If you’re worried that life as a solicitor advocate is going to resemble that of Keanu Reeves’ legal adventures in the 1997 film, The Devil’s Advocate, then don’t worry: you’re not going to be working alongside Al Pacino/Satan any time soon!
Instead, your professional life will be exciting, challenging and packed full of responsibility. We’re not saying it’s going be heavenly, but it certainly won’t be hellish!
Within the UK legal setup, a distinction is drawn between the roles of a solicitor and a barrister (a.k.a. an advocate in Scotland), the difference being the grant of rights of audience to higher-level courts such as the High Court, Crown Court, Court of Appeal and the House of Lords.
However, legal reforms initiated in 1990, through the Courts & Legal Services Act in England and Wales and the Law Reform Scotland Act (in Scotland, obviously!), extended the rights of audience to solicitors, provided that prescribed training, experience and professional qualification criteria are met. Enter solicitor advocates!
Unlike barristers, whose activities are regulated by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) in England and Wales and the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, solicitor advocates are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Law Society of Scotland (LSS).
The duties and responsibilities of solicitor advocates are similar to those of a barrister. Essentially, they represent clients in proceedings before higher courts, starting from the Crown Court and ending with the House of Lords. These expert solicitors specialise in civil or criminal law or, in some cases, they do a hybrid of both.
The majority of solicitor advocates practising today are lawyers from the litigation departments of solicitors’ firms. Solicitor advocates are also required to follow the SRA Code for Advocacy, which provides the ethical and legal framework.
Salary & benefits
The salary you can earn as a solicitor advocate varies depending on your area of practice. A solicitor advocate that specialises in criminal law may earn an entirely different salary to someone that has rights of audience in the civil courts.
Furthermore, it depends on your working arrangements. Indeed, some solicitor advocates now work on a freelance basis and thus have the potential to earn much higher salaries.
Generally, though, the starting salary for a solicitor advocate ranges between £20,000 and £45,000 per annum. As you progress and build your reputation, your earnings could be anything from £100,000 to £1,000,000 a year. Not too shabby, eh?
Your working environment is likely to be fairly varied. However, most of your time will be spent in trials at court, working in your office, or sometimes you may be able to work from home. Your working life depends on the balance of your duties.
The majority of solicitor advocates do a mixture of both litigation and advocacy work. However, some choose to primarily focus on advocacy. If you’re in this latter group, you will be spending a big chunk of your time in court.
At present, eligibility criteria to practise as a solicitor advocate are governed by the Solicitors’ Higher Rights of Audience Regulations 2010, which detail the qualification standards and routes to obtain higher rights of audience in civil or criminal proceedings or both.
Unlike the earlier system, which had three routes for qualifications, the new system specifies only one route: the completion of an ‘assessment of advocacy’ test, which is conducted by SRA-approved assessment providers, and does away with any minimum training or work experience limitations.
Training & progression
Career growth for solicitor advocates is primarily based on individual firms’ requirements, with respect to annual performance appraisals, learning and development background and level of expertise within your chosen area of practice.
Self-employment is an alternative option and a number of solicitor advocates are now beginning to operate on a freelance basis.
This article was produced with the help of the Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates.