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THE LEGAL PROFESSION
There are two branches of the legal profession in Britain: barristers and solicitors of the Supreme Court. In most other countries, including some parts of the Commonwealth, there is no such division.
The modern solicitor is the successor of three former ancient professions known as attorney (or representative), solicitor, and proctor. These assisted judges in the King’s Bench in the early stages of litigation or carried out the less skilled work in the ecclesiastical and Admiralty courts. By a succession of Solicitors Acts, 1939 to 1974, the profession has been unified and regulated (the 1974 Act consolidates the law). The regulations of the Law Society provide for:
(i) the scales of remuneration and fees of solicitors;
(ii) the terms and conditions of articles of clerkship for new entrants;
(iii) courses for the education and training of students;
(iv) the conduct of examinations;
(v) the discipline of all solicitors.
A person who has served articles (from 2-4 years) to a solicitor, and who passes the examinations of the Law Society, may be admitted a solicitor by having his or her name enrolled. Enrolled solicitors thereby become officers of the Supreme Court, and each receives a Certificate to Practise which is renewable annually. As from 1 October 1984 solicitors are permitted to advertise on certain terms and also advertise properties for sale. In accordance with the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 they are also permitted to form partnerships with foreign firms.
Duties of a Solicitor. Most solicitors are employed in private practice, either alone/or in a partnership firm, with the right to incorporate with limited or unlimited liability. Others are employed in the public service, industry, and commerce.
Practising solicitors are consulted by, and receive instructions from lay clients on a wide variety of matters both civil and criminal, e.g. the making of wills, administration of estates, family matters, the formation of companies, drawing up of documents, conveyancing, and criminal offences of all kinds. In cases of unusual difficulty or where a trial is to take place in the superior courts, the solicitor takes instructions from the client, prepares a brief and approaches a barrister (counsel) to give an “opinion” or represent the client at the trial.
Solicitors’ rights of audience in the magistrates’ courts, county courts and limited rights of audience in the Crown Court and the Supreme Court have now been extended by the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990,
The relationship between solicitor and client is based on professional confidence, and a solicitor cannot be compelled to disclose in court communications made in a professional relationship. Nor is a solicitor liable for defamation in respect of statements made in court during the course of a trial. Solicitors are, however, liable to be sued for damages for negligence in the conduct of their profession: e.g. where they have carelessly lost documents entrusted to them. In certain situations it has also been held that a solicitor might owe a duty of care in tort to a third party (Ross v. Caunters, 1980 and Al-Kandari v. J.R. Brown & Co., 1987).
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