Legal professions in England and Wales

The Legal profession in England and Wales is divided into two distinct branches under the legal system, those of solicitors and barristers. Other legal professions in England and Wales include acting as a judge, as the Attorney-General, as the Solicitor-General, or as the Director of Public Prosecutions.[1]

Barristers and solicitors


Solicitors tend to work together with others in private practice and are generally the first port of call for those seeking legal advice. Solicitors are also employed in government departments and commercial businesses. The Law Society is the professional body representing solicitors.

Barristers, on the other hand, do not generally deal with the public directly, but take their instructions from a solicitor representing the client. Barristers then represent the client at court and present their case. The Bar Council is the professional body representing barristers.



Education and organisation


Becoming a Barrister requires membership of one of the four Inns of Court in London, namely Lincoln's Inn, Gray's Inn, Inner Temple, and Middle Temple. The Inns provide support for barristers and student barristers through a range of educational activities, lunching and dining facilities, access to common rooms and gardens, and provision of various grants and scholarships. One of the key functions of the Inns is their responsibility for calling barristers to the Bar. Anyone wishing to train for the Bar must join one of the Inns and it is the Inns alone which have the power to call a student to the Bar. Alongside this responsibility, the Inns also have a role in administering disciplinary tribunals to deal with more serious complaints against barristers.[[2]

Members can be lawyers or judges and moreover prospective barristers. All four Inns have the Council of Legal Education in common which organizes education and exams of the affiliated law students. The Council of Legal Education and the Board of Examiners jointly regulate entry to the Legal Profession. The role of the Council is to determine the requirements for admission, to approve law courses and practical legal training providers, and to assess the qualifications of overseas practitioners.

The Board determines the eligibility of individual applicants for admission and provides the certificate upon which the Supreme Court relies when admitting an applicant to practice as a lawyer.[3] For studies at an Inn an applicant needs to provide a comprehensive A-level, a good educational background, and an unblemished reputation. During three years of education a student needs to pass two main exams: The first part is theoretical, which university graduates usually are spared. The second part consists of practical courses and is an assumption and obligation for becoming a barrister (Bar Vocational Course). After calling to the bar, a young barrister has to pass a yearlong pupillage with an experienced barrister before being allowed to practice law self-employed.

Fields of practice


The main actions of barristers involve going to court, especially to the higher courts. They make speeches in front of the court, they write briefs, they give legal advice, and they provide expert opinion for difficult cases. Usually they use briefs of professional clients, solicitors, and accountants. The barristers analyze the briefs and bring the results to the court. At the moment, there are approximately 10,000 barristers in England and Wales. Most of them have their offices in London. Their elite still form the King's Counsels, from which many of the judges for higher courts are chosen. The King's Counsels are publicly known for wearing silk gowns.

Meeting the requirements of the Public Access Scheme enables barristers to accept instructions directly from lay members of the public rather than a professional client.



Education and organisation


Solicitors have their own professional association which is called Law Society, established in 1826. The Law Society is authorized by act of law, by the law chancellor and a few other high-ranking judges to regulate the education and admission of solicitors. Law Society made an effort to raise the standards of the solicitor profession in order to improve its reputation. Since 19th century the reputation of solicitor is nearly the same as of the barrister. General admissions to enter the Law Society for expectant solicitor are similar to the admissions of barristers. General qualification for university entrance is required; a bachelor's degree from a university is usually required.

In order to become a solicitor, trainees usually take a three-year undergraduate law degree (LL.B.) followed by a one-year Legal Practice Course and then, assuming the examinations have been passed, are employed for two years as trainee solicitors, a form of apprenticeship until about 1990 called articled clerk. Those with a degree other than in law must complete a law conversion (Graduate Diploma in Law) one-year course after their degree and before their legal practice course (so 5 years of full time study rather than 4) but still followed by 2 years working as a trainee solicitor in a firm of solicitors. There are some schemes permitting qualification without an undergraduate degree but they are the exception, not the rule. For qualified lawyers from recognised foreign jurisdictions, as well as barristers from England and Wales, the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) was introduced in September 2010 to provide a route to qualify as a solicitor.

From 2022 new post-graduate examinations are planned for those who have not started qualification down the current path under which graduates will need to pass examinations known as SQEI and SQEII either before or during a 2-year period of recognised training similar to the training contract. This is not yet in force. Under the current system after being successful in the examinations and completing satisfactorily the two-year training contract, the candidates may request the Master of the Rolls to admit them as solicitors whereupon they become Solicitors of the Senior Courts of England and Wales.

