The United Kingdom has a legal system that’s similar to the US in many ways. In fact, many American legal traditions derive from those in our old colonial mother country. However, there are a lot of significant differences, too. For example, in the United States, a lawyer is a lawyer. Some specialize in trial and others mostly work in the office. But they all hold the same qualifications. In the UK and other common law countries, the legal profession is split between barristers and solicitors.
In this split system, one type of lawyer is known as a barrister. Barristers wear gowns and wigs and appear in court to advocate for their clients. Typically, a barrister will practice in one area of the law. However, some may have more than one speciality.
Traditionally, in Great Britain, barristers were the only lawyers to appear in court as advocates. This was known as having rights of audience. However, in 1990 legal reforms were introduced that paved the way for some solicitors to have these rights, too. Today, some solicitor advocates also argue cases in court. Barristers still retain a monopoly on rights of audience in some of the higher courts in the UK.
Most solicitors fit into a more traditional role. In general, solicitors work on legal documentation. They also provide legal advice to clients who come to see them in their offices. Solicitors may also offer mediation services between two parties. This means that they help people arrive at solutions through negotiations and discussion, rather than through filing a court case. The average solicitor spends most of their time working in an office.
Both barristers and solicitors must have a combination of classroom work and practical experience. Barristers complete a 1 year vocational training period after receiving an LLB or GDL. Then, they complete a 1-year pupillage, which is almost like an apprenticeship. After this, they’re ready to work on their own.
Solicitors complete an LLB or GDL. Then, they move on to a one or two-year Legal Practice Course. After that, solicitors advance to a training contract that lasts two years. Starting in 2021, solicitors will have to pass a Solicitors Qualifying Exam in order to be able to practice.