Advocacy; not just for Barristers

When the word ‘advocacy’ is mentioned, for many in the legal world is brings back unpleasant memories of standing up in class, mock trials, moots, or similar and presenting a line of legal argument. For others in the industry, memories of advocacy courses are brought to mind, of lessons learned that they never actually put into practice.

Some, though, remember learning advocacy with a smile. Some put advocacy into practice on a regular basis; barristers.

After many centuries of advocacy being the sole preserve of the barrister’s profession. That is all changing as the UK legal industry enters the 21st Century. 2014 sees those who argue their client’s case before a judge, magistrate or tribunal not necessarily wearing a wig and gown.

Firstly, the last decade or so has seen the rise of the solicitor advocate. These are qualified solicitors who are certified to appear in court. As an indication of their increasing significance in the legal profession, many have become QC’s or even judges. Indeed, some solicitor advocates have gained a great reputation in their respective fields, such as Andrew Hopper QC (regulatory), June Venters QC (family law) and Michael Caplan QC (extradition). Lord Collins was one of the first Justices of the new Supreme Court- and was himself a solicitor advocate. It is now also possible for legal executives (the third and lesser known branch of the legal profession, whose training is no less rigourous and demanding) to represent clients in court.

In in some areas of law (e.g. family and immigration), some ‘caseworkers’ (essentially paralegals) are permitted to appear in court and to represent their own clients. Admittedly, though, the rights of appearance of legal executives and caseworkers are relatively limited, but the fact of the matter is that they both can practice advocacy, and indeed regularly do so.

That last fact is both exciting and awful for the paralegal of the 21st century. For many, the prospect of advocacy fills them with dread. For those who welcome the challenge, and who enjoy public speaking, and performing in court, the role of a paralegal takes on a new dimension.

Additionally, the introduction of (limited rights of) court appearance for the caseworker/paralegal of the 21st century shows just how far the role has come from being  a mere legal secretary in the past. The role of the paralegal has grown in scope, variety and importance.

Recent years have seen paralegals manage cases more and more, to the extent that some solicitors mainly just represent their clients in hearings and conferences, with paralegals/caseworkers doing most of the case management. With some paralegals/caseworkers now being able to go to court on their client’s behalf, now paralegals can actually manage and take charge of their own cases from initial interview to final court hearing (in some cases).

For better or for worse, advocacy is no longer the sole preserve of barristers, who spent time and effort learning advocacy and refine this knowledge and skill by putting it into practice in court. Some, like the great barristers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, or colourful barristers such as George Carman QC or Michael Mansfield QC turn advocacy into an art form that looks effortless, impressive and theatrical. Admittedly, the bar has overall been very accepting of this change, and has taken it in its stride- but the sentiment at the bar is still very much that advocacy is a barrister’s work.

Advocacy; no wigs required in the modern day

Advocacy; no wigs required in the modern day

With limited rights of appearance now being given to paralegals in some instances, advocacy is yet another skill for the eager paralegal to master. Whether encountered in law school, or learned on the job by someone entering the profession from a different field or industry, the modern paralegal has to master the art of standing up in court and representing their client- and trying to avoid being ripped to pieces before a judge by a barrister whose speciality advocacy is, and who is understandably suspicious of the non- barrister advocate appearing in a court.

Times are changing in the modern legal profession. The eager paralegal had better be prepared to put advocacy into practice to best take advantage of all that this exciting and varied profession has to offer.



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