Law Society President predicts solicitors and barristers will come closer together

Law Society President predicts solicitors and barristers will come closer together

Law Society President John Wotton has predicted that barristers and solicitors will, in the future, increasingly work together in the same practices.

In a speech entitled “Fission or Fusion; Independence or Constraint?” which he delivered yesterday at Said Business School, Oxford, Mr Wotton told an audience of senior members of the legal sector, academics, students and business leaders that while he does not expect the two professions to fuse, he does anticipate that they will become less distinct, over time. Wotton expects the education and training of barristers and solicitors to converge and more advocates to start their careers in law firms, rather than barristers’ chambers.

In his speech Fission or Fusion; Independence or Constraint? John Wotton said:

“There must be competitive advantages and efficiencies to be gained from having the full range of dispute resolution services under the same roof.

“A number of corporate law firms have recruited experienced barristers. This seems entirely rational, for it is unlikely that the international commercial success of UK corporate firms has been achieved because, rather than in spite of, their lacking the trial advocacy capability of their US competitors.

“The concern on the part of the Bar to adapt their traditional structure to compete more effectively for legal aid contracts and other work, appears to be a recognition of this imperative.”

The speech comes against the backdrop of the new era in legal services, where the arrival of alternative business structures is expected to create more competition and innovation of legal services. Wotton points to ABS as a potential driving force for change in the established legal sector.

He said:

“The new modes of practice will increasingly challenge the norms under which lawyers practise under the separate titles of barrister and solicitor.

“I believe this development will lead inevitably to the need to revisit the question whether these two professions should continue to be separately trained, represented and regulated, as they have been for the past 180 years. I envisage the time coming when the barrister/solicitor distinction will be more a decorative than a functional aspect of our legal constitution.”

Wotton analysed the regulatory structure under the Legal Services Act and conclude that it is capable of maintaining the independence and standards of the legal profession and of operating successfully in the changing legal market environment. He said that it would depend, however, on the Legal Services Board recognising the limits of its statutory remit and the approved regulators acting independently of the LSB.

Wotton ended the speech with the prediction that it would be surprising if ABS would remain an innovation confined to England & Wales.

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