Anyone who is considering entering the legal profession in England and Wales has to decide whether to train as a barrister or as a solicitor. The two branches of the legal profession have been distinct for centuries, and although the differences are not as clear-cut as they used to be, they are still significant.

Traditionally solicitors ‘solicited’, i.e. touted for work on behalf of barristers. This rather subservient role not only gave the ‘junior’ branch of the profession its name but also perhaps tarnished it somewhat with an image of the slippery salesman, who will say anything to achieve a sale and make his commission. In the US the term ‘solicitor’ can be used for a door-to-door salesman, and signs can be bought reading: ’No Agents or Solicitors’ for people to put on their front doors. This can come as a shock for a self-respecting English legal professional, but it is no news to them that their profession is not generally counted amongst the most popular.

Nonetheless, good solicitors will provide an expert service to their clients in times of need. Solicitors are much more involved with their clients than are barristers. They will interview the client to elicit the facts of their case, analyses the legal issues arising, whether contentious or non-contentious, and decide with the client on a course of action, which may or may not involve a referral to a specialist barrister. Whether or not a barrister or other experts are involved, the solicitor will be the point of contact for the client for as long as the case lasts.

Solicitors often give an initial diagnostic interview either free of charge or for a reduced-rate fixed fee. Thereafter if the case is to be taken on, one of the first things to be discussed is the question of how the work is to be funded and how much it is likely to cost. If the case is one for which Legal Aid is available, and the client is potentially eligible, the solicitor needs to deal with the intricate process of obtaining a Public Funding Certificate, and working out the client’s contribution, if any. It is very important for the discussion about costs to take place early on to avoid giving the client unrealistic expectations and to factor cost into the decision making.

After the first interview, the solicitor will write to the client with a summary of the facts, the law and his advice, and further agreed steps to be taken, or options to be considered. Importantly a time estimate and a costs estimate will also be included.

This initial client care letter is very important and sets the scene for the future professional relationship, also allowing the client, perhaps for the first time, the opportunity to step back and take a realistic look at his or her problem, the potential ways to deal with it and their relative advantages and risks. As the case goes on, the solicitor will periodically review it and report back to the client in clear terms the stage things have got to and their options and steps for the future.

These professional standards should now be universal, and should have gone some way to retrieving the reputation of solicitors for springing nasty surprises on clients as regards the prospects of success or the costs of their case.

Author's Bio: 

Eclipse Process Servers provide process serving support to the legal profession throughout the UK, including supplying process servers in London