The Legal Profession
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What is a solicitor?
- A solicitor is a lawyer who deals directly with clients by giving legal advice, preparing legal documents and, if necessary, representing a client in court.
- A firm of solicitors can be found in most towns and cities and it is from these professionals that a person will usually seek initial advice on a legal matter.
Academic stage of a solicitor
- The quickest route to becoming a solicitor is to complete a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) - approved qualifying a law degree containing compulsory foundation/core topics, for example, legal research, obligations, public and criminal law. There will also be option modules for example, environmental law, intellectual property and consumer law.
- If a person has a degree in another subject, they are required to undertake an addional training course, the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). This course covers the foundation/core topics as stated above. Before continuing with training students membership of the SRA must be applied for.
Vocational training - Legal Practice Course (LPC)
- The next stage is the LPC which develops the skills required to practice as a solicitor.
- It is practical-based with emphasis on skills such as client-interviewing, negotiation, drafting documents, business management and advocacy.
- The course is either one year full time or two years part time.
- The average cost of the LPC is £12,000.
Professional/practical training - training contract
- The final stage of the training is a two-year training contract with a firm of solicitors or an organisation authorised by the SRA to take trainees.
- The trainee must gain experience in at least three different areas of English law.
- During this time a student will be paid a minimum of £16650
The professional skills course
- During the training contract the trainee must attend and satisfactorily complete the Professional Skills Course.
- The course builds on the vocational training provided by the LPC
Admission on to the Roll
Upon successfully completing all the previous stages the person is now a qualified solicitor and admitted to the Roll of Solicitors and able to apply for a practising certificate
- can qualify to be a solicitors by becoming a legal executive first.
- You must have 4 GCSE's
- Then take the Institute of of Legal Executives Part I and Part II exams.
- Then work for two years in solicitors office
- The be admitted as a Fellow of Institute of Legal Executives (must be ages over 25 and have worked for five years in a solicitors office)
- Then take the Legal Practice Course or a two year training period and pass final exams
- Then you are qualified as a solicitor
- Solicitors undertake a wide range of work. They provide legal advice to clients and represent their clients in court.
- The majority of solicitors work in private practices.
- There are other career options open to a qualified solicitor for example working for the Crown Prosecution Service, local or national government or working for a legal department of a commercial or industrial business.
Solicitors may undertake the following work:
- Meeting with clients and taking instructions and offering advice
- Drafting legal documents
- Convegancing, which is the transfer of legal title of property from one person to another, for example, buying or selling a residential property
- Wills and probate - dealing with the estate of a deceased person
- matrimonial and family matters for example divorce and child custody
- Negligence for example personal injury claims
- Negotiating on behalf of clients
- Advocacy - all solicitors have rights of audience in the lower courts. Under the solicitors' Higher Rights of Audience Regulation 2010, a solicitor, once admitted to the Roll, can apply for the higher courts qualification. there is no longer an experience or mandatory training requirement. All solicitors must demonstrate the required practical advocacy skills and as a minimum, have passed the advocacy module of the LPC. The solicitor will be required to sit and pass assessments.
- Solicitors are represented by the Law Society and controlled by the Solicitors Regulation Authority
- Solicitors can work for small or large firms and can be sole practitioners or in a partnership
- The Legal Services Act 2007 now allows both Legal Disciplinary Practices and Alternative Business Structures. Solicitors can form companies rather than partnerships and the company does not need to be owned by solicitors.
- Solicitors deal directly with their clients and a contract is formed between them, allowing both parties to sue for breach of contract. The Solicitor can sue for non-payment of fees and the client for failure of the solicitors to for example complete work to a satisfactory standard. Both Griffins v Dawson (1993) and White v Jones (1995) demonstrate where the solicitor provided a less than satisfactory standard of work. In Hall v Simons (2000), the House of Lords decided that advocates can be liable for negligent advocacy.
- An unsatisfactory client must first utilise the solicitor's firm's complaints procedure. If the outcome is not satisfactory, the complaint will be dealt with by the office of legal complaints set up by the Legal services act 2007. The legal Ombudsman has the power to ask the solicitor to apologies to the clients, give back any documents the client may need, put things right if more work can correct what went wrong, refund or reduce the legal fees, or pay compensation of up to £30,000
- The Solicitors Regulation Authority regulated the profession of solicitors and will investigate any alleged professional misconduct of solicitors. If there is evidence of serious misconduct, the case will be put before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal who can fine, reprimand, suspend or strike of the solicitor from the Rolls.
