FTD is never found with a decent pen in his pocket. Whilst his plummy contemporaries pull out beautiful Mont Blanc pieces, no doubt given to them for some achievement by a friend or family member, I’m often without a pen at all, or some broken biro that I’ve chewed the end off.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a couple of nice pens (one, very nice bought from my Grandparents), but they inevitably run out of ink and I inevitably have lost the last batch of £10 a pop cartridges I bought for them.
I’ve never been able to hold on to a pen for long since I was a kid.
My solution was generally two fold: 1) smile at a friendly usher and be provided with a piece of bulk bought Court Service stationery, this is now impossible since Court Staff were forbade pens and now must do with eco friendly economical pencils OR 2) hunt around the robing room/advocates’ room for some abandoned ill functioning writing implement.
But nowadays, I have a new solution. The free biro. Ah yes, that little piece of plastic marketing that adorns many a solicitor’s conference desk. I now collect them, in large quantities, probably to the extent that ought to be frowned upon.
Thing is, that little piece of plastic represents the demise of our jusitce system.
No, haven’t lost my mind, honest.
But it’s back again, the great Solicitor Advocate v Barrister debate.
In short, solicitor advocates are qualified solicitors who take an extra qualification during practice which entitles them to practice in all Courts all the way up to the Supreme Court. They can qualify in civil, or criminal law, or both.
Solicitor Advocates complain that they are treated rudely by the Bar and are assumed to be somehow inferior.
Barristers complain that Solicitor Advocates take briefs which they are not capable of doing and often put profits before representation.
I have seen barristers be incredibly rude to and about solicitor advocates. I had one particularly unpleasant member of the Bar bark at me for having lunch, in public, with a solicitor advocate.
I have had solicitor advocate friends complain to me that they are pressured into taking cases that they don’t feel ready for or are not capable of. And, I’ve seen solicitor advocates sit behind barristers in cases, commanding large fees where they have done nothing and are merely paid for sitting there.
As a junior junior, I’ve grown up with solicitor advocates. ‘Favourite solicitor’ one of the people who has helped my career most has become a solicitor advocate recently. I don’t dislike solicitor advocates, I don’t feel superior to them, they just do a different job then I do.
I recently co-defended with a solicitor advocate, I was first on the indictment so took the lead. When we got to the end of the trial and the jury went out he told me that it was his first Crown Court trial but he hadn’t wanted to tell me as he worried I might have taken advantage.
I felt incredibly sad at that. I would have helped out all I could, other members of the Bar would have done too I hope? A number of times in the Magistrates’ I have co-defended with people doing their first trial, they’ve told me and I’ve helped out, especially baby barristers.
I’ve said to ‘Favourite solicitor’ if she wants to do her first Crown Court trial with me then I am happy to co-defend with her. Am I a traitor? Am I taking work away from the Bar? I don’t think so, as I know she’d only ever take on something she was capable of doing.
Back to the biro
The problem with the free biros is what is represents. Big firms of solicitors doing big quantities of work. That’s what the Government wants and they want them to do it on the cheap.
That inevitably will mean that more and more advocacy is kept in house at solicitors firms and that barristers will be used less. Bigger isn’t always better, often means less individual attention for clients.
The free biro is: remember us, we gave you a pen. Not, remember us because we have a relationship and represent your interests to the best of our ability.
Standards count when you’re playing with somebody’s liberty/livelihood.
I don’t worry about solicitor advocates. Why? Because I’m going to do my job to the best of my ability, put in the hours and hope to be noticed.
The end of the Bar is not nigh, the end of the Criminal Bar might be. But, if the Bar as a concept was outdated, it would have gone already, like Sergeants-at-Law. Look at the other end of things, the Commercial Bar is booming. If Commercial Solicitors wanted to do that job, they would and they could, they don’t – why?
And this is my objection, not to solicitor advocates, but to the ‘bulk buy legal services provider':
Independence. Solicitor advocates are for the most part employed by their partners. In-house barristers are the same. They are open to pressure from individuals more senior to take on certain cases, or conduct them in a certain way. On the prosecution side of things, the lack of independent advocates creates incredibly odd situations – who has ownership of cases? Quite recently my opponent, at the independent bar took a view about the case, despite her seniority she had to take instructions from an in-house CPS lawyer who knew nothing about the case.
Independence has two further advantages: it means fresh eyes on a case and it means that Court advocates will have a wider range of experience. Why? Because they are not limited to a particular pool of clients, police officers, Judges in a small number of court centres. Independent provides a breadth of experience which helps for continuing learning and development.
Money, money, money: I’m not allowed to give kick backs, or negotiate deals. The Government has set a rate (they get a good deal!) for the services of a qualified Court advocate. That rate takes into account the amount of witnesses, pages of evidence and other matters which will have an impact on how long I have to prepare a house.
If I am giving a bung to a solicitor, or there is a certain arrangement where someone has got an eye on how much they need to make out of a case, then I am not giving my client the best possible service as then I’ll need to take on more work to fill the hole the bung made and so on.
A client, facing imprisonment or the loss of their livelihood, should get the best possible court advocate. That advocate should be picked for their skill and experience and how they will communicate with that client.
Because, that’s how a commercial solicitor chooses a barrister for their commercial client!
Money is no object
I know money is tight for everyone, but the solicitors and barristers engaged in dodgy financial arrangements are just hastening one thing. That’s big, factory firms, defending clients as cheaply as possible.
Criminal Defence PLC, keeping the overheads low. Keeping the standards low.
But you get a free biro.
So it’s not about barrister v solicitor advocate. It’s lawyers who put clients first v lawyers who put their pockets first.
p.s – the two firms I nick pens from the most are highly rated and very rarely use in house advocates – irony, the bloody irony.