Solicitors - Introduction
- There are over 100,000 solicitors practising in England and Wales.
- They are controlled by their own professional body: the Law Society.
Training - Degrees & Legal Practice Course
- To become a solicitor it is usual to have a law degree, although those with a degree in a subject other than law can do an extra year's training in core legal subjects, and take the Common Professional Examination or Graduate Diploma in Law.
- The next stage is the one-year Legal Practice Course. This is more practically based than the previous Law Society Finals course and includes training in skills such as client interviewing, negotiation, advocacy, drafting documents and legal research. There is also an emphasis on business management, for example keeping accounts.
Training - Training contract
- Even when the above courses have been passed, the student is still not a qualified solicitor. He must next obtain a training contract under which he works in a solicitors' firm for two years, getting practical experience.
- This training period can also be undertaken in certain other legal organisations such as the Crown Prosecution Service, or the legal department of a local authority.
- During this two-year training contract, the trainee will be paid, although not as much as a qualified solicitor, and will do his own work, supervised by a solicitor.
- He will also have to complete a 20-day Professional Skills Course which builds on the skills learned on the LPC.
- At the end of the time, the trainee will be admitted as a solicitor by the Law Society and his name will be added to the roll of solicitors.
- After qualifying, solicitors have to attend continuing education courses to keep their knowledge up to date.
- There is also a route under which non-graduates can qualify as solicitors by first becoming legal executives.
- This route is only open to mature candidates and takes longer than the graduate route.
Criticisms of the training process
1) Financial problem:
Students will usually have to pay the fees of the LPC (about £7,000) and support themselves during this year. This is because this is a post-graduate course.
The result of this policy is that students from poor families cannot afford to take the course and are therefore prevented from becoming solicitors, despite the fact that have a law degree.
Other students take out loans, yet this results in starting the training period with a large debt.
To overcome this problem, a few universities have started offering four-year degree courses combining a law qualification and a practical course, so students only pay the university fees.
2) Non-law graduates only do one year of formal law for the Graduate Diploma in Law:
One critic posed the question of whether the public would be satisfied with doctors who have only studied medicine for one year, concentrating on only six subjects.
This is precisely what is occurring in the legal profession.
Students who have passed the LPC are unable to obtain a training contract.
This is not as bad a problem as it was in the 1990s.
- The majority of those who succeed in qualifying as a solicitor will then work in private practice in a solicitor's firm.
- There are other careers available, and some go on to work in the Crown Prosecution Service or for a Local Authority or Government Department.
- Others will become legal advisers in commercial or industrial businesses.
- A solicitor in private practice may work as a sole practitioner or in a partnership.
- There are about 9,000 firms of solicitors, ranging from small 'high street' practice to big city firms.
Types of law firm
- The type of work done by a solicitor will largely depend on the type of firm in which he is working.
SMALL HIGH STREET FIRMS
- Generally deal with individual clients and cover criminal law, civil law, or both.
- Some will carry out publicly funded work paid for by legal aid.
- High street firms may have several offices throughout a region.
- They may advise and represent a client who has been charged with a criminal offence.
- They may carry out the necessary conveyancing when someone is buying or selling property or they may advise on personal injury matters of the mechanics of drafting a will.
- Tend to work for businesses rather than individuals and as such are called on to provide a different range of services.
- They often have offices throughout the world.
- Commercial firms may advise clients on intellectual property matters, mergers or acquisitions, employment contracts or business conveyancing.
- Commercial lawyers may also represent wealthy individuals.
Rights of Advocacy - Pre 1986
- All solicitors have always been able to act as advocates in the Magistrates' Courts and the County Courts, but their rights of audience in the higher courts used to be very limited.
- Normally, a solicitor could only act as an advocate in the Crown Court on a committal for sentence, or an appeal from the Magistrates' Court, and then only if he or another solicitor in the firm had been the advocate in the original case in the Magistrates' Court.
- Until 1986, solicitors had no rights of audience in the High Court, though they could deal with preliminary matters in preparation for a case.
Abse v Smith 1986
- This lack of rights of audience was emphasised in Abse v Smith 1986 in which two Members of Parliament were contesting a libel action.
- They came to an agreed settlement, but the solicitor for one of them was refused permission by the judge to read out the terms of settlement in open court.
- Following this decision, the Lord Chancellor and the senior judges in each division of the High Court issued a Practice Direction, allowing solicitors to appear in the High Court to make a statement in a case that has been settled.
Certificate of Advocacy - Courts and Legal Service
- The first major alteration to solicitors' rights of audience came in the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. Under this act, a solicitor in private practice had the right to apply for a certificate of advocacy which enabled him to appear in the higher courts.
- Such a certificate was granted if the solicitor already had experience of advocacy in the Magistrates' Court and the County Court, took a short training course and passed examinations on the rules of evidence.
- The first certificates were granted in 1994, and by 2007 about 3,000 solicitors had qualified to be advocates in higher courts.
- Solicitors with an advocacy qualification are also eligible to be appointed as Queen's Counsel and also to be appointed to higher judicial posts.
