Tuesday 7 June 2011

Explaining our Law and Legal System ... No.1 ... Legal Personnel

Original post 7 June 2011 - Post updated from 24 June 2020.

One aspect of legal blogging continues to be the need for the law to be explained explained to as wide an audience as possible.  In that spirit, this post is one of a series aimed at explaining some aspects of our legal system and law.  The post is, of necessity, an overview.  For those who wish to dig deeper, the various "links" should assist.  

So, where to begin?  When the law is mentioned in general conversation, people will think of "lawyers" and "courts."  So let's start with "lawyers" or "the legal profession."

In modern times there are three main branches within the legal profession: barristers, solicitors and legal executives but legal personnel work in other areas - e.g. Specialist Conveyancing and Probate Lawyers, Costs LawyersPatent Attorneys. etc.  Regulation of the legal profession as a whole is overseen by the Legal Services Board


Barristers are those “Called to the Bar” by one of the “Inns of Court.”  These are the Honourable Societies of Lincoln’s Inn , Inner Temple  , Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn  .  The Inns are very ancient unincorporated bodies which, for over 500 years, have had the right to "call to the bar" those qualified.  Each of the Inns is governed by eminent members known as “Benchers.”  Interestingly, whilst the vast majority of Benchers are barristers or judges, it is possible for other persons to be invited to become Honorary Benchers.
Those wishing to become barristers will
typically be University graduates who go on to complete a Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and are then "called to the bar” by one of the Inns.  After that they must complete "pupillage" which entails working with a qualified barrister. See Bar Standards Board - Becoming a Barrister

Barristers have a right of audience - (that is, a right to represent persons) - in all tribunals and courts within England and Wales and also in the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The Bar Council is the approved regulatory body for barristers in England and Wales. It provides various services for the Bar and discharges its regulatory role via the Bar Standards Board

Outside of London, the Bar is organised into "circuits" and barristers will usually become a member of a circuit.  The circuits are South Eastern, Western, Midland, Wales and Chester, Northern and North Eastern. The circuits provide support for their members - e.g. continuing education etc. The Circuit system is explained HERE and, for example, see Northern Circuit.

Not all barristers actually practise in the courts.  Many are employed in government, local government, or in business.
Solicitors - full title   "Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales  "

Those wishing to become solicitors must comply with one of the various routes to qualification – typically University graduation, legal practice course and a training contract.  Following successful completion of all the stages the person will be “Admitted to the Roll” as a Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales. See Law Society - Becoming a Solicitor

Solicitors undertake work in connection with all types of legal matters.  Commonly, local firms of solicitors will deal with matters such as buying and selling houses (conveyancing), preparation of wills (probate work), advising on business matters (e.g. companies, business contracts etc), family law (e.g. children cases etc) and representation in courts such as the Magistrates' Court or County Court.  Solicitors have rights of audience in tribunals, Coroner’s Courts, Magistrates’ Courts, County Courts and European Courts.  Additionally, it is now possible for solicitors to obtain Higher Court Rights and many have done so.  Solicitors are also to be found in many other areas – e.g. working for local government, the Crown Prosecution Service, within business etc.

Solicitors are represented by the The Law Society of England and Wales  .  The Law Society negotiates on behalf of solicitors with government and professional regulators.  The Law Society also has a training and advice function.  The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority is the body which deals with conduct and discipline.

Legal Executives

Legal Executive Lawyers are those who have qualified as Fellows of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives , a body which came into being in 1963.  They are qualified lawyers who usually specialise in a particular area of law – e.g. property law such as transfers of land (i.e. conveyancing) etc. See What do Chartered Legal Executive Lawyers do.

Legal executives can become "Legal Excutive Advocates" and then have certain rights of audience.  They can also become eligible for certain judicial appointments.

Queen’s Counsel

Queen's Counsel are appointed from the ranks of the legal profession generally.  It still remains the case that the majority are barristers but some have come from other parts of the legal profession - particularly solicitors.  Generally, a Q.C. will take on the more complex cases and appeals and they are frequently supported by other barristers (referred to as "juniors").  So-called "juniors" can actually be very experienced barristers since the term "junior" merely distinguishes them from Queen's Counsel.

QCs are sometimes referred to as "Silks" because they wear a gown of silk. See QC Appointments website. In the period 1999 – 2003 there was a concerted effort to abolish this rank but it has survived and there is an annual round of appointments.

Judges -  In England and Wales, the judges are appointed from the ranks of the legal profession.  This contrasts with some continental countries which have a career judiciary.  


See Law Society - Brexit and the legal sector


  1. Very informative.
    Thank you.

  2. I thought I was a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, at least that's what it says on my admission certificate signed by the Master of the Rolls. Have they changed my title and not told me?

    I am also a Barrister having been admitted to that degree by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple... it's not important but I just like writing out the words "Honourable Society of the Middle Temple" and thinking about my time there and the irony of that name.

  3. The title changed when the new Supreme Court of the UK opened. Explained in the Solicitor's Journal. The Inns are still "Honourable Societies"

  4. Solicitors are lawyers who traditionally deal with any legal matter including conducting proceedings in courts. The training and qualification required to enter the profession by being admitted as a solicitor is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. There are two graduate routes of entry into the profession. Prospective solicitors holding a qualifying law degree proceed to enrol with the Law Society as a student member and study the Legal Practice Course. Those holding a non law degree but one which is a "qualifying degree" must in addition completed a conversion course prior to enrolling on the Legal Practice Course. Once the Legal Practice Course has been completed, the prospective solicitor usually must then undertake two years' apprenticeship, known as a training contract, with a firm entitled to take trainee solicitors.

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