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There are a variety of different types of legal professional, and it can be confusing to understand the differences between them when you first embark on your own family law issue. This guide explains the roles and responsibilities of professionals you may come into contact with.
Lawyer is the general term used to describe those people who provide legal services. In the UK, the term has no defined meaning in law, which means that anyone can describe themselves as a lawyer regardless of whether they hold any professional legal qualifications. The word lawyer used in professional circles tends to cover solicitors, barristers and legal executives.
Solicitors are qualified legal practitioners responsible for representing a client’s legal interests on a particular issue, providing client advice, and preparing legal documentation. In the UK, upon qualification solicitors tend to specialise in one area of law. They can represent clients personally in the lower courts (County Court, Magistrates’ Court and at tribunals) and, with additional specialist training, in the higher courts. Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and are bound by several mandatory principles, setting out the ethical requirements that must be followed both within and outside of professional conduct.
Chartered Legal Executive
A chartered legal executive is a lawyer who has studied to the same level as a solicitor but has specialised in a particular area of law. Once fully qualified, a chartered legal executive carries out similar work as a solicitor: advising and representing clients and preparing legal documentation. Chartered legal executives have automatic rights of audience in chambers hearings in the County and Family Courts and can undertake additional training under the advocacy scheme to obtain the same rights of audience as a solicitor. Chartered legal executives are regulated by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).
Barristers are legal advisers who specialise in courtroom advocacy, putting legal arguments to judges, magistrates and juries on behalf of their client. They can also provide opinions to clients and/or their solicitor on the client’s case and its prospects of success. Barristers tend to appear in court when instructed to do so by a solicitor, although they can be instructed directly by clients. Barristers are often self-employed and work in chambers and are regulated by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
Judges are publicly appointed officials who have a minimum of five years’ post-qualification experience as a solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive. The Judicial Appointments Committee appoints judges based on intellectual ability, even-handedness, communication skills and air of authority. Judges decide the outcome of legal cases where juries are not involved or, if a trial involves a jury, preside over proceedings to ensure fairness.
Paralegals are legal assistants to lawyers, supporting the preparation of documentation, undertaking research, and attending client meetings. Paralegals are not regulated by government but may belong to the professional body the Institute of Paralegals (IoP), and many paralegals are law graduates pursuing qualification as a solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive. Paralegals do not give advice to consumers of legal services.
Notaries are qualified lawyers who often also practise as solicitors. Notaries certify signatures and authenticate documents, are appointed by the Court of Facilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury and are regulated by the Master of the Faculties.
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