837 Dickens Pickw. ii, The solicitors’ wives, and the wine-merchant’s wife, headed another grade. 1858 Lytton What will He do? ii. xii, I will direct my solicitor to take the right steps to do so. 1897 G. Allen Type-writer Girl ii. 25 He was‥obviously wealthy, though ’twas a third-rate solicitor’s.
fig. 1650 Bulwer Anthropomet, More fit for one who had deserved to be Attorney Generall to Nature, then for me, the meanest Sollicitor in her Court.
attrib. 1896 Pall Mall G. 23 Jan. 10/2 Solicitor and client costs will be enforced in all cases.


b. Solicitor-General, a law-officer (in England ranking next to the Attorney-General, in Scotland to the Lord-Advocate), who takes the part of the state or crown in suits affecting the public interest.
In the earliest example perhaps with less specific meaning (cf. 2b above).

1533–4 Act 25 Hen. VIII, c. 16 §2 The Kinges generall attorney, and generall Solicitour, which for the time is. 1647 Clarendon Hist. Reb. i. §96 He was Recorder of London, Solicitor-General, and King’s Attorney, before he was forty years of age. 1708 Chamberlayne Pres. St. Gt. Brit. (1710) 576 The Queen’s Serjeants at Law…Sollicitor-General, Robert Eyre, Esq. 1747 Gentl. Mag. XVII. 116/1 Upon this the sollicitor general was heard in reply. 1812 Examiner 14 Dec. 786/1 At which the Solicitor General expressed such anticipating alarm. 1848 W. K. Kelly tr. L. Blanc’s Hist. Ten Y. II. 321 The solicitor-general, M. Martin du Nord, began to prepare an indictment. 1876 Bancroft Hist. U.S. IV. xlvi. 217 [He] leased his eloquence to the government for the office of solicitor-general.


c. Official Solicitor (see quot. 1977).

1875 Minutes of Evidence taken by Commissioners appointed to inquire into Administrative Departments of Courts of Justice 344/1 in Parl. Papers (C. 1245) XXX. 163, I hold the office of official solicitor to the Court of Chancery. 1896 Law Rep. Chancery Div. I. 368 We have an officer of this Court who is called the Official Solicitor. 1961 [see ad litem]. 1977 Jowitt’s Dict. Eng. Law (ed. 2) II. 1281/2 The Official Solicitor of the Court of Chancery was an officer whose functions consisted of protecting the Suitors Fund.‥ He is now known as the Official Solicitor of the Supreme Court.‥ He acts for persons suffering under a disability; he acts generally as solicitor in cases in which the Chancery Division requires his services as solicitor; he visits persons in custody for contempt.


4. a. One who entreats, requests, or petitions; one who solicits or begs favours; a pleader, intercessor, advocate.

1551 Robinson tr. More’s Utopia (1895) 18 An euell tale well tolde nedeth none other sollicitour. 1635 Jackson Creed viii. xiv. 165 That hee might bee a faithful Solicitor to his Almighty Father for aid and succour unto all that are beset with them. 1673 True Notion Worship of God 32 It demonstrates the greatest for God in those that are earnest Solicitours at his Throne. 1720 Swift Fates of Clergymen Wks. 1755 II. ii. 26 His sister was‥so good a sollicitor, that by her means he was admitted to read prayers in the family. 1752 Hume Ess. & Treat. (1777) II. 417 The Lacedemonians‥put up their petitions very early in the morning, in order,‥ by being the first solicitors, to pre-engage the gods in their favour. 1860 Smiles Self-Help x. 279 The passion for salaries and Government employment‥makes a whole people a mere crowd of servile solicitors for place. 1883 Ld. Rosebery Speech at Edin. 21 July, The brazen solicitor who will not take No for an answer.
transf. 1670 Eachard Cont. Clergy 110 Besides the devil, he shall have sollicitors enough.


b. With possessive pron., etc., denoting the person on whose behalf the solicitation is made.

1604 Shakes. Oth. iii. iii. 27 Therefore be merry Cassio, For thy Solicitor shall rather dye, Then giue thy cause away. 1639 S. Du Verger tr. Camus’ Admir. Events 86 When Ctesiphons wicked sollicitors saw their labour lost with Heraclee, they then addressed themselves to the mother. 1734 tr. Rollin’s Rom. Hist. (1827) 218 Whenever the young lords had any favour to ask of the King, Cyrus was their solicitor.

c. transf. Of things.

1579 Harvey Letter-bk. (Camden) 61 Lett this ilfavorid letter suffize for a dutifull solicitor and remembrer in that behaulfe. 1608 D. T. Ess. Pol. & Mor. 48b, The beautie and fairenesse of his eyes‥were the principall, and chiefe Solicitors of her affections towards him. 1661 Morgan Sph. Gentry i. v. 56 Beauty, and Harmony‥, being prevailing solicitors for the obteining love and affection.


5. One who, or that which, draws on or entices. Obs.

1594 Hooker Eccl. Pol. i. vii. §3 Appetite is the wills sollicitor, and the will is appetites controller. 1639 S. Du Verger tr. Camus’ Admir. Events 22 This voyage, where~unto his owne courage was a sufficient sollicitor. 1655 R. Younge Agst. Drunkards 18 He that will be drawn to the Tavern or Alehouse by every idle solicitor‥is a Drunkard in Solomon’s esteem.


6. ? A recruiting officer. Obs.—1

1698–9 in R. Steele Tudor & Stuart Procl. (1910) I. 508/2, 1st Regiment of Foot Guards:‥2 quartermasters, a solicitor, a drum-major [etc.].


7. U.S. One who solicits business orders, advertising, etc.

1897 Scribner’s Mag. Oct. 463/2 A small army of solicitors is despatched to a neighborhood to go from house to house telling people about the features of the paper. 1903 E. L. Shuman Practical Journalism 200 Have as many good solicitors out as necessary and make your rates low enough to invite this form of advertising. 1916 John Bull 13 May 10/2 He called himself a grocer’s solicitor, meaning a canvasser for orders. 1926 Publishers’ Weekly 15 May 1589 Why can’t he leave it to the judgment of the printers? Or to the advertising solicitor? 1952 S. Eisenberg How to earn Income selling Products & Services by Phone i. 4/2 If you can handle the English language‥you can be a telephone solicitor. 1976 D. Barnes Yesterday is Dead (1977) ii. 207 ‘No Solicitors’, a sign on the glass double doors announced.