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A Lawyer is an ever expanding label used to describe fee earners in the legal profession. Such roles include: Solicitors, Barristers and Legal Executives, with Paralegals becoming increasingly important in the day-to-day running of a law firm.  Details of each can be seen below:

Solicitors

Solicitors offer professional and expert day-to-day advice to a range of clients from private individuals to FTSE 500 companies, on every aspect of the law. 

There are many practice options available to Solicitors upon qualification. These include small, medium, large, national/international and niche law firms as well as legal teams in local or central government bodies, law centres and in companies as ‘in-house’ counsel. 

Whilst some small firms or sole-practitioners may practice generally, it is increasingly common to specialise in one particular aspect of the law, examples include: real estate, criminal, civil litigation, personal injury, company law, family law, wills and probate, taxation, charity law, employment law and insolvency - to name but a few.

The type of work undertaken will largely be dependent upon the legal practice.  Smaller firms tend to focus on problems that the public face, such as moving house, making a will, divorce, employment matters or professional negligence. 

Larger firms on the other hand will tend to specialise in corporate matters, such as dealing with mergers and acquisitions, complex taxation, real estate on large retail or industrial sites and providing employment law advice and assistance to companies.

Different types of practices and areas of law attract different people and if you are considering a career in law it is worth experiencing as many different environments as possible before making your decision.

Historically, Solicitors did not have rights of audience - meaning that they could not appear and/or conduct proceedings in court. This rule has now been changed. Solicitors now have full rights of audience in Tribunals, Coroners Courts, Magistrates Courts, County Courts and European Courts.  Applications can also be made for higher rights of audience which would allow a Solicitor the rights to appear in the Crown Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Often, however, Solicitors will instruct Barristers to handle advocacy.

Solicitors must be precise, good with time management, flexible and adaptable, professional, practical, be commercially minded and have the ability to build strong relationships with clients.  Solicitors are considered to be trusted advisors who know the clients’ business as well as the clients’ work  and are able to pre-empt future problems saving them time and money.

View from the Profession                             Useful Links

The Law Society                                                  www.lawsociety.org.uk

The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority                        www.sra.org.uk
                                 

Barristers (also known as Counsel)

Barristers provide specialist advice and advocacy and therefore spend a great deal of their time appearing before Judges (in Court) or Chairmen (in Employment Tribunals) to represent the parties to the proceedings. Barristers are instructed to act by a Solicitor and they advocate the case on the basis of the instructions and papers which have been prepared for them by the instructing Solicitor.

Barristers may also be asked by a Solicitor to give a legal opinion in the lead-up to a case (for example, on whether or not the case is likely to be successful). Barristers assist in settlement negotiations at Court or Tribunal, if a settlement is able to be reached before the case is heard.

Barristers must have a high level of intellectual ability, be articulate, have excellent writing skills and have the ability to think and communicate clearly under pressure.

Once qualified, Barristers become ‘Tenants’ of a particular Barrister’s Chambers. Chambers are a collection of rooms or offices where Barristers practice as part of a group. Barristers specialise in a particular area, or areas, of law slightly later on in their career than Solicitors. Barristers are generally self-employed and obtain work on the basis of their reputation and experience.

Barristers can also be employed by other organisations, for example local government, the Crown Prosecution Service or in industry/commerce.

View from the Profession                             Useful Links

The Bar Council                                              http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/


                       

 
Chartered Legal Executive

A Chartered Legal Executive specialises in a particular area of law, and has trained to the same standard as a Solicitor in that area. They will have passed the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (“CILEX”) Professional Qualifications in Law and, where appropriate, completed the LPC and a training contract.

Fully qualified and experienced Chartered Legal Executives will have their own clients (with full conduct of cases) and have extended rights of audience in civil, criminal and family proceedings.

Their day-to-day work is similar to that of a Solicitor; handling various legal aspects of a property transfer, assisting in the formation of a company, involvement in actions in the High Court or County Courts, drafting wills, advising clients accused of serious or petty crime, or families with matrimonial problems as well as other matters that affect us in our domestic and business affairs.

As a general rule, a Chartered Legal Executive is able to undertake all the same work that may be undertaken by a Solicitor.

View from the Profession                             Useful Links

Institute of Legal Executives                              http://www.cilex.org.uk/



Paralegals

The role of a Paralegal differs between areas of practice and law firms.  In some firms Paralegals will function as administration assistants, helping fee earners with drafting documents and preparing files, under supervision.  In other practices they will function as fee earners with targets and responsibilities. 

Regardless of where a Paralegal practices, they will do so in a non-qualified capacity. Traditionally the role of a Paralegal has represented the first stage in a legal career before obtaining a training contract – an opportunity to gain experience, raise their profile and develop commercial awareness. However, it is becoming more common for people to consider the Paralegal role a career route in itself.

View from the Profession                             Useful Links

Institute of Paralegals                              http://www.theiop.org/