Legal professions in England and Wales

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Legal professions in England and Wales are divided between two distinct branches under the legal system, those of solicitors and barristers. Other legal professions in England and Wales include being judges, as well as the roles of Attorney-General, Solicitor-General, and Director of Public Prosecutions.[1]

Barristers and solicitors[edit]

Main articles: Barrister and Solicitor

Solicitors tend to work together with others in private practice and are generally the first port of call for those seeking legal advice. Solicitors are also employed in government departments and commercial businesses. The Law Society is the professional body representing solicitors.

Barristers, on the other hand, do not generally deal with the public directly, but take their instructions from a solicitor representing the client. Barristers then represent the client at court and present their case. The Bar Council is the professional body representing barristers.

To become a barrister or a solicitor requires study at law school, but not necessarily at a university. University undergraduates who want to study at law school afterwards do not need to pass all the regular theoretical exams. Education at law school is very related to practice.


Education and organisation[edit]

To become a barrister requires membership of one of the four Inns of Court in London. The Inns provide support for barristers and student barristers through a range of educational activities, lunching and dining facilities, access to common rooms and gardens, and provision of various grants and scholarships. One of the key functions of the Inns is their responsibility for calling barristers to the Bar. Anyone wishing to train for the Bar must join one of the Inns and it is the Inns alone which have the power to call a student to the Bar. Alongside this responsibility, the Inns also have a role in administering disciplinary tribunals to deal with more serious complaints against barristers.[[2]

Members can be lawyers or judges and moreover prospective barristers. All four Inns have the Council of Legal Education in common which organizes education and exams of the affiliated law students. The Council of Legal Education and the Board of Examiners jointly regulate entry to the Legal Profession. The role of the Council is to determine the requirements for admission, to approve law courses and practical legal training providers, and to assess the qualifications of overseas practitioners.

The Board determines the eligibility of individual applicants for admission and provides the certificate upon which the Supreme Court relies when admitting an applicant to practice as a lawyer.[3] For studies at an Inn an applicant needs to provide a comprehensive A-level, a good educational background, and an unblemished reputation. During three years of education a student needs to pass two main exams: The first part is theoretical, which university graduates usually are spared. The second part consists of practical courses and is an assumption and obligation for becoming a barrister (Bar Vocational Course). After calling to the bar, a young barrister has to pass a yearlong pupillage with an experienced barrister before being allowed to practice law self-employed.

Fields of practice[edit]

The main actions of barristers involve going to court, especially to the higher courts. They make speeches in front of the court, they write briefs, they give legal advice, and they provide expert opinion for difficult cases. Usually they use briefs of professional clients, solicitors, and accountants. The barristers analyze the briefs and bring the results to the court. At the moment, there are approximately 10,000 barristers in England and Wales. Most of them have their offices in London. Their elite still form the Queen's Counsels, of which many of the judges for higher courts are chosen. The Queen´s counsels are publicly known for wearing silk gowns.

Contact between a barrister and a client is not permitted; therefore a clients are forced to arrange a solicitor when they want their cases pleaded by a barrister in front of the court. For this reason it was very important for a barrister to have good connections to solicitors. Although the Bar Council tries to change this tradition, the solicitor is still necessary for the barrister.


Education and organisation[edit]

Solicitors have their own professional association which is called Law Society, established in 1826. The Law Society is authorized by act of law, by the law chancellor and a few other high-ranking judges to regulate the education and admission of barristers. Law Society made an effort to raise the standards of the solicitor profession in order to improve its reputation. Since 19th century the reputation of solicitor is nearly the same as of the barrister. General admissions to enter the Law Society for expectant solicitor are similar to the admissions of barristers. General qualification for university entrance is required; a bachelor degree from a university is not required but could be useful.

