A type of practicing lawyer in England who handles primarily office work.
The title of the chief law officer of a government body or department, such as a city, town, or MUNICIPAL CORPORATION.
England has two types of practicing lawyers: solicitors and barristers. Unlike the United States, where a lawyer is allowed to handle office and trial work, England has developed a division of labor for lawyers. Solicitors generally handle office work, whereas barristers plead cases in court. However, there is some overlap. Solicitors may appear as legal counsel in the lower courts, and barristers often prepare trial briefs and other written documents. Barristers depend on solicitors to provide them with trial work because they are not allowed to accept work on their own.
The distinction between solicitors and barristers was originally based on their roles in the English court system. Solicitors were lawyers who were admitted to practice in EQUITY courts, whereas barristers were lawyers who practiced in common-law courts. The modern English judicial system has abolished this distinction. Barristers may appear in legal and equitable court proceedings, and solicitors handle out-of-court lawyering.
The role of the solicitor is similar to that of a lawyer in the United States who does not appear in court. The solicitor meets prospective clients, hears the client's problems, gives legal advice, drafts letters and documents, negotiates on the client's behalf, and prepares the client's case for trial. When a court appearance appears inevitable, the solicitor retains a barrister on the client's behalf. The solicitor instructs the barrister on how the client wishes to proceed in court.
There are more solicitors than barristers because most legal work is done outside the courtroom. Solicitors are required to take a law school course, but they must serve an apprenticeship with a practicing solicitor for five years (three years for a college graduate) before becoming fully accredited.
The regulation and administration of solicitors is managed by the Law Society, a voluntary group incorporated by Parliament. The Law Society is similar to U.S. bar associations, setting standards of professional conduct, disciplining solicitors for ethical violations, and maintaining a client compensation fund to repay losses that result from dishonesty by solicitors.
In the United States, the term solicitor generally has not been applied to attorneys. Some towns and cities in the Northeast have called their chief law enforcement officer a solicitor, rather than a chief of police.