Solicitors and Barristers

How have their roles changed?

Offender image
The changing role of the solicitor since Elizabethan times
Solicitors and barristers need to insure themselves against legal claims; check here for professional indemnity cover for the legal profession
What is the usual role of a solicitor now?
The legal profession in the UK is, for the most part, divided into two branches, namely those of solicitors and barristers. Solicitors, who must have a practising certificate and follow the provisions of the 'Solicitors Act 1974', give legal advice and conduct legal proceedings. Clients have direct access to solicitors who instruct barristers, a lawyer 'called to the bar' so being allowed to plead in the superior courts, to act on the client's behalf if a case is to be tried in a court such as the High Court, Crown Court or the Court of Appeal. Solicitors handle most civil cases tried in county courts.
How did this division come about?
During the Elizabethan period the volume of legal business grew enormously as law, particularly statute law, was increasingly seen as the foundation of the newly centralised state. This, together with the replacement of travelling assize courts with static ones, meant an enormous increase in the numbers of lawyers of all types. This was the period in which the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn thrived. This was also the period of the first solicitor general who was responsible for defending the rights of the state and crown.
A multiplicity of courts and types of lawyers develops
The famous lawyer of the period, Edward Coke, made an enormous study of the law to date and managed to mesh the old common law with that of Parliament. The Court of Common Pleas, with its chief justice and puisne judges, had been the main court for matters not involving the king but this was being replaced by several other courts including that of the King's Bench. In Slade's Case, 1596-1602, there were judges from both the Court of Common Pleas and the King's Bench. Equity cases, dealt with by solicitors, came to be held at Chancery courts. Attorneys gave legal advice in lawsuits.
Solicitors in the nineteenth century
By the nineteenth century solicitors were still largely working in the Chancery courts concerned with property cases. Charles Dickens details this type of work in his novel, Bleak House, when he describes the seemingly never-ending Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce case. Another group of lawyers known as proctors worked in the Admiralty and ecclesiastical courts.
The merger of all lawyers except barristers
In 1873 the 'Supreme Court of Judicature Act' merged all solicitors, proctors and attorneys giving them all the title of solicitor. This resulted in solicitors carrying out a much wider range of work than previously effectively covering all work except advocacy in the higher courts.
Recent changes in the solicitors role
The advent of solicitor advocates has caused barristers to lose their exclusivity as solicitor advocates may act in superior courts as well as in inferior ones. This follows the trend of judicial systems in countries such as Australia where there is less of a split in the legal profession. It is now also possible, in some cases, for the public to directly hire a barrister without hiring a solicitor challenging a traditional role of the solicitor. Another change concerns the creation of the Supreme Court so making what was the highest solicitor in the land, the solicitor general, the 'solicitor of the senior courts of England and Wales'. 


Copyright © 2015 All rights reserved.

No part of this site may be reporoduced in any way without the express permission of the copyright holders.

Please note that this is an information site and has no connection to any governmental agency.