Access to Justice Act 1999
- The Access to Justice Act 1999 provides that all solicitors will eventually be given full rights of audience.
- However, new training requirements to allow solicitors to obtain these rights have not yet been brought in.
Complaints against solicitors - Speak to the solic
- There are various ways to complain about a solicitor if a client is dissatisfied with the service that he or she has received or the amount that he or she has been asked to pay.
Speak to the solicitor:
- The first step is to raise the matter with the solicitor or the firm that he or she works for.
- All firms should have a process in place for dealing with complaints.
- Ideally, the complaint should be made in writing.
- The Law Society even has a resolution form on its website that can be printed off and filled in.
- The dissatisfied client should explain what the complaint is about and how he or she would like it to be resolved.
- Many complaints are resolved at this stage.
Complaints against solicitors - The Law Society
- If the firm does not reply within a reasonable amount of time or if the complaint has not been resolved, the next step is for the client to contact the Law Society.
- This must be wthin the time limits that the Law Society sets down - usually 6 months.
- It will investigate the compaint and has the power to reduce the solicitor's bill, order the solicitor to pay compensation of up to £15,000 or tell him or her to correct the mistake and meet any costs incurred.
- The Office of the Legal Services Complaints Procedure was set up following the Access to Justice Act 1999. It works with the Law Society and represents the interests of the consumers to improve complaints handling.
Complaints against solicitors - Legal Services Omb
- If the client is unhappy with the way that the Law Society has investigated a complaint, he or she can make a final appeal to the Legal Services Ombudsman (LSO), currently Zahida Manzoor.
- This must be within three months of receiving the Law Society's decision.
- The LSO will not usually look at the original complaint but rather how it was dealt with by the Law Society.
- The powers of the LSO include recommending that the Law Society reconsider the complaint, formally criticising the Law Society or ordering them to pay compensation.
Complaints against solicitors - Action through the
- A dissatisfied client can also sue the solicitor through the courts for negligence.
He or she would have to prove that the solicitor fell below the standards or a reasonable solicitor.
- The courts are able to aware compensation if the client is successful.
Barristers - Introduction
- There are about 12,000 barristers in independent practice in England and Wales.
- Collectively, barristers are referred to as 'the Bar' and they are controlled by their own professional body - the General Council of the Bar.
- All barristers must also be a member of one of the four Inns of Court (Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray's Inn), all of which are situated near the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
Training - Degrees & Bar Vocational Course
- Entry to the Bar is normally Law degree-based, though there is a non-degree route for mature entrants, under which a small number of entrants qualify.
- As with solicitors, graduate students without a law degree can take the one-year course for the Common Professional Examination or Graduate Diploma in Law in the core subjects, in order to go on to qualify as a barrister.
- All students have to pass the Bar Vocational Course which emphasises the practical skills of drafting pleadings for use in court, negotiation and advocacy.
Training - Bar Vocational Course & Inns of Court
- All student barristers must join one of the four Inns of Court and used to have to dine there 12 times before being called to to the Bar.
- Students may now attend in a different way, for example a weekend residential course. Helps students on courses outside London as travelling costs are lower.
- The idea behind the rule requiring all trainee barristers to dine was that they met senior barristers and judges and absorbed the traditions of the profession.
- In practice, few barristers dine at their Inns and students are unlikely to meet anyone except other students.
- Once a student has passed the Bar Vocational Course, he is then 'called to the Bar'.
- This means that they are officially qualified as a barrister.
Training - Pupillage
- After the student has passed the Bar Vocational Course there is 'on-the-job' training where the trainee barrister becomes a pupil to a qualified barrister.
- This involves work shadowing that barrister, and can be with the same barrister for 12 months or with two different pupil masters for 6 months each.
- There is also a requirement that they take part in a programme of continuing education organised by the Bar Council.
- After the first 6 months of pupillage, barristers are eligible to appear in court and may conduct their own cases.
- During pupillage, trainee barristers are paid a small salary - usually about half the amount paid to trainee solicitors.
- Barristers practising at the Bar are self-employed, but usually work from a set of chambers where they can share administrative expenses with other barristers.
- Most sets of chambers are fairly small, comprising about 15-20 barristers. They will employ a clerk as a practice administrator - booking in cases and negotiating fees - and they will have other support staff.
- One of the problems facing newly qualified barristers is the difficulty of finding a tenancy in chambers. Many will do a third six-month pupillage and then 'squat' as an unofficial tenant before obtaining a place.
- The rule on having to practise from chambers has been relaxed, so that it is technically possible for barristers to practise from home.
- Despite the fact that a tenancy in chambers is not essential, it is still viewed as a way to allow a barrister to build a successful practice.
- The majority of barristers will concentrate on advocacy, although there are some who specialise in areas such as tax and company law, and who rarely appear in court.
- Barristers have rights of audience in all courts in England and Wales.
- Even those who specialise in advocacy will do a certain amount of paperwork, writing opinions on cases, giving advice and drafting documents for the use in court.
