Solicitors are lawyers that deal with any legal matter and they also conduct proceedings in court. They have a lot of contact with clients and are mainly office based.
Most UK courts are Magistrates’ Courts and they deal with minor criminal cases. If a serious case comes before them, they will transfer it to a higher court such as the Crown Court. Civil cases tend to be heard in county courts and are usually handled by solicitors.
To become a solicitor, a graduate will have two routes of entry. If the graduate holds a suitable law degree, they can enroll with the Law Society. If they have an acceptable degree in a non law subject they can complete a conversion course. The next step for both is to complete the Legal Practice Course and then take a two year training contract with an approved firm. Those who have not been to university can still become a solicitor by being admitted as a Member of the Institute of Legal Executives and then doing the in-house training and complete the Legal Practice Course.
In the United Kingdom, there are barristers as well as solicitors in the legal profession and a lawyer will usually be either one or the other (although they can be qualified as both and change their title accordingly). Barristers specialize in courtroom advocacy, giving expert legal opinions and drafting legal proceedings. A barrister will be instructed by a solicitor to act on behalf of a client – they are not allowed to conduct litigation. A solicitor is an attorney and so can act on behalf of a client for writing letters of litigation. Barristers are usually seen in the Crown Court, High Court and Court of Appeal.
Solicitors used to require the services of a barrister to act as advocate in anything at High Court level or above after the legal profession split into the separate professions of solicitors and barristers.
The split between the two is now less pronounced. Barristers once enjoyed a monopoly on appearances before the higher courts, but in England, Scotland and Wales this is no longer the case, and solicitor advocates can appear for clients at trial. A solicitor advocate is a solicitor with the relevant qualifications allowing them Higher Rights of Audience to practice in the higher courts. Firms of solicitors are also keeping more advisory and litigation work in-house, even the more complicated cases, to improve client relationships.
Some barristers can also take on Public Access work, but to do that they must have taken a special training course.
Any practicing solicitor will be regulated by The Law Society of England and Wales, and they have to pay an annual fee to this body. Any complaints about an individual solicitor are dealt with by the Legal Ombudsman.
Barristers are regulated by the Bar Standards Board and solicitor advocates have a code of practice similar to the Bar Code of Conduct.
Most people hope they will never need the services of a solicitor or barrister but whilst it is possible for members of the public to represent themselves in court, it is not always advisable because solicitors and barristers have spent many years learning the law and how to argue a case. Cutting the legal profession out may save you some money at the start of a case, but could lose you far more in the long run. That’s not to say that some people don’t win a case by self-representation, but the figures aren’t high.
By Rebecca G Wishford.