Solicitors in England and Wales
There are nine different types of authorised person able to provide different forms of regulated legal services in England and Wales.
This language (‘authorised person’; ‘regulated legal services’) may sound a little artificial, but precision here is important. This is for two reasons. First, not all of those authorised persons are what we might think of as ‘lawyers’ – for example, chartered accountants are authorised under legal services regulation as they can conduct the legal activity of ‘probate’ (looking after a person’s affairs when they have died). Second, and as we discussed above, you do not have to be a qualified or regulated ‘lawyer’ to give certain types of legal advice.
The nine forms of authorised person are:
- chartered legal executives;
- licensed conveyancers;
- patent attorneys;
- trade mark attorneys
- costs lawyers;
- notaries; and
- chartered accountants.
In this course, we are going to focus on solicitors. You may have also heard of paralegals. In England and Wales, the title of ‘paralegal’ is not regulated by the laws on legal services or by the legal services regulators. Paralegals do a wide a variety of different types of legal work for the employers they work for, from the very simple (photocopying, basic office administration) to the highly complex and specialist.
Solicitors are the most numerous of the qualified lawyers in England and Wales. Data from their regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, shows that as of August 2016, there were 136,701 practising solicitors in England and Wales.
Solicitors work in a variety of settings. Around four-fifths (80%) of them work inside law firms (in ‘private practice’), and around one-fifth (20%) work ‘in house’ (for an employer that is not a law firm – for example, for a business, or a charity, or the government). One of the biggest changes in legal services over the last 20 years is the rise in the number of solicitors working ‘in house’ (where this figure has more than doubled).
There are just over 10,000 law firms in England and Wales. A firm might consist of a single solicitor providing advice on the high street to the local community (conveyancing [selling and buying property], family law work etc.); or they might consist of thousands of lawyers with the world’s largest companies for clients in offices across the globe. Not everyone who works in a law firm is a solicitor. There may also be barristers, legal executives, paralegals and others (secretaries, document specialists, business development experts, IT specialists etc.).
Historically, law firms operated as partnerships. Today, a number of law firms remain traditional partnerships (with profits being shared equally or in other ways among the law firm partners, and with the liability of the partners being open ended or limited by law) but others have become ‘Alternative Business Structures’ (with non-lawyers being able to act as managers or owners of those entities).
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