Solicitors are the general practitioners of the legal profession. To become a solicitor you need to obtain a law degree and then undergo the new Legal Practice Certificate; which is the Law Societies professional qualification. Once you have completed this training then you have to complete a two year training contract working as a solicitor under supervision. These are very hard to come by and many graduates can not get a training contract so therefore; cannot actually become a practicing solicitor. The bulk of solicitors' work is non contentious and involves conveyancing, wills and matrimonial problems.
Most firms tend to specialise in certain areas of law. For example most criminal solicitors do not deal with civil matters and vice versa. Solicitors are the first point of contact for a client; they are the person that interviews them, prepares their case and may represent them; if their case is in the Magistrates or county court. Though; they mostly hand the case over to a barrister to be presented in court. Once a solicitor has prepared a case it is normally sent to a barrister for their opinion. If the barrister doesn't think you have a case it is very unlikely the case will be continued.
Solicitors can also represent you in the crown court if they are granted a right of audience, to be granted this you have to have the higher advocacy qualification. Solicitors are officers of the Supreme Court and are supervised by the Master of the Rolls; but in reality this role is carried out jointly by the Law Society and the courts. Solicitors are subject to general law and can be held liable in contract to their clients as well as in tort if they are negligent. Barristers. Barristers' main work is advocacy and litigation.
They have the rights of audience in all courts; they also give written opinions to solicitors on cases and draft documents for litigation. Barristers are self employed but work in groups in order to share overheads such as rent and the cost of secretaries and clerks. To consult a barrister you must do this through a solicitor who will in turn contact the barristers' clerk at chambers. To become a barrister a person must be "called to the bar". This involves joining one of the four "Inns of Court"- Inner, Middle, Grays and Lincolns.
These institutions date back to the 14th century and they have control over who becomes a barrister; by having the power to allow a person to join the inn or not. You also need a law degree or have a non law degree plus a legal diploma, have ate six dinners per term for four terms, attended a vocational course leading to Bar Counsel's final examination and then complete 12 months pupilage with a qualified barrister (this is unpaid). Once a junior barrister has completed the pupilage they must find a place in chambers.
They then remain a junior barrister until they are made a QC (Queens Counsel). These are senior barristers appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Lord Chancellor. Barristers are governed by The Senate of the Inns of Court and the Bar. The senate regulates admission to the bar, organises legal education and is the disciplinary body (although actual penalties are imposed by the Inn to which that barrister belongs). Unlike solicitors barristers are not officers of the court and can still be fined or imprisoned for contempt of court.
Not all barristers work in chambers and there has been a growth in employed barristers who seem to do similar work to employed solicitors, non-contentious and case preparation for their employer. Barristers cannot sue for their fee but solicitors are obliged to pay them even of they are not paid themselves. Barristers are not liable in the tort of negligence for work done in court or their opinions in cases referred to them by solicitors but can be sued for work done in pre trial preparation. Legal Executives. There are three classes of legal executive; Student membership;
These people are in the process of sitting part 1 and 2 Ilex and are registered with Ilex. Member membership; These people have passed part 1 and 2 of the Ilex examinations. ( Part 1 is equivalent to an A Level, and Part 2 is equivalent to a degree. ) Fellow membership; These people have passed part 1 and 2 Ilex, are at least 25yrs old, have at least 5yrs qualifying legal experience and at least two of those years proceed passing part 2 Ilex. (Once qualified as a fellow and have 5yrs experience you are then exempt from doing the training contract to become a solicitor, this is a less expensive way of becoming a solicitor.)
Legal executives hold very similar roles to solicitors; an important distinction is that the legal executive has responsibility to the solicitor, who is their principal, rather than directly to the client. As a legal executive you will interview clients, peruse documents, draft documents, conduct research and negotiate. As a legal executive you hold limited rights of audience in the magistrates and the county courts; apart from matters concerning liberty. The legal profession can be traced back to the twelfth century.
It was difficult to differentiate between the two branches but barristers were originally known as Apprentices in law equivalent to today's Junior Counsel. Those who were given rights of audience in the higher courts were known as Sergeants at law a title abolished by the provisions of the Judicature Act (1873). This title would equate to the Queens Counsel of the modern Bar. Solicitors as we know them today were mainly concerned with the preparation of court work and took on many titles. This is not to say they did not advocate in some of the lower courts.
In Common law courts they were known as Attorneys, in Ecclesiastical and Admiralty courts Proctors and in Chancery courts as Solicitors. In 1739 these lawyers grouped together to form "The Society of Gentlemen Practisers in the Courts of Law and Equity" although it was far from representative of all the non-advocates. This society became "The Incorporated Law Society of the United Kingdom" in 1831 and granted a Royal Charter in 1845 to become "The Law Society" by charter in 1903. The Judicature Act (1873) set the seal on the division of the two professions and merged the titles of Attorneys and Proctors into Solicitor.
The division of labour was complete. The distinction between barristers and solicitors has often been compared to that of doctor and consultant. This analogy is somewhat floored. A senior partner in a solicitors firm will know infinitely more than a junior barrister setting out on their career path. Barristers are perceived to the public as bewigged and gowned advocates who appear in court to argue for the defence or prosecution but this is only a part of the barristers remit. Almost from the start of the division in the two professions there have been calls for a fusion.
In the present economic climate and the spiralling cost of going to the law the advocates of fusion point to the duplication of work in the profession. A solicitor, once they have got to grips with the case, must duplicate a brief for the barrister. They then must accompany their client whilst visiting the barrister in chambers. Once the case has reached the courts the barrister is handed the reins of a case but the solicitor must remain present even though he has no "voice" in the court.
A classic example was recorded in The New Law Journal by Tony Holland. A newspaper was summoned by the judge to appear the next morning in court to answer allegations of contempt. The solicitor, a specialist in this field, asked if he could speak in court to explain there was no contempt under S. 5 of the Contempt Of Court Act. This was not allowed and the hearing had to be conducted with a barrister, with solicitor present, the case lasting two minutes, the total cost doubled  NLJ. 818.