In recent years we have seen a shift in the solicitor & barrister relationship, with solicitors seeking higher rights of audience and increasing their share of the advocacy work in the courts. This throws up questions around how barristers continue to hold their value in the changing legal landscape.
Higher Court Advocates 'HCAs' are rapidly increasing their share of the advocacy market. Although growing in number, there are still relatively few solicitor advocates, with recent SRA statistics showing 6,426 compared to around 15,000 barristers.
Some say that it is only a matter of time before solicitor advocates catch up with barristers, however in the main both professions have very different strengths, although it can be hard to distinguish between the two sometimes.
With solicitors now representing clients in the higher courts and barristers offering direct/public access, it can be difficult to see where the value lies in the Bar, considering clients familiarity of seeking out solicitors in the first instance.
To be called to the Bar, a barrister needs to have completed 120 days of specific advocacy training, whilst a qualified solicitor can practise in the crown court (subject to accreditation) with as little as 22 hours training.
Value of the Bar
Value can come in many forms and at the end of the day whoever represents a client should always act in their best interests.
The Bar still holds many areas of value for solicitors and therefore clients. In the main it's down to knowledge and experience in jury trials, opinions, legal arguments and case preparation/presentation.
Going to court is not just a matter of presenting the facts. There is considerable skill, knowledge, preparation and confidence that is needed to present a case in court.
Counsel often provide invaluable advice early on in cases and solicitors often seek opinions on legal arguments and case preparation. Once in court, the skills needed to effectively cross examine witnesses, think on your feet, challenge other parties, sum up and ultimately to get a judge or jury on your side, takes significant experience.
It's no secret that the experience level of your counsel in court can have a huge impact on the outcome of your case.
There is nothing like having a significant number of hours 'on your feet' in court to build a wealth of experience, specialism in defending or prosecuting certain types of cases and in building expert knowledge that solicitors will seek your opinion on.
There is still wide scale recognition that, for serious matters, complex arguments, in certain areas of law and often in private paying cases, seeking the best representation will most likely be from someone at the Bar.
The Bar's value is held in individual barristers' opinions, experience, knowledge and skill which is not yet matched across the board in the HCA market. This is because barristers specialise in the presentation of cases in court, and therefore will have the deepest insight into what is necessary to give the client the best chance of a successful result.
Although many solicitor advocates are highly skilled, generally they have far less training or experience than senior barristers. Whilst there are always exceptions to the rule, and I know of many experienced HCAs, we're talking about the market as a whole.
Often solicitor advocates are not just representing clients in higher courts, but they are also doing the solicitor's work as well and so the ability to build experience in court is reduced.
The dividing line between barristers and solicitors is unlikely to disappear altogether, because no-one can be an expert in everything and every area of law. Hopefully you can see why the Bar still holds its value in this regard.
Advocacy is sometimes seen as an art form and being a quality advocate takes a significant amount of time and practice, which you can only get from being 'on your feet' for many years.
About the Author
Ben Trott is the Founder and Managing Director at Marketing Lawyers, a full-service marketing agency and consultancy to Law Firms.
Ben is a Law Firm Marketing & Management Consultant, Speaker and Writer. He was previously one of the youngest Directors of a Law Firm in the UK. Sitting on the senior management board for a national law firm, Ben specialises in Law Firm management, marketing, business development and lead generation. Over 36 months he transformed a legal website from bringing in £250k pa in fees to over £2m pa.
Ben has worked for both national corporate and high street law firms as well as a Barristers Chambers. He has a degree in Law and Business and has experience in running an online travel business.
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