Describe the organisation and work of both solicitors and barristers.

The work of solicitors can be varied. This is a feature of legal work carried out by solicitors.

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The job of a solicitor is to provide clients with legal advice and support. They act on instructions they receive from their clients who may be individuals or groups of people. It will depend on their area of expertise as to the type of advice a solicitor is asked for.

The Law Society has an accreditation scheme which means that members of the public can be assured that the knowledge of members in the scheme have been verified and have reached a standard of excellence in practice management in a given area of the law. Membership of the scheme is voluntary but to give us an idea of the work a solicitor may deal with their schemes cover the following areas:


Civil and commercial mediation;

Clinical negligence;


Criminal litigation;


Family mediation;

Immigration and asylum;

Mental health;

Personal injury;


Wills and inheritance.

Solicitors may also work with individuals to ensure they are treated fairly and they will work with the individuals to protect their rights. They are sometimes involved in working for clients who can not afford to pay for legal services when they will offer their services free. LawWorks is the operating name of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group.



The majority of solicitors, once qualified, will join a firm of solicitors in private practice. The practice will operate in the private sector. The profession as a whole is represented by the Law Society which in turn is regulated by the independent Solicitors Regulation Authority. There are some 120,000 solicitors in England and Wales.


Some solicitors practice as a sole practitioner in which case this will restrict the range of work that can be done simply because it is a matter of resources as well as expertise. Sole practitioners also face some operational difficulties at times of sickness or other absence. Building Societies and other lending institutions do not favour them when it comes to mortgage work because of issues concerning the adequacy of supervision.


Firms of solicitors range from small ‘high street’ practices to medium and large practices. The largest firms will probably be located in the cities and are likely to operate on a regional basis with associated offices. These firms will operate as partnerships with Managing Partners and employing assistant solicitors.


Solicitors' work can be varied and will also depend upon the type of firm to which they belong. Such work might include:


The giving of legal advice upon a range of matters, such as debt and consumer complaints, family problems and employment and business matters. It may be that the practice will have a number of departments specialising in a particular area of the law e.g. family, private client, probate etc.


One way of classifying the work of solicitors is that it can either be described as contentious work or non-contentious work. Contentious work includes civil litigation which will involve preparation work such as drafting a claim in a civil case, or criminal work which will involve representing a client in a criminal matter. Non-contentious work covers everything else apart from court work. e.g. probate (except disputed wills), conveyancing, drafting legal documents etc.


Solicitors deal directly with clients and a lot of their time will be spent interviewing clients in their office and taking detailed instructions. A solicitor may well negotiate on behalf of their client in a disputed matter either prior to the commencement of court proceedings or even after they have begun.


Solicitors deal with a large amount of paperwork. There are different types of work which generate paperwork. Examples would include, written communications on behalf of clients, communications with other law firms, drafting legal documents such as contracts, leases and wills and conveyancing work and the associated paperwork from contract to completion. This would include searches, enquiries of local authorities, drafting contracts and transfers and pre-completion searches.


Some solicitors will undertake advocacy work. This involves presenting the client’s case in court and questioning witnesses and advancing legal arguments about points of law. Solicitors have for a long time enjoyed rights of audience in the lower courts. The lower courts are the Magistrates Courts and the County Courts. County Courts deal predominately with civil cases such as consumer matters and property claims.


Solicitors rights of audience have been extended to the higher courts upon the passing of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. This Act enables a solicitor in private practice to apply for a Certificate of Advocacy which entitles them to appear in the higher courts. A solicitor needs to show that he or she has experience of advocacy in the Magistrates Court and the County Court, and has taken a short training course and passed examinations on the rules of evidence.


Not all firms will offer assistance and representation in criminal matters, as they may lack the necessary expertise or may be reluctant to commit the necessary resources e.g. duty solicitor training programmes or entering into the government’s legal franchising contract.


Dependant upon the area of the practice, the firm may undertake commercial work which will include a range of work such as company formations and registrations, negotiating mergers and transfers, conveyancing and the giving of tax advice.


Whilst a large proportion of solicitors will work in private practice, some will work in the public sector such as those employed by local authorities where they will develop specialist knowledge in such areas as housing, planning and administrative law.


Others may join the Crown Prosecution Service and prosecute criminal cases in the Magistrates Court or sit with counsel or other senior crown prosecutors in the Crown Court. There are also a number of solicitors who form part of in-house legal teams with larger commercial companies and organisations.


Solicitors are also expected to keep up to date with the law and any changes that are implemented. All solicitors and registered European lawyers in legal practice or employment in England and Wales must comply with the requirements of the SRA's continuing professional development scheme.


With regard to the work and organisation of barristers there are a number of differences between their work and that of a solicitor. Instead of the Law society we find that barristers are controlled by the General Council of the Bar which is more usually referred to as the Bar Council. The primary purpose of the Bar Council is to represent barristers in England and Wales and to promote the work of barristers. The work of the Bar is regulated by the independent Bar Standards Board.


A barrister's work involves a lot of legal research and detailed analysis of information supplied to him. He will have to put his arguments in writing and will need to be able to put forward his opinions, and the options available, in a clear and concise manner. As a barrister he will have to ensure that he has collected together the right information from his clients and from solicitors. It will be his job to ensure that the case is resolved satisfactorily and, as a specialist in advocacy, he will need to be able to represent individual people or organisations in court. Barristers also provide an independent source of legal advice.


There are approximately 14,000 barristers and of these about 70% are located in London. Barristers work from offices which are known as chambers and which are shared with other barristers. There are a number of benefits to sharing chambers, not least being that collectively they share overheads according to their seniority and contribute to the costs and expenses of running the chambers according to an agreement. This means that individual barristers are free to pursue their own areas of specialization but are able to share running costs.