Barrister's work - the 'cab-bank' rule
- Normally barristers operate what is know as the 'cab-bank rule', under which they cannot turn down a case if it is in the area of law they deal with and they are free to take the case.
- This is to avoid situations where some people may not be able to get a barrister to represent them.
- However, where clients approach a barrister direct, the 'cab-bank rule' does not apply.
- Barristers can turn down a case which would require investigation or support services which they cannot provide.
- Originally it was necessary for anybody who wished to instruct a barrister to go to a solicitor first. The solicitor would then brief the barrister.
- This was thought to create unnecessary expense for clients, as it meant they had to use two lawyers instead of one.
- As a result of criticism Bar first of all started to operate a system called Bar Direct under which certain professionals such as accountants and surveyors could brief a barrister direct without using a solicitor. This was extended to other professionals and organisations.
- Then, in September 2004, the Bar granted access to anyone for civil cases.
- It is no longer necessary to go to a solicitor in order to instruct a barrister for civil cases.
- However, direct access is still not allowed for criminal cases or family work.
Queen's Counsel - Introduction
- After at least 10 years as a barrister or as a solicitor with an advocacy qualification, it is possible to apply to become a Queen's Counsel.
- About 10% of the Bar are Queen's Counsel and it is known as 'taking silk'.
- QCs usually take on more complicated and high-profile cases than junior barristers, and they can command higher fees for their recognised expertise.
- Often a QC will have a junior barrister to assist with the case.
Queen's Counsel - Original appointment system
- Until 2004, Queen's Counsel were appointed by the Lord Chancellor.
- However, the Lord Chancellor's criteria for selecting QCs have been criticised as being too secretive.
- There was also the fact that fewer than 10% of QCs are women and only a very few are from ethnic minorities. In turn, this has an effect on the composition of the judiciary since senior judges are usually chosen from the ranks of Queen's Counsel.
- This led to a change in the method of appointment.
Queen's Counsel - New appointment system
- Selection of who should be come a QC is now made by an independent selection panel.
- Lawyers may apply to become QCs.
- Applicants pay a fee of £1,800 initially, and a further £2,250 if successful.
- Applicants complete a form giving details of their work and skills, and listing several referees who are familiar with their work.
- After a selection panel has reviewed their applications, candidates are interviewed and the panel then recommends those who should be appointed to the Lord Chancellor.
Complaints against barristers - Introduction
- Where a barrister receives a brief from a solicitor, he does not enter into a contract with his client and so cannot sue if their fees are not paid. Similarly, a client cannot sue for breach of contract.
- However, they can be sued for negligence. In Saif Ali v Sydney Mitchell and Co 1980, it was held that a barrister could be sued for negligence in respect of written advice and opinions.
- In Hall (a firm) v Simons 2000, the House of Lords held that lawyers could also be liable for negligence in the conduct of advocacy in court.
Complaints against barristers - The Bar Council
- Clients with a complaint against a barrister should speak to their solicitor, if they have one, to see whether he or she agrees with the complaint and if he or she can resolve it.
The Bar Council
- If the complaint cannot be resolved by a solicitor, the next step is for the client to contact the Bar Council. This must usually be done within 6 months of the complaint arising.
Complaints against barristers - The Complaints Com
- The Complaints Commissioner oversees the complaints process and investigates any process. The current commissioner is Michael Scott, who is a non-lawyer entirely independent from the Bar Council.
- If, after consideration of the complaint, the Commissioner thinks that it might be justified, he will refer it to the Professional Conduct and Complaints Committee (PCC) for its opinion. If it agrees, the complaint is sent to a disciplinary panel for a final decision as to whether the complaint is justified and, if so, to determine the measures that should be taken.
Complaints against barristers - The PCC
- The PCC assesses the nature of the complaint. The complaint may be about professional misconduct such as leaving a case at short notice without good reason or acting against a client's interests.
- If so, the Bar Council can gave advice, order the barrister to repay fees, suspend the barrister or even disbar the barrister so that he or she can no longer practise.
- If the complaint is about inadequate service, such as delay or rudeness towards the client, the Bar Council can require a barrister to apologise, repay fees or pay up to £5,000 in compensation.
Complaints against barristers - Legal Services Omb
- As with solicitors, if the client is unhappy with the way that the Bar Council investigated the complaint, he or she can make a final appeal to the Legal Services Ombudsman.
- The process is the same for barristers and solicitors.
Complaints against barristers - Action through the
- Again, as with solicitors, a dissatisfied client can also sue a barrister through the courts for negligence.
- Barristers used to have immunity from liability, but that changed in 2000 when the House of Lords abolished this protection in the case of Arthur JS Hall and Co v Simons 2000.
Women and ethnic minorities in the legal professio
- The legal profession has an image of being white male-dominated.
- Both women and ethnic minorities are under-represented in the higher levels of the legal professions.
- Women are forming an increasing number of the entrants to the professions. They now make up over half of new solicitors and half of new entrants to the Bar.
- As a result of the increasing numbers of women studying law, there are now greater numbers of women in both professions: