AskDefine | Define solicitors

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Noun

solicitors
  1. Plural of solicitor

Extensive Definition

A solicitor is a type of lawyer in many common law jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Republic of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada; it is also a title used by government attorneys in some government agencies in the United States. In some common law countries the legal profession is split between solicitors who represent and advise clients, and a barrister who is retained by a solicitor to advocate in a legal hearing or to render a legal opinion. There is no such split in Canada, some Australian jurisdictions, New Zealand, and the United States.
In some Australian states and in Canada the legal profession is "fused", which means that a lawyer can simultaneously be a solicitor, barrister, and proctor. Where the legal profession is not "fused" in cases where a trial is necessary a client must retain a solicitor, who will advise him or her and then may deliver a brief to a barrister to act on the solicitor's instructions.
The United States never had a divided legal profession and had no need to fuse anything; outside government agencies the term "solicitor" is merely "one who solicits", not a legal professional.

England and Wales

Before the unification of the Supreme Court in 1873, solicitors practised in the courts of chancery, while attorneys and proctors practised in the common law and ecclesiastical courts respectively.
In the English legal system solicitors have traditionally dealt with any legal matter apart from conducting proceedings in courts (advocacy), except minor criminal cases tried in Magistrates' Courts and small value civil cases tried in county courts, which are almost always handled by solicitors. The other branch of the English legal profession, a barrister, has traditionally carried out the advocacy functions. Barristers would not deal with the public direct. This is no longer the case, as solicitor advocates may act at certain higher levels of court, which were previously barred to them. Similarly, the public may now engage a barrister directly and without the need for a solicitor in certain circumstances.

Regulation

Solicitors in England and Wales are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, an independently administered branch of the Law Society of England and Wales and, in order to become a solicitor, must have passed the Academic and Vocational stages of training.
Moreover, solicitors must pay the Law Society of England and Wales a practising fee each year in order to keep practising. If they do not do this they are 'non-practising' and may not give legal advice to the public (although they can start practising again at will, unlike those who have been struck off the roll).

Training and qualifications

The most common methods of qualification are a normal undergraduate law degree, or a degree in any subject followed by a one year course formerly called the Common Professional Exam and recently renamed the Post-Graduate Diploma in Law (PgDip Law). Other routes, for example, spending time as a clerk to magistrates, or passing exams set by the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) are possible. Up to this point a barrister and solicitor have the same education.
Thereafter they split. Solicitors study a one year course called the Legal Practice Course and then must undertake two years apprenticeship with a solicitor, called the training contract (but still widely referred to as 'articles' as in 'articled clerk' by older members of the profession). Once that is complete, the student becomes a solicitor and is 'admitted to the roll'. The 'roll' is a list of people qualified to be a solicitor and is kept on behalf of the 'Master of the Rolls' whose more important job is that he is the head of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales. Solicitors who are being disciplined by the Law Society can be suspended from the roll under Section 12 of the Solicitors Act 1974 or even struck off, which prevents them acting as a solicitor.
A small proportion of solicitors in England and Wales are licenced by the Archbishop of Canterbury (originally on behalf of the Pope) after further study and examination to practice as Notaries Public. An alternative route to this work, in and around the City of London, is through the Worshipful Company of Scriveners.

Recent developments

In England and Wales, the strict separation between the duties of solicitor and barrister has been partially broken down and solicitors frequently appear not only in the lower courts but (subject to passing a test) increasingly in the higher courts too (such as the High Court of Justice of England and Wales and the Court of Appeal). Firms of solicitors now employ their own barristers and solicitor-advocates to do the work, taking it away from the private groups 'sets' or 'chambers' of barristers who formerly did the work. Barristers in turn can now be directly instructed by certain organisations such as trade unions, accountants and similar groups. Additionally barristers who have completed the Bar Council's 'Public Access' course can take instructions directly from members of the public, although there are some limitations on the type of work that can be done this way: for example they cannot take control of the conduct of litigation nor can they act in matrimonial matters. Where such limitations occur the barrister should advise the persons to see a solicitor.
This breakdown is expected to go further in the next few years, with Legal Disciplinary Practices and Alternate Business Structures appearing. There have been numerous claims recently that solicitors are increasingly taking advantage of increased rights of audience, and this is being reflected in practice with the amount of work being made available to barristers (particularly criminal specialists) dwindling.
Regulation of both barristers and solicitors is being reviewed by David Clementi on behalf of the Ministry of Justice. His final recommendations are expected to include a more unified regulatory system and new structures for cross-profession work.
Traditionally, firms of solicitors can only be owned by solicitors. The government is considering allowing anyone to be able to have a share in the ownership and control of a law firm. This has led to fears that the professional duty of confidentiality a solicitor owes to their client will be threatened. The fear is that a solicitor will be required to share confidential information with the organisations and individuals who acquire control of their firm even though those organisations and individuals will not be bound by the professional duty of confidentiality and may use their knowledge of the client's confidential affairs to their own advantage. This is often referred to as "Tesco law", as legal services would be offered directly to the public by solicitors owned and controlled by non-solicitors, and it is companies such as the major UK supermarkets (the foremost in this area being Tesco itself) that have expressed a particular interest in owning solicitors to complement their moves into the already deregulated financial services markets.