Barristers are specially trained to advise clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their case and to act as court room advocates.
Barristers academic stage - education
- The quickest route to becoming a barrister is to complete a Bar Standards Board approved qualifying law degree.
- This degree will contain compulsory foundation/core topics, for example legal research, obligations, public and criminal law. There will be option modules for example environmental law, intellectual property and consumer law.
- If a person has a degree in another subject they are required to undertake an additional training course, the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
- This course covers the foundation/core topics as stated above.
Barristers - Membership of an Inn of Court
- Before continuing with training, membership of one of the four Inns of Court must be obtained.
- The four are Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn.
- A student is expect to undertake 12 qualifying sessions at their chosen Inn or attend residential training courses during the Bar Professional Training Course.
Barristers - Vocational training - Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)
- This course can either be taken over one year full time or two years part time.
- The BPTC develops the skills required for a career at the Bar.
- It is practically based and included advocacy and role-playing, case preparation, drafting legal documents, opinion-writing (giving written advice on cases) and interpersonal skills.
- Fees for the BPTC vary between £9500 and £15,750 for the year.
Barristers - Admission to the Bar
- Upon completion of the BPTC, a student is eligible to be 'Called to the Bar'. This is a graduation ceremony held at the chosen Inn of Court.
- Once 'Called', the student us officially qualified and has the title 'barrister', however if they wish to practice or call themselves a barrister in connection with the supple of legal services they must complete a final stage of training.
Barristers - Professional/practical training - pupillage
- The final stage of the training process is a one year pupillage which is similar to an apprenticeship.
- The trainee becomes a pupil to a qualified barrister (Pupil Supervisor) and this is usually undertaken at a set of chambers.
- Pupillage is divided into two parts or 'sixes' or 'first six' is non-practising and entails shadowing the supervisor, During the 'second six' the pupil is able to undertake supervised work of their own.
- During this time the student will be paid a minim of £12,000 for the year.
- The majority of barristers are self-employed (approx 80%) and concentrate on advocacy, although some barristers specialise in areas which rarely required attendance at court, for example, tax law.
- The remainder are employed by for example, central or local government and industry and advice the organsation for which they work.
Barristers may undertake the following work:
- Advocacy - representing clients in court. The barrister will present the case, examining and cross-examining witnesses and sum up all relevant material.
- Legal research.
- Holidng case conferences with clients and advising them on the law and the strength of their legal case
- Writing 'an opinion' for the client
- Negotiating settlements with the other side.
- Barristers are controlled by the General Council of the Bar and they must be a member of one of the four Inns of Court.
- Self-employed barristers gain 'tenancy' and work from a set of shared 'chambers'. A practice Administrator and other administrative staff will manage the work coming into the chambers and negotiate the fee to be paid.
- Self-employed barristers usually work on instruction from a solicitor but there is Direct Access in civil cases where anyone can go directly to a barrister without having to involve anyone else.
- Some barristers operate the Cab-rank rule whereby they have to accept any work if it is on the area of law they deal with and are free to take the case. The rule is not applicable in Direct Access cases.
- After 10 years of practicing as a barrister, it is possible to become a Queen's Counsel and 'Take Silk'
- After 10 years as a barrister or solicitor with an advocacy qualification it is possible to apply to become a Queen's Counsel (QC) - 10% of the bar and it is known for 'taking silk'
- More complication and high profile cases than junior barristers.
- Untill 2004 these were appointed by the Lord Chancellor however it was critised as only 10% were woman and even less for ethnic minorities so the method was changed.
Appointment system for the QCs
- Selection is now made by an independent selection panel.
- To apply you must pay the fee on £2,500
- Applicant must provide references and are interviewed by members of the panel
- The panel then recommends those who should be appointed to the Lord Chancellor.
Barrister Regulation - contract
- There is no contract between the client and the barrister except in situations of Direct Access, and as a result, the client cannot sue for breach of contract.
