Solicitors

Notes on the solicitor profession

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  • Created on: 18-05-12 15:36

Solicitors

·         Front line lawyers: directly accessible to clients.  They provide a wide range of services.

·         They are more accessible to the public than barristers

·         They usually work in firms, private practice.

·         The firms can be found in the high streets of most towns in England and Wales.  Solicitors are also able to advertise.

·         Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority who is monitored by Legal Services Board.

·         The Interests of Solicitors are represented by the Law Society.

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Statistics on Solicitors

·         In 2010, official figures showed 150’128 Solicitors ‘on the roll’; qualified but not certified.

·         There are 117’826 solicitors with a current practicing license.  Practice certificates must be renewed annually.

·         There has been an increase of 120% of female solicitors in the past 10 years to 45.8% of total solicitors.

·         Ethnic minority lawyers now make up 11.1% of total lawyers.

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What Solicitors Do

·         The majority of those who qualify to be a solicitor will work in a solicitor’s firm.  Though solicitors can also work for:

§  The CPS

§  A local authority

§  A Government department

§  As legal advisers in commercial or industrial businesses.

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Solicitors in Private Practice

·         A solicitor can work as a sole practitioner or in a partnership.

·         There are approximately 9’000 firms ranging from ‘high street’ to big city firms.

·         The number of partners is not limited: the biggest firms will have over 100 partners as well as assistant solicitors.

·         The work done by solicitors depends on the type of firm:

§  Small ‘high street’ firms-advising clients on:

o   Consumer Problems

o   Housing

o   Business Matters

o   Family Problems

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Solicitors in Private Practice

Some solicitors have the ability to specialise in general practice, e.g civil actions, advocacy.

The majority of a solicitor’s time will be dealing with paperwork, such as writing letters on a client’s behalf or drafting legal documents.  Other times solicitors interview clients and negotiate on their behalf.

A solicitor’s earnings vary by the type of firm; top earners in the biggest firms can earn up to and over £500’000 a year.  Sole practitioners will earn less than £30’000.

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Reform to the Work of Solicitors

·         Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 and Access to Justice Act 1999 changed the exclusivity of Solicitors’ work.

1.       Conveyancing: Solicitors, prior to 1985, enjoyed a monopoly in conveyancing, the legal transference of land from one person to another.  This meant that they could charge high prices and provide the lowest possible quality of work.  Administration of Justice Act 1985: introduced licensed conveyancers, meaning that non-solicitors could conduct  conveyancing.  Banks and Building Societies used this to compete with solicitors.  So solicitors had to reduce fees, improve the quality of their work.  But solicitors still lost a lot of work.  So solicitors demanded wider rights of audience.

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Reforms to the Work of Solicitors

2.       Right of Audience: Prior to 1990 solicitors could only perform advocacy in the Magistrates’ and Crown Court and generally not any higher.  They had no ‘rights of audience’ in the higher courts, or right to work, or appear.  When a case entered the higher courts the solicitor would prepare a brief to send to a barrister shortly before the court case.  The barrister would read the brief and get familiar with the facts and legal principle before preparing to argue a case in court.

·         Courts and Legal Services Act 1990: This act changed the rights of audience rules.  It allowed Solicitors to undergo training to gain a Certificate of Advocacy which would allow them to work in the higher courts.  These solicitors attained the title ‘solicitor-advocates’.  There are about 4’500 solicitor-advocates.  Solicitor-advocates can also be appointed as Queen’s Counsel, and from there be selected for a higher judicial post.

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Reforms to the Work of Solicitors

·         Access to Justice Act 1999 S.36: All solicitors are automatically given full rights of audience but the additional needed training is not brought in. 

Solicitor-advocates have faced prejudice in exercising their higher rights.  In 1995, a Circuit Judge looking for a barrister to represent a defendant was told that a solicitor-advocate available.  The judge remarked ‘we don’t need to stoop that low, do we?’.  There is a fear that some solicitor advocates may face bias or prejudice from judges in using their rights of audience.  This may be why there is a low number of solicitor-advocates.

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Training to Become a Solicitor

·         Academic Stage:

o   55% of solicitor’s have a law degree

o   45% either have a degree in another subject and undergo the Common Professional Exam, CPE, a 1 year conversion course.

o   Or, they qualify through Fellowship of the Institute of Legal Executives, ILEX

·         Vocational Stage:

o   After the academic stage, students must complete a professional course: the Legal Practice Course, or LPC.  The LPC teaches general legal skills, e.g legal ethics, solicitor’s accounts, professional conduct, subject specialisms such as business law, family law.

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Training to Become a Solicitor

·         Training Contract:

o   All students, except ILEX students, must complete a training contract.

o    This normally 2 years of a student attached to a practicing solicitor, like an apprenticeship.

o   This is a fiercely competitive stage. 

o   Students are paid.  Outside of London, the minimum wage is £16,650.  Inside London, students can be expected to be paid a minimum of £18,590.  Big, provincial firms often pay more than the minimum salary.

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Launching a Complaint Against a Solicitor

·         Legal Action: A solicitor enters into a contract with their client.  This means that if the client doesn’t pay, the solicitor can sue for fees.  The client can also sue the solicitor for breach of contract if the solicitor fails to do the work.  Hall v Simons: Now clients can sue their solicitor for negligence.

·         In-House Schemes: Clients must first approach the firm if they have a complaint over a solicitor or the service provided.  Each firm must provide a complaints procedure, regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

·         Legal Ombudsmen-Set up by the Office for Legal Complaints, known as LeO: Since 6th Oct 2010: anyone dissatisfied with an in house scheme can complain to the Legal Ombudsmen.  Set up by the Legal Services Act 2007 in order to make the complaints system easier.  Their role is to resolve complaints in a fair and independent way and will focus on the levels of service provided by solicitors.

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Launching a Complaint Against a Solicitor

·         Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman: NOW CLOSED.  If a client was still unhappy their final route of complaint was the Office of Legal Services Ombudsman, or LSO.  The LSO was appointed by the Lord Chancellor and independent ombudsmen investigate the way in which the complaints body dealt with the complaint.

·         Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal: If a solicitor is faced with allegations of misconduct they are dealt with by the Solicitors Regulation Authority who may refer the matter to the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal.  This is a statutory tribunal which adjudicates on allegations of professional misconduct and breaches of professional rules by solicitors.  The Tribunal has the power to:

o   Strike a Solicitor off the Roll;

o   Suspend a solicitor for a fixed/indefinite period

o   Reprimand a Solicitor

o   Ban a Solicitor from working in a firm without consent of the Law Society.

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