Scotland

Scotland's legal system is separate from those of England and Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland the legal profession is divided between solicitors and advocates, the distinction being similar to that between solicitors and barristers in England and Wales, though Scottish solicitors have traditionally represented their clients in the lower courts (such as the Sheriff Court and the District Court), only being excluded from the High Court of Justiciary and the Court of Session (unless they qualify as solicitor advocates). Under section 24 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Scotland Act 1990 suitably qualified solicitors were for the first time in Scotland granted rights of audience in the Supreme Courts in Scotland as well as in the House of Lords and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
In Scotland, Solicitors are regulated by the Law Society of Scotland, who require prospective solicitors to pass exams in a curriculum set by the Society. Ordinarily this is done by obtaining an LLB in Scots law at a university approved by the Society, though it is also possible to sit the Society's own exams. Prospective solicitors are then required to take the Diploma in Legal Practice (a one year course provided by several Scottish universities) and then undertake a two year traineeship with a law firm, before they can qualify as a solicitor. As the Faculty of Advocates used to require a M.A. degree of its candidates, it used to be common to take a five year combined MA LLB curriculum at the Scottish universities. Those intending to become solicitors who studied law as a first degree were at one time awarded a BL degree.
Solicitors are in most areas organised into a local Faculty of Procurators or Faculty of Procurators and Solicitors. Glasgow has a Royal Faculty of Procurators. In Edinburgh, depending on the firm a trainee joins, s/he may become a Writer to the Signet (W.S.) or a Solicitor to the Supreme Court (S.S.C.). In Aberdeen, the solicitors belong to a Society of Advocates and a member would be called formally an "Advocate in Aberdeen," or colloquially an "advocate" simpliciter. In the 18th century, Dr Samuel Johnson marked the change in designation of the lawyers in Glasgow with a jibe about their moving from "procuring" to "soliciting."

Republic of Ireland

Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland are represented and regulated by the Law Society of Ireland. It was formally established by Royal Charter in 1852. The legislative basis for its current role is set out in the Solicitors Acts 1954 - 2002.
Irish Independence in 1921 was marked more by continuity with the British legal system than with change. The legal profession has remained divided between barristers (or abhcóidí in Irish) and solicitors (or aturnaethe in Irish). However, there has been some blurring of their respective roles over the years. Notably, under Section 17 of the Courts Act 1971, solicitors were granted a right of audience in all courts, although in practice relatively few solicitors act as advocates for their clients in the Superior Courts.

Australia

Regulation of the profession in Australia varies from state to state. Admission to practice is state-based, although mutual recognition enables a practitioner admitted in any state to practise nationally. In some States, the distinction between barristers and solicitors is nominal and reflects individual preferences and membership of professional associations. In others, at least in a practical sense, the distinction is clear from the type of practice a practitioner has, even if they are entitled to practice in the other branch of the profession. Thus, while members of the bar practice only as barristers, a practitioner is admitted as a "barrister and solicitor". Thus, every solicitor is also a barrister, although many prefer to brief counsel rather than appear in courts or tribunals themselves. The trend to a fused profession is similar to that outlined in England and Wales above.
However, the states of New South Wales and Queensland maintain strongly independent Bars, call to which requires extra training. In those states, solicitors' rights of audience before superior courts are theoretically unlimited, but infrequently exercised in practice. Victoria also has an independent bar but solicitors have full right of audience before all courts.

Canada

In the English speaking jurisdictions of Canada (and New Brunswick, a bilingual jurisdiction) the profession is being fused, all lawyers are called to the bar and admitted as solicitors. While many barristers and solicitors choose to practise within the scope of one or the other traditional disciplines, many others choose a cross-discipline practice.
Amongst lawyers in English speaking Canada, it is common to refer to one another as solicitors, whether practising in a solicitor's or barrister's role. Among members of the general public, the term "solicitor" also has a similar commercial connotation to that in use in the United States (see below).

United States

Government usage

In some U.S. states, a "solicitor" may be the chief legal officer of a city or town — for example, a "town solicitor" — although cities in other states simply have "city attorneys." Some counties and states as well as the federal government have an official known as a Solicitor General who is actually more of an advocate than a solicitor in the traditional British sense. In South Carolina the term "solicitor" applies to a circuit prosecutor. In Georgia a county solicitor general is responsible for prosecution of misdemeanor offenses. Historically, Georgia solicitors general were state prosecutors. Today, that office is known as district attorney.

Non-government usage

In American and Canadian English, the term often refers to "a person who seeks business or contributions from others; an advertiser or promoter" (according to Black's Law Dictionary, 7th edition). This is the meaning intended in the ubiquitous signs on business premises that say "No Soliciting" or "Please Do Not Contribute To Solicitors."
Many cities in the U.S. have enacted municipal ordinances that require the licensing of solicitors, and also require them to not solicit at homes or businesses that have posted "No Solicitors" signs. The ordinances of Urbana, Illinois, Marion, Iowa, and Hermosa Beach, California are typical examples.
The equivalent term in British English is "tout". The Australian English term frequently used is "hawker", which is also used in other countries as slang with identical meaning.

Footnotes

solicitors in German: Solicitor
solicitors in Spanish: Solicitor
solicitors in French: Solicitor
solicitors in Russian: Солиситор
solicitors in Chinese: 事務律師
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