Should two legal professions be merged into one common profession?

A major debating point has been whether the two legal professions should be merged into one common profession. The changes made by the (Courts and Legal Services Act 1990) and the (Access to Justice Act 1999) make this idea less necessary. In particular, solicitors with advocacy qualifications can now cover all aspects of the work a client would need. The same is true of barristers who draw a large part of their work from the EU or from surveyors or accountants, as they can also deal with all aspects of a client's case. But there are still arguments that can be put for and against the idea of full fusion.

Advantages of fusion – Costs would be reduced. This is the main advantage of fusion, in that clients would save on cost as only one lawyer would be needed. At the moment a person who has to take a court action in the High Court, or who is charged with a crime in the Crown Court, will usually have to have two lawyers -a solicitor who prepares the case and does all the preliminary work, and an advocate who appears in court. In major cases a second barrister, often a QC, will be briefed. A famous quote by Michael Zander points out that it is cheaper to have one taxi meter running rather than two or three.

It can be argued that the savings to a client would be comparatively small, since the same amount of work needs to be done: the same number of witnesses will need to be interviewed; the same documents will have to be prepared and the case will probably last the same length of time in court. In addition, solicitors' overheads are considerably higher than those of barristers. There is also the point that in a complicated case, specialisation of roles is likely, with one lawyer preparing the case and another for the advocacy.

– There would be less duplication of work. When a barrister is briefed, copies of all documents and statements have to be sent by the solicitor, together with an explanation of the case =involves unnecessary repetition of work. If one person handled the case from beginning to end this would not be needed. It would also prevent communication problems. – There would be more continuity as the client would deal with the same lawyer throughout the case, instead of having the case transferred to an advocate whom the client has never met.

This would also avoid one of the biggest criticisms of the Bar which is that last-minute changes of barrister are made. – The system would be more efficient. The need to send papers to and fro between barristers and solicitors can lead to lost documents and general inefficiency. If the work was all contained within the same firm, particularly with details loaded on the firm's computer system, performance would be improved. – Fusion would allow a later choice of specialisation to be made by students. All law students would follow the same basic training and qualify as lawyers.

After a period in general practice those who wished to specialize in any area could do further training. This would also have the advantage that advocates would have a better background knowledge of the way cases are handled at the early stages. Disadvantages of fusion – The 'cab-rank' principle would be lost. At the moment barristers are obliged to accept the first case offered to them in their field of work, provided they are not already briefed to appear in court on that day. This allows anyone to get representation, even if their case is unpopular or not likely to succeed.

This principle does not apply to solicitors and would be difficult to operate in a fused profession. – It would lead to the loss of the independent Bar. Advocates would join law firms and only deal with the clients of their own firm. At the moment, solicitors in small firms can offer clients a complete service because they can obtain opinions and advice from any barrister on complex points. Under a fused system a solicitor may not be able to seek expert advice except by maybe having to go to a rival firm, with the risk of losing a client. It would also be difficult to identify specialists.

The specialist skills of advocacy might be lost if more lawyers did court work. At present top barristers appear in court almost every day and this regular work enables them to perfect their skills. Spreading the amount of court work amongst more lawyers would inevitably mean fewer court appearances for each lawyer. – The second opinion of a barrister on a case can bring an element of objectivity to it. The barrister is more detached from the case and has not become so involved with the client. This may enable them to identify weaknesses in a case as they approach it from a fresh angle.