We all hope that we can go through life with the minimal amount of legal red-tape, but sometimes consulting a solicitor is necessary. It might be because you are going through a divorce, buying a house, or because you have become involved in a dispute of some kind. Unfortunately the legal system can be incredibly confusing for those unfamiliar with the vocabulary, and the rules and traditions.
If you find yourself requiring legal advice it could be helpful to know some of the terms explained below – and if you ever need extra help, the Free Legal Advice Centre is an excellent resource.
Are lawyers like the ones that we see on TV?
It can be confusing, because of the profusion of American legal dramas on our televisions, but the legal system in the United States is somewhat different to that in England and Wales. And remember, if you are in Scotland, there are subtle differences between aspects of English law, and Scottish law.
In both the UK and the US, minor criminal offenses and small civil disputes will be handled by a Magistrate’s Court, whereas more serious crimes will first go in front of either a Crown Court or High Court of Justice in the UK, or a District Court in the US. Both the UK and the US then have the option of a case going before the Court of Appeal, and the highest level in both nations is the Supreme Court.
However, the UK operates what we might call a ‘split system,’ whereby there are different qualification and training requirements, different roles, and different codes of practice depending upon whether one is a barrister or solicitor.
In the US, once one has attended law school – gaining a Juris Doctor (J.D.) – and passed the bar exam, one is a lawyer. Lawyers in the US do tend to be divided into litigators and non-litigators, but this is not necessarily the case.
A litigator is a lawyer who tries cases in a court.
What is the difference between a barrister and a solicitor?
In the UK, a person does not necessarily have to have an undergraduate degree in law – whether a BA in Jurisprudence, or a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) – in order to become a lawyer. Another route is to study for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). It is after this point, however, that the system divides. Solicitors must complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC), and barristers the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).
Generally speaking, a barrister is a litigator, and a solicitor is a non-litigator. A person would nearly always go in the first instance to see a solicitor, who could then instruct a barrister on behalf of the client; either to advise about certain aspects of the law, or to go to court and represent the client.
Barristers are self-employed, and may not form partnerships or companies, which means that two barristers from the same Chambers may act on different sides in the same dispute. Solicitors may not do this.
For more information contact the Free Legal Advice Centre.