Weird Facts about UK Lawyers

The United Kingdom has some of the oldest bodies of law in the world. Many of its laws and traditions were foundational for the whole concept of modern democracy. However this continuous grand tradition built over thousands of years also carries with it certain peculiarities that baffle others looking from the outside.

Here are the top 10 weird facts about lawyers and the practice of law in the United Kingdom.

1. The difference between solicitors and barristers

In the practice of law, you might consider the difference between a solicitor and a barrister like that of a general practitioner and a specialist surgeon.

Solicitors deal with clients directly, while barristers are referred to cases by a solicitor. They act as advocates in legal hearings thus they stand in court and plead the case in behalf of the client.

Unlike other countries, where an attorney may be expected to do everything from advising the client, facilitate negotiations, draft legal documents and then travel to see clients and represent them in court – solicitors and barristers have separate duties. Historically, barristers have a “right of audience” with the higher courts and was meant to be an independent operator that do not cultivate long-term client relationships.

But perhaps the most tangible difference is that a Barrister also wears a wig and a gown in court. Yes, those are a required dress code for normal proceedings.

2. The meaning of Esquire

Esquire (abbreviated Esq.) a term of British origin which in Britain, is an unofficial title of respect to denote a high but indeterminate social status. A person who graduates from Law School and pass the state licensing exam (called the Bar Exam), may add the initials J.D. which stands for Juris Doctor or the degree garnered. Once that person has gone thru the rigorous process of taking and passing the state Bar Examination, they can be referred to by the Esquire title. It is then that Esq. is written after her name, instead of J.D.

3. Barristers are required to join an Honorable Society based on an inn

A Barrister must take a one year Bar Professional Training Course in place of the Solicitors’ Legal Practice Course and then they are called to “bar” at one of the four inns where they do a yard ‘pupillage’ shadowing a senior barrister and undertaking some court work.

There are about 150 applicants in one chamber for pupillage. Thus the applicants should make the Application form very engaging so as not to bore the ones who would review their pupillage applications.

The inns are: 1) Inner Temple, b) Gray’s Inn, c) Middle Temple,and d) Lincoln’s Inn, all of which are located in London. These Inns of Court provide dining, residential, office and library accommodations to its members.

4. They have to attend fancy dinners and even karaoke

Once they qualified in any of the inn they applied for, they have to attend the twelve (12) qualifying sessions at the inn which may include fancy dinners, even karaoke (at Middle Temple, at least), in addition to lectures on legal topics and advocacy training workshops.

5. The Queen’s Counsel barristers are known as “silks”

The Queen’s Counsel are a group of senior barristers of at least ten years’ practice that are appointed by an selection panel to serve as “one of Her Majesty’s counsel learned in the law”. They appear at the bar wearing silk gowns while junior barristers wear “stuff”, or gowns made of worsted wool.

6. More than half of those studying law in the UK universities come from overseas

Law Student Applicants from Overseas is higher at 58.01% than from UK students at 41.98%. The the percentage of successful applicants from UK is higher at 72.5% than from overseas at 67.6% (2015-2016). Nevertheless, you might expect to see more than half law students to be foreign students.

The number of applications to law universities in the UK for the period of 2015-2016 was for UK students, 23,885 and for overseas students, 33,010. At 72.5% and 67.6% respectively, the results are 17,335 and 22,320 students. A grounding in UK law is not only for those who wish to establish a legal practice, but also for those who wish to do business in and around the UK.

7. Becoming a Barrister is not cheap

We’re not even talking about education fees or the price of books. You need to shell out around £ 150 for the gown alone, € 560 for the wig, plus a nice bag for £75 and £270 for the case to keep your required dress looking pristine.

Most barristers are self-employed and work in Chambers with other barristers so they share costs of accommodation. They are not allowed to form partnerships or become part of a corporation, although they can be the first resort of solicitors who represent certain clients. Unlike high-power corporate attorneys, barristers due to the cab rank rule are not allowed to refuse a case as long as it remains within their specialty.

8. Barristers in Chambers can work against each other

It is noted that about 80% of barristers around England and Wales are self-employed, the rest being employed in the agencies like the Crown Prosecution Service, solicitor’s firms, or specialized legal departments in industries, commerce, and local governments. Most of them work in shared offices known as Chambers with other barristers.

However, all barristers within a chamber are independent from each other and may often act opposing each other in the same case. By contrast, solicitors in the same law firm are prevented from doing so for sake a conflict of interest.

9. No overtime for Salaried Barristers and Solicitors

A solicitor is paid better than a barrister right out of the gate, though their actual pay scale differs greatly between extremes. For Barristers’ practice of Law, the average NQ (Newly Qualified) Barrister for Criminal Law is similar to Family Law, at £20,000. Of course practitioners versed in commercial law have higher costs at £70,000.

According to 2016 statistics, these are the starting salaries:

Trainee Level £18,000-43,000+ £12,000-60,000+
Newly Qualified £50,000-90,000+ £73,000-300,000+

A City trainee solicitor starts on a salary of £36-40k per year and jumps to £60-70k once they are fully qualified (which takes two years). But then they work 40-70% more than their contracted hours and, aside from social exclusion amongst their non-lawyer friends, they do not get overtime.

10) Barristers are not allowed to advertise

A solicitor is a non-trial lawyer that engages the client directly and handles legal representations and transactions. They don’t, unless they are a solicitor advocate, make court appearances. Barristers deal with the court and doesn’t deal with the paperwork, they are instead retained by the solicitor on behalf of their client. The client never actually directly contacts the barristers.

Going back to the doctor’s analogy again – having a barrister is like your doctor referring you to a heart surgeon. After the operation the surgeon has no more to do with you, but your doctor will take care of your hospitalization and recovery.

A barrister, like a surgeon, is not allowed to advertise their skill and put their work out on the open market but instead get work via word of mouth, repeat business, and being contacted by relevant agencies. Solicitors however are allowed to advertise and can move around the country, doing what most people would visualize as lawyer-y work.