In order to become a solicitor, trainees need to pass a four- or five-year apprenticeship as an articled clerk. Trainees spend this time at a practicing solicitor parallel to classes at the Law Society and has to pass two exams. The first exam is a theoretical exam, and is required for university graduation. After successful examinations and fulfilling the articles, the candidates must request the Master of the Rolls for admission to the official list of licensed solicitors, called the Supreme Court Roll of Solicitors.

Areas of practice[edit]

The field of action of a solicitor is versatile and cannot be easily displayed. A solicitor stays in direct contact to his clients and gives them personally legal advice. Clients can be members of the public, businesses, voluntary bodies, charities etc.[4] A solicitor prepares the lawsuit for his clients and represents his parties personally in the lower courts (magistrates´courts, county courts and tribunal). In cases on higher courts (High Court or higher) where a barrister is necessary, a solicitor acts as an agent.[5] Moreover, solicitor´s practice is comparable to notary public. Dealing with conveyancing as well as trust businesses, developing last wills, and administrating estates are parts of solicitors' practice.

Furthermore he oversee contract conclusion and consulting in various fields of law like tax, competition, insurance and company law. Profitable real estate businesses makes over 50% of his income.

Currently there are approximately 100,000 solicitors in England and Wales. 25% of it stay in employer-employee relationship at companies, bigger solicitor offices or administrations. 75% of it works as self-employed.

Sole practitioner[edit]

A sole practitioner works on his or her own, has no partners, and usually handles smaller cases, most of which dealing with subjects such as family law, employment law, and housing law.

Other legal professions[edit]


The English legal system requires judges, except for the honorary Justices of the peace at magistrates courts, first practise for several years as a barrister or solicitor with a good reputation. County-court judges are appointed by the Crown with the suggestion of Lord Chancellor. They have to practise as barrister for at least seven years before they can be suggested. To practise in the High Court, judges need to be suggested by the Lord Chancellor and need to be barristers for a minimum of ten years. Judges at the Court of Appeal are appointed by the Queen as recommended by the Prime Minister; they have to have experiences as a barrister for 15 years. For the appointment of judges of the House of Lords, it is the same case; moreover, they are appointed for Life Peers.

In order to become a Law Lord, a judge needs to practise for at least 15 years as a barrister or for two years in a high judgeship. The Prime Minister also recommends candidates for Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, and the Master of the Rolls to the Queen.

Attorney-General and Solicitor-General[edit]

The Attorney-General advises the Crown in legal issues and acts as plaintiff for the Crown in very important cases. The Attorney-General is a member of the House of Commons and is usually barrister with high reputation. This is true as well for the solicitor-general, who is the agent of the Attorney-General. Both belong to the ruling party in the parliament. They are appointed by the Prime Minister and have to abdicate in case of change in government.[6]

Director of Public Prosecutions[edit]

In general the Director of Public Prosecutions gives advise to police and other law enforcement agencies and is not a political civil servant. To become a Director of Public Prosecutions, applicants need to have at least ten years of practical experience.


  1. ^ Richard L. Abel, The Making of the English Legal Profession: 1800-1988 (1998)
  2. ^ "Inns of Court". Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  3. ^ "Council of Legal Education | Board of Examiners |". Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  4. ^ "What does a solicitor do?". 2010-06-18. Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  5. ^ "Career options". The Law Society. Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  6. ^ Langenscheidt/Alpmann Fachwörterbuch Kompakt, Münster 2006

Further reading[edit]

  • Abel, Richard L. The Making of the English Legal Profession: 1800-1988 (1998), 576pp
  • Jones, W. J. Elizabethan Court of Chancery (Oxford 1967)
  • Knafla, Lewis K. Law and politics (Cambridge 1977)
  • Lemmings, David. Gentlemen and Barristers: The Inns of Court and the English Bar, 1680-1730 (Oxford 1990)
  • Levack, Brian. The civil lawyers (Oxford 1973)
  • Prest, Wilfrid. The Inns of Court (1972)
  • Prest, Wilfrid. The rise of the Barristers (1986)