- However the client can sue for negligence regarding written advice (Saif Ali v Sydney Mitchell and Co 1980) and negligent advocacy in court (Hall v Simmons (2000)
Barrister Regulation - Complaints
- An unsatisfied client will first use the Chamber's In-House Complaints Procedure.
- If the outcome is not satisfactory, the complaint will be dealt with the Office for Legal Complaints set up by the Legal Services Act 2007.
- All complaints are referred to the Legal Ombudsman. The Legal Ombudsman has the power to ask the barrister to apologise to the client, give back any document the client might need, put things right if more work can correct what went wrong, refund or reduce the legal fees or pay compensation of up to £30000
Barrister regulation - The Bar standards board
- The Bar Standards Board regulates the profession of barristers and will investigate any alleged breach of the Code of Conduct.
- It can discipline any barrister who is in breach and if the matter is serious, it will be referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal of the Council of the Inns of Court
Assessment of both solicitors and barristers
- The two professional are merging closer and closer and the differences between them have significantly reduces.
- The introduction of Direct Access for barristers and Solcitors' Higher Rights of Audience Regulation 2010 mean there is little different between the two professions.
- The Legal Service Act 2007 now allows the two professions to work together
- In terms of complaints, the Legal Service Act 2007 took away the complaints mechanism from the professions' governing bodies i.e. the Law Society and the Bar Council and set up an independent complaints department.
- It is hoped that the Office for Legal Complaints and the Legal Ombudsman will stop the considerable delays in dealing with complaints and simplifying the system.
- The increase in powers given to the Ombudsman ensure those who complain are more likely to get an impartial and just decision, including a reasonable amount of compensation.
Criticism of the training process of both solicitors and barristers.
- The cost of undertaking the education
- Career path
- difficulties of finding pupillage/training contracts
- lack of jobs
- Lack of knowlegde
Cost of education
- The cost of undertaking the education and vocational training may put off many able candidates particularly with the fees for university degrees having increase.
- Although student loans available for the degree, the LPC is post-graduate course and as a result, there is no funding available.
- There are bursaries available to help with costs of training, more so for trainee barristers.
- The effect of the financial difficulties is that is may lead to only those with financial banking being able to qualify and these may not necessarily be the best people.
- For those wishing to become solicitors, it is possible to undertake the ILEX route, which means the student is being paid whilst training; however there is no such route for would-be barristers.
- There is much critisism of the CPE/GDL as it is said, by some, to not give sufficient grounding in law when compared to the rigours of a qualfying law degree
- Both the Bar Council and the Law Society, in a joint statement, stated that '18 months should be spent on the core subjects' and the CPE/GDL courses last only one year.
- However, it is an opportunity for candidates which other degrees to enter the profession later and these candidates bring different skills with them.
- The choice to become a barrister or solicitors has to be made upon the completion of the law degree of CPE/GDL without any vocational or practical training being undertaken.
- Some say that this is far too early to make an informed choice.
Difficulties of finding a pupillage/training contract
- There are great difficulties finding a pupillage/training contract and as a result, many are prevented from completing their training.
- Approximately only one in five trainees Called to the Bar are able to obtain a pupillage.
- There is also said to be a training-contract 'lottery', with up to 70 applicant per job.
- A great deal of time and money has been spent getting far only to find you are unable to achieve you goal.
- The quality of pupillage/training contracts also varies in terms of actual work and support
Lack of jobs
Even after completing all the various training elements there is still an over-supply of qualified lawyers - far too many qualify for the jobs available.
Lack of Knowledge
Non-law graduates do only one year of formal law for the CPE or GDL.
Advantages of Fusion
- reduced costs as only one lawyer would be needed instead of a solicitor and a barrister
- Less duplication of wok because only one person would be doing the work, instead of a solicitors preparing the case then passing it onto a barrister.
- More continuity as the same person could deal with the case from start to finish.
Disadvantages of fusion
- a decrease in the specialist skills of advocacy
- loss of the independent Bar and the lack of availability of advice from independent specialists at the Bar
- Less objectivity in consideration of a case; at the moment the barrister provides a second opinion
- loss of the 'cab rank principle' under which barrister have to accept any case offered to them (except when they are already booked on another case for the same day). This principle allows anyone to get representation, even if their case is unpopular or unlikely to win.
- However the implementation of the Legal services Act there is even less need for the professions to be fused as they can work together in the same business.
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