Legal professionals: barristers, solicitors, executives
Solicitors undertake most of the work in magistrates courts and county courts - both preparation of cases and also advocacy. But litigation is only a small part of the work of the solicitors profession as a whole. Most are involved in commercial work relating to business eg dealing with commercial transactions, corporate matters, land, share and other property dealings. There is also a large amount of private client work which does not involve any litigation (if all goes to plan!) such as the conveyancing of houses, making wills, advising on tax matters and so on.
Most solicitors are graduates with a law degree. They must also undertake professional training both by a one year Legal Practice Course and then by two years under a training contract with a solicitor in practice. See generally Details of the UK solicitors' profession pages.
Solicitors operate mainly in large partnerships.
The solicitors profession is regulated by the Law Society which deals with matters such as training, qualifications and complaints.
The traditional work of barristers is advocacy - they present cases in court, where their ability to speak and to think quickly "on their feet" as the evidence unfolds is what they are skilled in. (See Steps to the Bar pages) The barrister will be "briefed" (instructed) by a solicitor - it is the solicitor who first contacts the client and has initial conduct of the case. However, the barrister is to a fair extent independent of the solicitor and can take an independent judgment as to how to conduct the case. Barristers are occasionally advocates in magistrates courts (more commonly in London than elsewhere), but they mainly work in the Crown Court (it is possible to have a solicitor advocate but this is still rare), the High Court or in appeal courts.
Related to this advocacy work, barristers also deal with advice on litigation and the drafting of documents ("pleadings") related to litigation.
Most barristers are law graduates and they likewise undergo professional training through a Bar Vocational Course and through a pupillage with a qualified barrister. More senior barristers can apply to become a Quuens Counsel ("take silk").
Barristers are all sole practititoners, but they often share premises ("chambers") and administrative staff.
The Bar Council regulates the work of barristers
Delai Venables has extensive Barristers on the World Wide Web pages.
Legal executives are legally qualified professionals employed largely by solicitors and ususally specialising in a given area of law.
Regulation is by the Institute of Legal Executives
Though many legal tasks can only be provided by properly qualified individuals such as solicitors and barristers, preliminary legal advice or information is available from a wide range of other sources.
For example, the government itself gives some funding to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). This is a national organisation which has hundreds of branches throughout the country. The CAB consists of a core of professional, full-time staff (some lawyers, some not) but also involves many volunteers, some of whom are again selected to ensure the availability of legal expertise
See for example Cambridge Citizens Advice Bureau or Manchester Citizens Advice Bureaux Service and also What is a Citizens Advice Bureau?
As well as the general CAB, there are many more specialist groups which help with legal issues within their area of interest e.g.
Shelter - the national Campaign for Homeless People in the UK.
Child Poverty Action Group
Which Online (Consumers Association)
As well as all these persons and groups seeking to make the legal system work more fairly and efficiently, there is now an important trend towards the resolution of problems without resort to the legal system. This movement - often now referred to as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) - has arisen mainly in connection with civil law issues. Some of the reasons why the formal legal system is felt to be unsatisfactory include:
- Delay It was calculated in 1994 that an accident claim in the County Court will take on average 79 weeks to process, 177 weeks in the High Court. This is a big improvement on previous figures and results in part from reforms in procedures under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. But major delay still occurs and is inevitable when very formal procedures, such as are required by courts, are adopted.
- Cost The involvement of qualified lawyers inevitably results in cost. According to evidence presented to the Woolf Report: Access to Justice, even in small claims in the County Courts, costs for claims under £1000 averaged £836, and for those over £1000 were £1267 - overall, 60% of the damages received. (See also Lord Woolfs Inquiry Internet Site)
- Complexity The complexity of procedure makes it difficult for a person to handle their own case and itself requires the use of relatively expensive lawyers.
These issues were considered by the Woolf Report. The remedies suggested include better judicial management of cases. But also suggested is a greater adoption of the forms of alternative dispute resolution ("ADR").
ADR is already expanding as a service offered by the private sector (including lawyers). It involves the imposition of a solution to a dispute by an independent arbitrator or conciliator. That person may or may not be a lawyer. The outcome can be made binding by prior agreement. Arbitration in this way has advantages: it involves less formal procedures and so is quicker and cheaper. It can also take place without publicity. And the deemphasis of legal rights and litigation may help to produce greater reconciliation at the end of the process.
See generally http://www.hg.org/altdr.html
Arbitration in disputes is also the work of a variety of "Ombudsmen". These include both public sector officials:
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration . See also House of Commons Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration pages. See also the Local Government Ombudsman pages
In addition, there are several private sector ombudsman, such as
the Banking Ombudsman
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