With the media reporting that Solicitor Advocates are not only on the rise in the legal sector but threaten the future and prestige of the Bar, this article investigates what Solicitor Advocates are and what they do, as well as considering the issues surrounding their increasing presence.
What are solicitor advocates?
A Solicitor Advocate is a solicitor who is qualified to represent clients in the higher courts of law in their relevant jurisdiction of England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Solicitors in the past were able to conduct litigation and undertake advocacy in the lower courts, but had to instruct a barrister to represent their clients in the higher courts of law, such as the Crown Court, High Court and above. As of 1990 solicitors who attained a grant could now represent clients in the higher courts of law.
How are Solicitor Advocates authorised to represent in the higher law courts?
Section 27 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 (England and Wales) and Section 24 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) created a way in which solicitors could qualify for a grant of right of audience.
How do you obtain Higher Rights of Audience?
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Higher Rights of Audience Regulations 2011 allow for only one route to obtain the qualification for higher court advocacy, which is assessment based. In contrast, under the old legislation there were four ways of qualifying. There are now separate assessments in civil and criminal and both must be passed to hold the higher rights in all courts.
The SRA recommends that all those who aspire to become advocates should have completed the advocacy module as part of the LPC before considering applying for higher rights.
What would a week as a Solicitor Advocate look like?
It would be a mixed bag of meeting clients, drafting documents and attending court. The amount of advocacy a Solicitor Advocate will carry out will depend on the area of law they are practising. Unlike barristers, who spend the majority of their days in court, their court time will be less depending on their specialised practise area.
Along with having the ability to represent their clients in the court just like barristers, Solicitor Advocates also undertake the regular work of a solicitor. This means that they have a lot more contact with their clients than a barrister and therefore have the ability to build a strong relationship and see the case through from beginning to end. They deal with the paperwork, general correspondence, document filing and any preparations for appearing in court.
The job market
Most firms recruit solicitor advocates; however, their small numbers mean that they are not often found in the majority of firms. The larger commercial firms are unlikely to recruit solicitor advocates since they prefer to rely on their own in-house counsel to represent their clients. On the other hand, some firms run entire in-house advocacy units, and others may have only one or two advocates operating within their dispute resolution or crime teams.
It is fair to say that at the moment it is a niche market, but it is possible if you wish to practise in civil or criminal sectors as part of specialised, small and regional firms.
Who are they regulated by?
Solicitor Advocates are regulated by the SRA; they regulate both Solicitor Advocates and solicitors. They also oversee the accreditation/assessment process.
Other facts about Solicitor Advocates?
Once you have achieved the initial qualification, you will need to complete further mandatory training during the first five years after obtaining the qualification.
It is also likely that there will be changes to the accreditation process to ensure that the practice of advocacy is at its best. Therefore, it is likely that you will have to take tests and assessments in the future, which will involve a level of commitment and expense.
Why are they controversial and had recent press coverage?
The news coverage of Solicitor Advocates and their impact on the legal field of advocacy has two sides.
Barristers fear that their standing is being undermined by those ‘less experienced’ and some worry that their careers are threatened and they are being replaced. This fear is likely to be linked to their worry about the future of the Bar, with cuts to legal aid along with an increase of firms having their own in house advocates rather than sourcing a barrister outside the firm. Plus there appears to be an inverted pyramid within chambers, where there are few young barristers and pupils.
On the reverse side of the coin, Solicitor Advocate’s have faced discrimination whilst in the wig. There has been an instance where a Solicitor Advocate has decided not to represent a client to prevent having a negative impact on their client’s chances in court.
It is clear that there is tension, and the future of Solicitor Advocates cannot be predicted in relation to their place in advocacy and the image and structure of the Bar itself. It does appear that the climate is changing, if not with ease, and it will take time to see if and how Solicitor Advocates find their place alongside barristers or whether barristers will continue to fight against it.
If legal cuts continue to occur it does seem likely that contention will remain present and the future of Solicitor Advocates as serious players in advocacy will only be determined in time.