Solicitors and barristers in practice

It is easy to assume, that women lawyers do similar things.  In some respects they do, for example, barristers and solicitors go through a similar training process: typically students will have a law degree, complete a one year course, for solicitors this is the Legal Practice Course for barristers the vocational course (during study for the vocational course, students must attend his or her Inn, dining for example, to become familiar with the customs of the Bar[1]).  They will then complete a training contract or pupillage and if successful be admitted to the profession; solicitors are ‘admitted to the Rolls’ and barristers ‘called to the bar’ by one the four Inns of Court.  In practice, however, although both have conditional rights of audience[2] their jobs are very different.

Most solicitors are experts in particular areas of law and restrict themselves to areas such as litigation, conveyancing or family law, whereas barristers might a wider range of work including criminal, family, tort and contract cases; although established barristers do specialise in a particular area of work.  Often solicitors form personal relationships with their clients but barristers may spend more time in court, drafting arguments or statements of case and writing advice for solicitors.  In this short interview, we find out what life was like for barrister Elizabeth Woodcraft.

Prejudice

According to Snapshot: the Experience of Self-Employed Women at the Bar prejudice, discrimination and sexism are commonplace.  The report, based on the experiences of 85 female barristers in London, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol, revealed that female barristers, particularly younger women, are experiencing sexist attitudes from men; attitudes worsen as men rise through the ranks from junior barristers to judges, suggesting that the profession itself is to blame for derogatory perceptions of women.[3]  This report, with its limited sample size, cannot necessarily be taken as representative of all women; yet when we look further afield to the ‘Everyday Sexism Project’ that has over 50,000 entries it is clear that women face prejudice, discrimination and sexism in the workplace and society.[4]

[1] Gary Slapper, The English Legal System 2009-2010 (Oxon: Routledge-Cavendish, 10th ed, 2009).

[2] Slapper, 2009, p.531: The Access to Justice Act 1999 provides that every barrister and every solicitor has a right of audience before every court in relation to all proceedings.  This right, however, is not unconditional.  In order to exercise it, solicitors and barristers must obey the rules of conduct of the professional bodies and must have met any training requirements that have been prescribed, like the requirement to have completed pupillage in the case of the Bar, or to have obtained a higher courts advocacy qualification in the case of solicitors who wish to appear in the higher courts.

[3] Paul Gallagher, ‘Female barristers subjected to shocking levels of rampant sexism, says Bar report’, The Independent, 1 August 2015, available: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home%ADnews/female%ADbarristers%ADsubjected%ADto%ADshocking%ADlevels%ADof%ADrampant%ADsexism%ADsays%ADbar%ADreport%AD10413776.html.  Accessed: 8/8/15.

[4] Laura Bates, ‘Everyday Sexism Project hits 50,000 entries – what does that tell you?, The Guardian, 17 July 2015, available: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens%ADblog/2013/dec/13/everyday%ADsexism%ADproject%ADwomen%ADsexual%ADharassment%AD50000%ADentries1/3. Accessed: 8/8/15; Laura Bates, ’10 sexist scenarios that women face at work’, The Guardian, available: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens%ADblog/2014/jul/30/10%ADsexist%ADscenarios%ADwomen%ADdeal%ADwork%ADignored%ADmaternity%ADrisk%ADeveryday%ADsexism2/4. Accessed: 8/8/15.

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