Legal Profession System in the UK

Stranger in Light By Stranger in Light, 21st Sep 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Business>Law

UK has split legal profession system rather than a fused legal profession system. The split system divides profession in two different categories; Barrister and Solicitor. Both professions have their own governing bodies. The article mainly explains the difference between solicitors and barristers, split and fused profession system for UK, and its benefits and drawbacks.

Legal Profession System in the UK

Solicitors are the larger part of population in the UK with 71,000 in number and barristers practicing at Bar with 7,000 in number. Both professions have their own governing bodies named General Council of Bar (Barrister) and Law Society (Solicitors) (Bowles, 1994) In the following section definitions of Barrister and Solicitor will be briefed with their line of work.

There are many definitions of barrister, however in this article Oxford dictionary definition of barrister is being presented,
“Barrister: A lawyer entitled to practise as an advocate, particularly in the higher courts” (Oxford-Dictionary)
One can say that barrister’s line of work does not involve management and administration of legal work related to personal or company clients. Their practice involves representing their clients in case in front of judge, and jury to advocate. The law society of England and Wales define barristers as legal professionals “who are instructed by the solicitors and have little or no legal contact with the client” (The-Law-Society, 2010)

Oxford dictionary defines Solicitor as following,
“Solicitor: a lawyer qualified to deal with conveyancing, draw up wills, advise clients and instruct barristers, and represent clients in lower courts.”(Oxford-Dictionary)
Solicitors are also type of lawyers however their line of work is more related to work in Magistrates and County Courts. Advocacy is small part of their line of work and they are more involved in dealing with commercial and personal dealings that involve legal work, corporate matters, land, and other possessions work. The law society defines Solicitors as legal professionals “who advice on all kind of legal matters, from buying a home to selling of a corporation”(The-Law-Society, 2010)

Difference between Barrister and Solicitors
There are many differences between solicitors and barristers; however at the same time it is hard to define them separately. Many times their professions cross line and overlap each other’s work. It can be said that barristers are types of lawyers who only represent their client in the courts or in front of jury; they are normally instructed by the solicitors rather than the client. Their line of work mostly involves advocacy. On the other hand Solicitors are the type of lawyers who can be involve in many legal aspects such as preparing a case, advising, drafting legal work, and basically doing daily management of a legal case. (David and Brierley, 1978) Other differences could be minor and can be as many as 7-10. For instance one of the differences is that a Barrister will have a specialized knowledge and practice of one aspect of legal system, and Solicitor’s practice will be more related to general knowledge of legal system. (Zander, 2007)
One easy way of defining these professions separately is to take an example from the medical profession. If a person is sick they go to general practitioner to seek advice (Solicitors), but then the general practitioner feels that he/she can’t help or lack the ability and refer patient to a specialist, for instance a surgeon (Barrister) (Tumbridge, 2003)

Should the profession be fused?
The roots of split profession system in the UK go long back to 1422 where the origin of bar can be traced. There have been debates on the issue weather these two professions should be converted to fused system. (Tumbridge, 2003) It was in the 19th century that barristers were given sole right to represent in front of Jury and high courts. There have been efforts in England and Wales towards fused system. In 1969 Lord Chancellor gave solicitor rights to represent in front of Jury and high courts in some and limited cases. However this liberty was only in the cases where there weren’t enough Barristers (David and Brierley, 1978) Despite some efforts made in the past towards fused system in the UK, one cant see any significant developments towards fused system rather then split.
The essay will debate if it will make any difference by having a fused legal system. Although few decades ago difference between barristers and solicitors was every prominent. It was certain that only barristers will appear in front of court and solicitors will be dealing with clients taking instructions. Now this sharp division is not that sharp anymore. Some developments in past decades have given the solicitors right to appear in front of courts and jury. And barristers are not just limited to advocacy; they are frequently hired by government departments and organizations to work for them including legal work (which historically was done by solicitors). The main reason for this has been the cost issues associated with it. Solicitors advocate or barristers with ability to do legal work are more beneficial and cost saving compare with traditional professional work. It also give barristers and solicitors to do multi dimensional work.
The fusion of legal system in the UK can be beneficial in some ways. Since there are already few differences left between the two professions. The fusion will benefit the client in great deal since they will need to instruct one solicitor only. The professionalism and continuity in the case will also be better since only one person will deal with the case throughout. Another benefit could be gain of general knowledge of law in the case. Currently barristers are sometimes criticizes for having specialist knowledge and not knowing the general things about law and other aspects of the case. However after the fusion a solicitor/barrister can bring advantage to a case by having specialist and general knowledge.
On the other hand the fusion will bring some disadvantages to the system. Lack of specialist knowledge of legal system will decrease. There will also be some disadvantages related to client’s case such as objectivity will be lost when the 2nd opinion of a barrister will not be available. Current system in the UK provides an opportunity to trainee lawyers to choose between the professions. However this benefit will be lost after the fusion takes place. In many cases judges are hired from the Bar which consist if independent barristers, after the fusion such independence will be lost.
The above two paragraphs briefly cover some benefits and disadvantages of the fused legal system. As a student of business law, author feels that a fused system will be beneficial for the whole system. It will bring down the cost for client, companies, and governments. It will also give a chance to lawyers to step into both professions simultaneously. It is suggested that some other distinctions are created within the system to gain benefits that have been learned from split system. For instance, within the legal profession, titles can be defined such as General practice lawyers, Barrister lawyers, etc. the benefit of defining such titles will give liberty to clients to choose the best they can for their cases. It will also give liberty to lawyers to step into specialized field as well as keeping the general practice going. Overall this move will also increase system efficiency.
It is also said that two professions were kept separate due to good and valid reasons long time ago. However those reasons have disappeared now and so should the separation.(Cohen, 1968) The biasness exists due to the separation of the two professions. It is evident that only barrister are chosen from the bar to become judges, which makes solicitor look less talented and knowledgeable. In reality this is not true and solicitors should have a right to become judges depending on their capability rather than the title they carry.
Many countries including USA, Malaysia, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, and Australia have a fused legal system. There is no sharp line drew between the two professions and the system is very much successful. It can be successful in the UK as well; however it does require some more research to understand its pros and cons in great detail. Examples from other countries can be taken and then a fused system can be implemented. Overall the author feels that this will be beneficial for the whole system to have a fused system as it will decrease cost, biasness, costs and will provide an opportunity for law students to go to multidimensional fields.

1. BOWLES, R. 1994. The structure of the legal profession in England and Wales. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 10, 18-18.
2. COHEN, H. 1968. The Divided Legal Profession in England and Wales.
3. DAVID, R. & BRIERLEY, J. 1978. Major legal systems in the world today: an introduction to the comparative study of law, Free Press.
4. OXFORD-DICTIONARY, O. Oxford English Dictionary. The Library. Bibliographical Soc.
5. THE-LAW-SOCIETY. 2010. Barrister and Solicitors . .
6. TUMBRIDGE, J. 2003. Split Legal System in the UK. UK.
7. ZANDER, M. 2007. Cases and materials on the English legal system, Cambridge Univ Pr.

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