- LEGAL EDUCATION IN THE UK
- THE PRACTICE OF LAW
- NOTARY PUBLIC
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The British legal profession, unlike that of most other countries, includes two separate branches: barristers and solicitors (the term ‘lawyer’ is a general one which covers both branches).
These two professions are different and both require separate training; the Bar Professionnal Training Course for Barristers and the Legal Practice Course for Solicitors.
I. LEGAL EDUCATION IN THE UK
1. HOW DOES ONE BECOME A SOLICITOR ?
A student who wishes to become a solicitor must have a LAW DEGREE (LLB) or complete a conversion course if his first degree subject is a subject other than law.
An LLB (Bachelor of Laws) is obtained after a three-year university course specializing in law.
Non-law graduates must successfully complete a CPE/GDL COURSE (Common Professional Examination/Graduate Diploma in Law) : it is a one-year conversion programme which teaches what are considered to be the 7 basic areas of legal practise (such as settling a legal dispute; planning the distribution of their estate after death, purchasing a house, adopting a child, or getting a divorce).
• VOCATIONAL STAGE
After that, there is the VOCATIONAL STAGE :
- It begins with the one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC). It is to teach students the basic skills to become a lawyer, the LPC covers a common curriculum set by the Law Society (= the body that regulates the profession of solicitors) : Criminal Law, Equity and the Law of Trusts, Property Law, Public Law, The Law of Tort, European Community Law, The Law of Contract.
- Then, candidates enter a two-year training contract with a law firm and are called trainee solicitors. After that, they are admitted to the roll (= their names are entered on the Law Society’s official list of solicitors). To obtain their annual practising certificate, they pay a fee to the Law Society.
2. HOW DOES ONE BECOME A BARRISTER ?
Just like solicitors, the first step is the same : a student who wishes to become a barrister must have a LAW DEGREE (LLB) or complete a conversion course if his first degree subject is a subject other than law (CPE/GDL COURSE).
After that, future barristers must attend a school of law at one of the several accredited institutions, taking a competitive one-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), during which they receive training in the drafting of legal documents and in advocacy skills.
In order to register at a law school, they must first be admitted to one of the four Inns of Court in London.
Students from all BPTC centres must obtain twelve qualifying units by attending a number of Inn events and dinners: this requirement is called keeping terms. These occasions provide students with opportunities to meet practising barristers, to seek their advice and learn from their professional experience.
After completing the Bar Professional Training Course, a future barrister must undertake pupillage.
It is a one-year apprenticeship under an established barrister acting as a pupil supervisor.
Following this period, the student barrister is entitled to apply to sets of chambers in the hope of being offered a tenancy (= a permanent place).
Pupil barristers who have been awarded tenancy become qualified barristers when they are called to the Bar by their Inns of Court and the regulatory body for barristers, the Bar Council.
II. THE PRACTICE OF LAW
1. ACTIVITIES OF A SOLICITOR
In the UK, a solicitor may choose to :
- Work as sole practitioners or join a firm (as a partner or an associate) ;
- Deal with all aspects of the law as a generalist or specialise in a particular field ;
- Be salaried in city practice : a solicitor may work in the environment of a small town (= high street practice), catering to the needs of the local community, or as a solicitor in a City firm employing hundreds of salaried solicitors ;
- After further training, to become a Notary Public (cf. infra).
Solicitors may be employed in the legal departments of companies, and in the public sector such government services.
The most common activities of a solicitors’ firm are :
- Providing general legal advice : someone who seeks legal advice will generally consult a solicitor. For a person who wants to create a business structure, purchase real estate, adopt a child, get a divorce, solicitors are the best advisors ;
- Preparing legal documents : such as drawing up contracts, wills (testaments)…
- Advising on litigation : solicitors advise clients involved in litigation; they prepare cases for trial ;
- Instructing barristers : Barristers are instructed by solicitors : this means that the solicitor presents a client’s case to the barrister in a document called a « brief », and that the barrister represents the client in court. Barristers will refuse to accept a case that is not within their expertise, experience or ability. Barristers may also decline to accept a brief or an instruction where the fee is insufficient.
2. ACTIVITIES OF A BARRISTER
This is now possible for barristers to be approached directly by members of the public.
Barristers are at the centre of the litigation process.
They are most importantly specialised in civil or criminal cases.
The main activities of barristers are :
- Advocacy ;
- Providing written opinions on points of law and evidence for solicitors : barristers are considered specialists in their respective fields and they can be asked to give advice on a particular point of law ;
- And drawing up documents.
Some barristers (for example, those specialising in crime) spend nearly all of their time representing clients in court, whereas others are primarily ‘paper practices’ such as drafting legal opinions and hardly ever leave their chambers to litigate.
In the UK, a barrister may :
- Work in chambers : self-employed barristers work in offices called chambers, and may have their own office or share one with other barristers ;
- Join the employed Bar ;
- Join the CPS (= Crown Prosecution Service) : some barristers work in government departments or agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service and the Government Legal Service ;
- After further training, he can become a Notary Public (cf. infra).
III. NOTARY PUBLIC
A notary public (notary) is a public officer constituted by law who serves the public in non-contentious matters and is usually concerned with the drafting and execution of legal documents.
To qualify as a Notary Public in England and Wales, it is necessary to have earned a law degree or qualified as a solicitor or barrister in the past five years, and then to take a two-year Postgraduate Diploma in Notarial Practice.
There are approximately 800 active notary publics currently practicing in the UK.
Documents that are certified by notaries are sealed with the notary’s seal or stamp and are recorded by the notary in a register maintained and permanently kept by him or her. These are known as “notarial acts”.
The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 : barristers no longer have a monopoly on conducting litigation before the higher courts ; solicitors who have met the training requirements and obtained the Higher Courts Qualification have rights of audience before all courts in England and Wales.
The Administration of Justice Act 1985 : solicitors lost their monopoly on conveyancing, which established a new professional category of licensed conveyancers.
– law degree = diplôme de droit