Question for barristers in UK!
January 15, 2013 6:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm reading Zadie Smith's _NW_ right now set in London. I don't understand the references to the young lawyers speaking of being "tenants" or "tenancy."

Sorry, I'm an American and don't understand the differences in training to become a lawyer in UK.

So in _NW_ there are young lawyers talking about being a tenant. I don't think it has to do with their living arrangements. And is there a difference between a barrister and a lawyer? And what's pupillage? And do all lawyers in the UK wear the wig in court? Thanks
posted by honey badger to Law & Government (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have a look on Wikipedia.
posted by pikeandshield at 6:34 AM on January 15, 2013

Best answer: In the UK lawyers are broadly split between Barristers and Solicitors. Barristers wear wigs and argue in court, solicitors prepare cases and handle transactional work (very oversimplified)

Barristers are all formally self-employed and work in groupings sharing staff, buildings and expertise called "chambers". In order to qualify as a barrister you must be given a "pupillage" -a one year apprenticeship at a chambers. A qualified barrister who completes pupillage may then be offered "tennancy" by a set of chambers - an invitation to join that set of chambers as a paying member. A barrister who is a member of a set of chambers is a tenant.

Only barristers wear wigs in court, solicitors may now increasingly argue cases in court on the same terms as barristers, but they don't wear wigs.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 6:53 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Short answer: solicitors do what most American lawyers actually do, barristers do what American television lawyers do.

Most English lawyers are solicitors, they do the kind of transactional work that most American lawyers spend their time doing. Working as in-house counsel for large companies, due diligence, contracts. They don't wear wigs.

They can appear in a low level criminal court (a magistrate's court) which is where most cases are tried but not usually in a higher level crown court where serious crimes are tried.

They deal directly with clients.

Barristers are a small minority of English lawyers, they do specialist work including appearing in higher courts.

Sometimes they wear wigs, it depends on the court and the judge. Typically when children are testifying, wigs are not worn because they're intimidating.

A barrister does not (usually) deal directly with clients, they are hired by the client's solicitor as a specialist. They usually have to take an offered case that they are qualified for (cab-rank principle). They're supposed to maintain more distance from the clients.

Pupillage is a legal apprenticeship that barristers must complete - unlike American lawyers, barristers understand how markets work so they are careful to offer only a fairly limited number of them. Less cynically, it's a lot of work for the barrister to take on a pupillage.

Tenancy is an agreement to share office-space and other resources in a set of chambers (offices) but it isn't like an American legal partnership, the tenants can represent opposite sides in a case. Like pupillage, it's very competitive.
posted by atrazine at 7:08 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Solicitors can and do wear wigs. The law was changed to allow it where they act as solicitor advocates. "Solicitors and other advocates authorised under the Courts and Legal Servcies Act 1990...may wear short wigs in circumstances where they would be worn by Queen's Counsel or junior counsel."

Just to confuse things, the role of the solicitor advocate was created by the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. This has proved somewhat contentious because where solicitors used to hand over to barristers to represent clients in the higher courts, now they can do this themselves. Which means they are competing with barristers. Becoming a QC (Queen's Counsel) used to be the sole preserve of barristers. Now you find solicitors (via the solicitor advocate route) as QCs. Circuit and High Court Judges used to be drawn exclusively from the ranks of barristers. Now they are not.

To confuse things even more, there has been a more general move to removing some of the formality of court dress, particularly for judges sitting in lower courts (e.g. civil and family courts).

And finally, in case you aren't bamboozled: things work differently in Scotland, which has its own justice system. The above only applies to England and Wales.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:42 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thx, was wondering about QC, too! Thanks everybody!
posted by honey badger at 11:27 AM on January 15, 2013

« Older Service like Backupify that doesn't require Google...   |   Birthday present for a special-snowflake... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.