The barristers work is managed by a clerk. The clerk will keep a diary of dates when the barrister is available for court appearances and will negotiate fees and cases according to the requirements of the client and such matters as the barristers experience as an advocate and area of the law involved.


Many barristers chambers now have their own website detailing the profiles of the barristers sharing chambers. Such profiles are organized according to seniority (when the barrister was called to the bar), and provide information about court cases and disputes with which they have been involved and the area of law that they specialize in.


The present state of the legal profession means, in effect, that many newly qualified barristers find that it is practically impossible to find a tenancy in chambers. Competition for tenancies is fierce and it is not uncommon for new barristers to take a third six-month pupillage (which is over and beyond what they need to do to qualify), as a method of getting their foot in the door so to speak, and stay on in order to secure a tenancy.


Barristers usually work for themselves i.e. they are self employed. As such it is extremely important that individual barristers gain recognition and a good reputation. There is a saying that barristers are only as good as their last cases – meaning that they stand or fall by their skills and expertise.


Unlike solicitors, barristers are not allowed to form partnerships and this reinforces the need for them to acquire a strong identity and following early in their careers if they are to become successful.


For many barristers advocacy will become a key part of the work they do. Advocacy work means that they will be retained by a client to present their case in court on their behalf. This includes criminal as well as civil cases although it is usual for barristers to concentrate on one area of the law – either criminal or civil. Advocacy includes presenting legal arguments to the judge and the examination and cross examination of witnesses. It requires experience and skill if it is to be carried out effectively.


The work of the courts varies and so does the work of an advocate and this depends upon the courts in which they appear. Advocacy for some may include regular appearances in the superior courts (High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court). It is probably fair to say that the work of these courts, including the cases listed for hearing in them, are likely to be more complex or involved than cases in the lower courts such as the Magistrates' Courts and County Courts. This seems to be borne out when it comes to the qualification and rights of audience needed when applying to join the judiciary.


Not all barristers are known for their advocacy skills – some specialize in giving legal advice in specific areas of the law and become experts in their field of the law for example human rights, tax, immigration, planning or Chancery Law (estates and trusts). In these circumstances specialist barristers will provide written advice in the form of opinions, as required by instructing solicitors.


These opinions do not necessarily form part of a legal dispute but may be given as part of a plan to avoid or minimize the risk of a client falling foul of the law. The client may wish to test whether what they are doing, or propose to do, is considered legal by asking a senior barrister for a considered legal opinion on the matter. Such opinions might for example involve new schemes to minimize liability for tax or the setting up of trusts to protect proprietary interests of some kind.


Barristers may also be asked to draft legal documents which may be needed as part of court proceedings. This might include statements of claim in complex cases where there are multiple parties, for example in a claim for negligence where there are several tortfeasors and arguments about contributory negligence, or where a detailed defence and counter-claim is required. These types of complex cases may involve considerable legal argument and attention to detail where the facts of the cases are particularly complicated. Such work may also involve counsel in considering all the evidence in a case with a view to advising about the merits or chances of success. In these types of cases counsel are seen as the experts. It is sometimes argued that at times barristers are able to be more objective about the merits of a case as they are not so closely involved with the case and the client as a solicitor may be.


The nature of a barristers work is affected to an extent by the fact that they are usually instructed indirectly by being engaged by the solicitor on behalf of the client. So instead of advising the client face to face it is often the case that the barristers work is carried out in opinions passing to the solicitor who then communicates the legal advice to the client.


The quality of the barrister's work at these times may depend upon the quality and relevance of the instructions or 'brief' prepared by the solicitor when seeking counsel's opinion. When undertaking work, barristers are required to take account of the 'cab rank' rule. The 'cab rank' rule, as the name suggests, requires that a barrister accepts instructions in a case if it relates to their area of expertise and they are available to undertake the work. The analogy of a taxi cab is quite helpful in that they appear to take the taxi at the front of the queue or rank as they are the next available. The principle behind this is that it allows for a fair distribution of work and it provides for equal access to representation and legal advice. This is to try to guard against barristers having to use their skills and expertise for a limited and presumably privileged group of clients. Barristers can refuse to accept a case if they feel that they do not have the resources to take on the case.


Barristers are now permitted direct access to clients on the basis that the old system of requiring instructions to be passed through a solicitor effectively meant that two forms of legal representative were required and that this added to the expense. Such direct access is however limited to civil cases.


It should not be forgotten that some barristers are employed by organisations such as the Crown Prosecution Service, government departments, local authorities and businesses. Barristers in these positions have similar rights of audience as self-employed barristers.


The Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes criminal cases on behalf of the state and therefore barristers employed by the CPS will usually find themselves dealing with criminal work and appearances in the Magistrates Courts and the Crown Courts at hearings of first instance and appeal with appeal hearing in the High Court and Court of Appeal.


Senior barristers are known as Queen's Counsel (QC) and such appointments are a matter of status and a recognition of a barrister's expertise in a certain area of the law. Barristers need to have been qualified for 10 years before they are entitled to apply to become a QC.


Appointments are otherwise known as 'taking silk' which is a reference to the fact that their appointment entitles them to wear silk robes as opposed to cotton. An independent selection panel now oversees appointments and interviews candidates. The panel then makes its recommendations to the Lord Chancellor.


Such appointments are seen as extremely significant and can have a tremendous effect upon a barrister's career and the nature and importance of cases which are referred to them along with the level of fees which they may charge.


Finally it needs to be noted that the legal profession is allowed to operate in a more flexible way including arrangements which involve non-lawyers for the benefit of clients and Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) are now allowed subject to authorisation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.



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Alternative business structures - The Law Society



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