Legal professionals – who does what?
There are several different types of legal professionals, who can help you in different ways. This page provides a brief overview of the main duties and differences between legal professionals in England and Wales.
- Arbitrator and mediator
- Law costs draftsman
- Legal cashier
- Legal executive
- Legal secretary
Arbitrator and mediator
Arbitration and mediation are non-judicial and alternative ways to resolve disputes, without going to court. Arbitrators and mediators are neutral, which means they will not take sides and cannot provide advice. They are often experts in the field of what the dispute is about, and will reach a decision after hearing from both sides of the dispute.
Barristers are legal advisers and courtroom advocates. Barristers put legal arguments to judges, magistrates and juries. They cross-examine witnesses and otherwise attempt to sway the outcome of a court case. Barristers typically have no direct contact with the public. They appear in court when instructed by a solicitor. Only barristers or qualified solicitor advocates may represent clients in the higher courts. Barristers are highly trained courtroom advocates, dealing with the majority of serious and high profile court cases.
Both solicitors and barristers may be appointed as judges. Judges decide legal cases in certain circumstances or, if a trial involves a jury, judges rule over the proceedings to ensure fairness and that the jury has arrived at their decision in the correct way. The Judicial Appointments Commission selects candidates for judicial office on merit.
Law costs draftsman
Law costs draftsmen ensure that a firm's clients are properly charged for work undertaken on the clients' behalf. They also help apportion costs between the two sets of legal advisers at the end of long and complex cases. In some instances, they represent clients in court when there is an issue over costs.
Visit the Association of Costs Lawyers website
Legal cashiers usually work in solicitors' practices. They keep financial records and keep solicitors informed of the financial position of the firm.
A chartered legal executive can work in a legal office and has the option to later qualify as a solicitor through further vocational training. Fully qualified chartered legal executive lawyers can have their own clients and represent them in court, where appropriate. The main difference between solicitors and legal executives is that the training of legal executives is narrower. Legal executives have studied to the same level as a solicitor, but they have specialised in a particular area of law and completed fewer subjects overall.
Legal secretaries provide secretarial and clerical support to solicitors, barristers and the law courts. They deal with large quantities of correspondence and help prepare documents such as wills, divorce petitions and witness statements. Legal secretaries are specialists because legal documents are composed differently from other commercial documents. Positions can usually be found by contacting firms directly or checking with local recruitment agencies.
Notaries are qualified lawyers appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and regulated by the Master of the Faculties. Notaries practice under rules very similar to those of solicitors', including renewing a practicing certificate, keeping client money separate and maintaining insurance. Notaries authenticate and certify signatures and documents, and often also practice as solicitors.
Paralegals assist lawyers in their work. They undertake some of the same work as lawyers but do not give advice to consumers of legal services.
The paralegal is a relatively modern phenomenon in British legal circles. The role has transferred across from the US where paralegals have operated in a support role in law firms for many years.
The duties of a paralegal will vary according to the type of firm and practice area that is worked in. Generic paralegal tasks may include research and drafting documents, attending client meetings and document management. They might prepare reports to help lawyers prepare their case. Some paralegals help to write contracts and mortgages and some help to prepare income tax returns and other financial documents.
Firms usually look for law graduates or non-law graduates who have completed the Common Professional Examination or Graduate Diploma in Law to fill paralegal roles. Some of the larger firms, however, will look for graduates who have also passed the Legal Practice Course.
Paralegal vacancies are generally not well advertised so a good approach is to submit your CV to firms or organisations which you are interested in working for. Publications such as the Law Society Gazette run advertisements for these positions.
- Visit the Insitute of Paralegals website
- Visit the National Association of Licensed Paralegals website
Solicitors work in many different areas of law and offer many different services. Solicitors are confidential advisers and will often have direct contact with their clients, providing expert legal advice and assistance in a range of situations.
Everyday issues solicitors deal with include:
- providing expert guidance on the issues people regularly face such as buying and selling houses, drawing up wills, and dealing with relationship breakdown
- promoting business, by helping businesses with the legal side of commercial transactions
- protecting the rights of individuals by advising people of their rights, ensuring they are treated fairly by public or private bodies, and that they receive compensation when they have been unfairly treated
- supporting the community by undertaking legal aid work or spending a portion of their time providing free help for those unable to pay for legal services
- representing clients personally in the lower courts (Magistrates’ courts, County Court and tribunals) and with specialist training are also able to represent them in higher courts (Crown Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court)
The Law Society represents, promotes and supports solicitors in England and Wales.
Ushers' duties include escorting judges to and from court and preparing and closing courtrooms. A large part of the job is the carrying out of court duties, this includes obtaining names of legal representatives, preparing court lists, maintaining order in the courtroom, administering oaths in court, and handing round exhibits.