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Barristers and Solicitors

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(a) Outline the work undertaken by barristers and solicitors. For more than a hundred years the legal profession in England and Wales has been divided into barristers and solicitors, and each branch has until recently had its own role to play. Solicitors are traditionally seen as the general practitioners of the legal profession, providing advice to the public across a wide legal spectrum, while barristers are seen primarily as advocates. Neither of these pictures is completely true. Many solicitors do still work in "High Street" offices and offer general legal advice and other legal services to the public at large. Most "High Street" firms give advice and assistance in the drafting and execution of wills, in conveyancing, in family disputes, in personal injuries claims, and in criminal matters, and many deal with other areas such as employment law, immigration law and housing law. In these fields they can give initial advice, can try to negotiate a settlement, can draft contracts and other documents, and can sometimes represent their clients in court if necessary. ...read more.


In the past fifteen years, a number of changes in law and practice have broken down the barriers between barristers and solicitors (and those between solicitors and other law workers), so that the former rigid distinctions have been blurred. There are very few legal jobs that are now the monopoly of one or other branch of the profession, though individual lawyers have unsurprisingly been slow to change the working habits of a lifetime. The most obvious example of this is in relation to rights of audience - the right to represent a client in court. Solicitors have always had a right of audience in the lower courts, but since 1990 they have been able to apply for rights of audience in higher courts such as the Crown Court and the High Court. They can thus obtain the rights barristers have always enjoyed, though so far only about 1000 solicitors (out of 80 000 or so) have taken advantage of the opportunity. As an extension of this, solicitors are now eligible for appointment as Queen's Counsel and as High Court judges, though only very few have actually been appointed. ...read more.


Again, it used formerly to be the case that solicitors were spread fairly evenly across the country while barristers worked mainly in London. That distinction too is blurring to some extent: although barristers are more numerous in London than elsewhere, they can be found in all provincial Crown Court centres. On the other hand, the growth of the very large City firms has led to an increasing concentration of solicitors in the capital. The differences that remain on paper are almost trivial. Barristers (but not solicitors) are theoretically bound by the "cab-rank rule", though in practice any barrister who wanted to refuse a case could almost certainly do so. Barristers wear wigs in court, while solicitors do not. And barristers are paid an agreed fee for the case, rather than an hourly rate like solicitors. All these things could very easily change. Which leaves only the question why barristers and solicitors are still regarded as members of two separate professions with different qualification and training requirements. The distinctions are now so blurred that it is surely time to establish a single profession with a single membership qualification, whose members might still specialise to a greater or lesser extent as they chose. ...read more.

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