Areas of practice


The field of action of a solicitor is versatile and cannot be easily displayed. A solicitor stays in direct contact to their clients and gives them personal legal advice. Clients can be members of the public, businesses, voluntary bodies, charities etc.[4] A solicitor prepares the lawsuit for their clients and represents their parties personally in the lower courts (magistrates' courts, county courts and tribunal). In cases on higher courts (High Court or higher) where a barrister is necessary, a solicitor acts as an agent.[5] Moreover, solicitor's practice is comparable to notary public. Dealing with conveyancing as well as trust businesses, developing last wills, and administrating estates are parts of solicitors' practice.

Furthermore, a solicitor oversees contract conclusion and consulting in various fields of law like tax, competition, insurance, and company law. Profitable real estate businesses makes over 50% of the solicitor's income [citation needed].

Currently there are approximately 160,000 practising solicitors in England and Wales. 25% are in an employer-employee relationship at companies, bigger solicitor offices or administrations. 75% are self-employed [citation needed].

Sole practitioner


A sole practitioner works on his or her own, has no partners, and usually handles smaller cases, most of which dealing with subjects such as family law, employment law, and housing law.




The English legal system requires judges, except for the honorary Justices of the peace at magistrates courts, to first practise for several years as a barrister or solicitor with a good reputation. County-court judges are appointed by the Crown with the suggestion of Lord Chancellor. They have to practise as a barrister or solicitor for at least seven years before they can be appointed. To practise in the High Court, judges need to be proposed by the Lord Chancellor and need to be barristers or solicitors for a minimum of ten years. Judges at the Court of Appeal are appointed by the King as recommended by the Judicial Appointments Commission; they have to have experiences as a barrister or solicitor for 15 years. For the appointment of judges of the House of Lords, it is the same case; moreover, they are appointed as Life Peers.

In order to become a Law Lord, a judge needs to practise for at least 15 years as a barrister or solicitor, or for two years in a high judgeship. The Prime Minister also recommends candidates for Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, and the Master of the Rolls to the King.

Attorney-General and Solicitor-General


The Attorney-General advises the Crown in legal issues and acts as plaintiff for the Crown in very important cases. The Attorney-General is a member of the House of Commons and is usually barrister with high reputation. This is true as well for the solicitor-general, who is the agent of the Attorney-General. Both belong to the ruling party in the parliament. They are appointed by the Prime Minister and must abdicate in case of change in government.[6]

Director of Public Prosecutions


In general the Director of Public Prosecutions gives advice to police and other law enforcement agencies and is not a political civil servant. To become a Director of Public Prosecutions, applicants need to have at least ten years of practical experience.

CILEX Lawyers


CILEX Lawyers[7] are members of CILEX (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives), a professional body with a membership of over 20,000. They qualify after studying for the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ), a vocational route into the legal profession, open to those with or without a university degree or equivalent qualification/experience.

They undertake the same work as solicitors, giving clients both personal and business law advice. Unlike solicitors they are specialists and are qualified to practise solely in their chosen area of specialism.

CILEX Lawyers operate equally alongside solicitors as authorised persons, the only difference being the specialist rather than general scope of their practising certificate and their qualification route.

Typical areas CILEX Lawyers advise on are conveyancing, family law, personal injury and employment law. CILEX Lawyers can become partners in law firms, coroners, judges or advocates in open court.


  1. ^ Abel, Richard L. (1 January 1998). The Making of the English Legal Profession: 1800-1988. Beard Books. ISBN 978-1587982507.
  2. ^ "Inns of Court". Archived from the original on July 1, 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-14.
  3. ^ "Council of Legal Education | Board of Examiners |". Retrieved 2011-07-14.
  4. ^ "What does a solicitor do?". 2010-06-18. Archived from the original on 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2011-07-14.
  5. ^ "Career options". The Law Society. Archived from the original on 2011-08-04. Retrieved 2011-07-14.
  6. ^ Bugg, Stuart G.; Simon, Heike (2006). Langenscheidt/Alpmann Fachwörterbuch Kompakt [Langenscheidt Alpmann Dictionary of Law Concise English Edition]. Münster: Alpmann Schmidt. ISBN 978-3894767976.
  7. ^ "CILEX Lawyer". Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.

Further reading

  • Abel, Richard L. The Making of the English Legal Profession: 1800-1988 (1998), 576pp
  • Jones, W. J. Elizabethan Court of Chancery (Oxford 1967)
  • Knafla, Louis A. Law and politics in Jacobean England - The Tracts of Lord Chancellor Ellesmere (Cambridge Studies in English Legal History; Cambridge University Press 1977)
  • Lemmings, David. Gentlemen and Barristers: The Inns of Court and the English Bar, 1680-1730 (Oxford 1990)
  • Levack, Brian. The civil lawyers (Oxford 1973)
  • Prest, Wilfrid. The Inns of Court (1972)
  • Prest, Wilfrid. The rise of the Barristers (1986)