For generations, the practice of law has been an honourable and upstanding profession. Even today, the legal calling enjoys considerable popularity among the youth of the country. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the profession is split between solicitors and barristers, and a lawyer will usually only hold one title. Before the Supreme Court was unified in 1873, solicitors practised in courts of equity, while attorneys practised in the common law courts. After 1873 the title of "attorney" was replaced by "solicitor" in all courts. |
Solicitors provide advice to individuals and organisations on legal matters and ensure that their clients act in accordance with the law. Solicitors usually work in an office rather than in court. There were a few exceptions to this rule. Small criminal cases tried in Magistrates' Courts, for example, and small claims civil cases tried in county courts were almost always handled by solicitors. Barristers represent clients in court called advocacy, and give specialist opinions on complex legal matters. They usually receive instructions through solicitors and work in courts, not offices.
However, since the 1990s, the lines of distinction have blurred. Since then, solicitors have been able to represent clients in the lower courts and, if they have enough experience and gain specific "higher rights" qualifications, can become "solicitor advocates", meaning they can represent clients in higher courts. Conversely, the public may now hire and interact with a barrister directly in certain types of work without having to go to a solicitor first. In order to become a solicitor, one must not necessarily have a degree in law. One must either possess a qualifying law degree, or have completed a conversion course.Then prospective solicitors must enroll with the Law Society as a student member and take a one-year course called the Legal Practice Course and then usually undertake two years' apprenticeship, known as a training contract, formerly an articled clerkship.
There are three ways to start the journey to become a solicitor. Either you have a law degree from the UK, a law degree from any other country, or no law degree at all. In fact, a solicitor not having a law degree is not an isolated occurrence. In the 2003/2004 enrollment session, 52% of the 7,247 solicitors admitted had law degrees, while 18.5% had taken non-law degrees and 23% had transferred from a different jurisdiction or career, according to Law Society statistics. Even a decade ago, as many as 64.3% of new solicitors had come through the traditional route and studied law. If you possess a UK law degree, it must cover all seven foundations of legal knowledge: contract and tort, criminal law, equity and law of trusts, law of the European Union, property law and public law.
If you have a foreign law degree, you should apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for a Certificate of Academic Standing. If you do not have a law degree, you must complete the Graduate Diploma in Law, also known as the Common Professional Exam (CPE) or law conversion course. The next step is common for all the three scenarios mentioned above, and involves completing the compulsory Legal Practice Course (LPC). With the LPC certificate in hand, you must obtain a two-year training contract with a law firm or other legal employer, during which you have to complete the Professional Skills Course (PSC). After its completion, you become a solicitor.
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