The last SJ of October will be a little bit different from the norm as it contains a special Bar supplement, timed to coincide with the Bar Council’s annual conference.
The inclusion of a barrister-specific appendage to a publication called ‘Solicitors Journal’ got me thinking about the current relationship between the two primary branches of the profession. It is safe to say that it has not always been a rosy bond. Some might even describe it as thorny in places, but both sides are surely to blame for any perceived or actual divisions.
However, the professions have, on occasion, been able to present a united front on issues of real importance to the rule of law and/or the legal market, such as with the opposition to the government’s legal aid cuts earlier this year. Admittedly that alliance did break down pretty spectacularly and six months on there are still some hurt feelings and bruised egos between criminal practitioners. Of course, there is one thing that both sides can still agree on, and that is their scorn for the current justice secretary.
It is with every forward step taken by solicitors and barristers and with every roadblock placed in their way by governments or their respected regulars that fears have been voiced and suggestions made that it is finally time for the two professions to join together as one; for the titles of solicitor and barrister to be resigned to the history books along with pleaders, sergeants, proctors and attorneys; for all legal practitioners to simply go by the moniker of ‘lawyer’.
While barristers once enjoyed a monopoly on appearances before the country’s highest courts, the ‘rise’ of the solicitor advocate has been viewed as a threat to chambers’ dominance of the courtroom. It was enough to turn a few horse hair wigs grey.
Similarly, the abolished prohibition on barristers receiving instruction direct from members of the public brought many Chicken Little partners running back to their firms exclaiming “the sky is falling!” Yet the forecasted apocalypse never happens.
The relationship between firms and chambers, solicitors and barristers, is still a strong symbiotic one. The two branches continue to work together and to be interested in what they each have to say on both the profession as a whole and the areas in which they practice. This is exactly why we have had barristers and solicitors, of all levels of experience, writing for SJ for many years and why we will continue to do so.
It is also worth remembering that the UK legal market is no longer the two horse race it once was. What could previously have between described as the sporting equivalent of Scottish Premiership football (i.e. Rangers and Celtic fighting it out for dominance by themselves), the legal profession now resembles something more akin to the English Premiership with legal executives, costs lawyers, trade mark and patent attorneys, as well as long overlooked paralegals, all competing for the work of Joe Public.
Legal professionals from other jurisdictions – especially our Atlantic cousins – may well view our system as archaic and filled with pomp and ceremony, but it is precisely this system that is really the envy of the world. It has helped make this country a global hub for the settlement of international legal disputes. Instead of counting their differences, solicitors and barristers should celebrate and embrace them. We at SJ certainly do.
This article was first published in the Solicitors Journal on 24 October 2014 and is reproduced with kind permission.