Legal Profession in Great Britain 

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Legal Profession in Great Britain

The legal profession is one of the most prestigious and well-paid in Britain. England is almost unique in having two different kinds of lawyers, with separate jobs in the legal system. There are two main branches, those of solicitors and barristers. Of these, barristers form the senior branch of the legal profession. (This division of the legal profession is due mainly to historical causes.) Each branch has its own characteristic functions and a separate governing body. This system has been criticized in recent years because of the resulting duplication of services, delay in the legal process and its expense. The Conservative government legislated for substantial changes in the legal profession and in the legal services generally, which are intended to benefit consumers.


The senior branch of the legal profession in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is a barrister. There are over 9,000 barristers, who have the right to fight a case in the higher courts (the Crown courts and the High Courts) in England and Wales. Barristers belong to the Bar, which is an ancient legal institution and which is now controlled by the Bar Council. There are also the four legal societies or Inns of Court in London, they are Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, the Middle Temple and the Inner Temple. The four Inns of Court, law colleges, date from the Middle Ages and have maintained their autonomy and privileges, and have been more resistant to attempts at reform than any other British institution. Barristers (professional advocates) have two main functions: first, to give specialised advice on legal matters and, secondly, to act as advocates in the higher courts. Most sections of the general public cannot approach a barrister directly, but must be introduced by a solicitor.

In order to become a barrister, one must have a university degree, plus additional professional examinations organised by the Council of Legal education. He will then become a member of one of the four Inns of Court to complete the training in the law and in the skills required to argue a case in court and pass the Bar examinations. The student must dine in his Inn for a number of terms before being accepted as a barrister or called to the Bar. A newly qualified barrister will then join the 'chambers' of an established barrister and slowly build up experience and reputation as an effective advocate in the higher courts.

Barristers are self-employed individuals who practise the law from chambers (or offices), together with other barristers. The barrister’s career starts as a 'junior' handling minor cases (or briefs). He or she may have difficulty in earning a reasonable living or in becoming established in the early years of practice, with the result that many barristers drop out and enter other fields.

If the barrister persists and builds up a successful practice as a junior, then he or she may become a Queen’s Counsel (QC) known within the profession as 'taking silk'. A QC is a senior barrister who can charge higher fees for his work, but who is then excluded from appearing in lesser cases. In practice, some successful barristers decide not to take the gamble, but remain as juniors. However, the appointment as a QC may lead to a future position as a judge, and it is regarded as a necessary career step for the ambitious.


There are nearly 71,640 solicitors, who practise mainly in private firms, but also in local and central government, in legal centres, and in industry. They are a more recent development than barristers, and are now mainly organised by their professional body, the Law Society. The solicitors' branch is still a middle-class profession, but it is increasingly attracting members from a relatively wide spectrum of society.

In order to become a solicitor, it is now generally necessary to have a university degree, preferably but not essentially in law. After passing additional professional examinations organised by the Law Society, the student will serve a practical apprenticeship with an established solicitor for some two years. After the total period of about six years education and training, the new solicitor can practise law. Solicitors deal with general legal work, though specialisation in one area of the law is now widespread. Their firms (or partnerships of solicitors) offer a wide, range of services, such as conveyancing (the buying and selling of property); probate (wills and succession after death); family matters; criminal and civil litigation; commercial cases; and tax and financial affairs.

A lot of work In English solicitors firms is undertaken by managing clerks, now called legal executives, who are a third type of lawyers. Legal executives now have their own professional and examining body – 'the Institute of Legal Executives'.

Although people are free to conduct, their own cases if they wish so, the client with a legal problem will normally first approach a solicitor, who can usually deal with all aspects of the case. The solicitor in the past was only able to appear for his client in the lower courts (county and magistrates courts). Because he could not appear (had no rights of audience) in the higher courts, it is usual for a solicitor to hire a barrister if the case was to be heard in a superior court. This practice, which was criticised as expensive and inefficient, is now being changed to allow qualified solicitor-advocates to have rights of audience in the higher courts.


The judgesconstitute the judiciary, or the third arm of the constitutional system in the UK. There are a relatively small number of judges of various ages, and they are located in most large cities and in the higher courts in London. As there is no judicial profession in England, all judges are usually appointed from the ranks of senior barristers, although advocates or solicitors have now become eligible for some of the lower positions. Some become circuit judges, of whom there are about 300, assigned to county courts throughout the country. Above these, there are about 50 High Court judges who deal with more important or difficult cases around the country, and about 30 other judges, all of whom belong to one of the divisions of the High Court of Justice. The highest appointments are made by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister, and lower positions on the advice of the Lord Chancellor.

Other appointments of judges are supposedly made on non-political grounds. Once appointed, senior judges cannot be in practice removed from office until the retiring age of 75. It is often argued that judges should be more easily removable from office. But the existing measures have been designed to ensure the independence of the judiciary and its freedom from political involvement.

Some people feel judges to be socially and educationally elitist and remote from ordinary life. They are usually safe, conventional people and generally tend to support the accepted wisdom and status quo, and are overwhelmingly male.

The judiciary tends to be old in years because judgeships are normally awarded to senior practising lawyers, and there is no career structure that people may join early in life. There are promotional steps within the judiciary from recorder to circuit judge to high court judge, and thence to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords.

Word Practice

Ex. 1. Read the words and guess their meaning. Mind the stress.

'legal 'system pro'fession ,characte'ristic
'type 'function so'licitor ,speciali'zation
'form 'problem ca'reer ,proble'matic
'plan 'action ex'treme  
'clerk 'practice spe'cific  
'office 'advocate prac'titioner  
'status 'business tra'ditional  
'expert 'structure for'malities  
'client 'barrister pro'cedure  
'document 'argument    

Ex. 2. Complete the list of derivatives. Use a dictionary if necessary.


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