An artificial divide that's had its day

In the first 18 months since solicitor advocates began to appear in the Higher Courts there has been a slow but steady stream of litigation solicitors who have obtained the Higher Courts qualification.

Currently there is no sign that the stream is increasing, but the truth is different. The City giants are not asleep; they are preparing for a future in which they will offer a fully integrated litigation service for the first time.

City law firms are untapped pools of advocacy talent. No longer do the best lawyers have to choose between the roles of problem-solving tactician and advocate. Today they can choose a career in a firm which combines the best of both sides of the former artificial divide. No longer can the Bar solicit the best advocates for the next generation; the solicitors' profession is no longer a bar to a career in advocacy.

City firms are working to overcome the obstacles of progress. They are providing specialist training, undertaking more cases in the lower courts where there are real prospects of advocacy experience, and, most importantly, they are increasingly appearing as advocates in the Higher Courts.

But a career in advocacy does not necessarily mean a career spent in the courtroom. The post-Woolf inquiry advocate will spend more time in the office with clients and witnesses, researching, advising and constructing written arguments, than in court. He or she is more likely to be surrounded by the latest technology than by files wrapped in pink ribbon.

He will only wear the court dress of a bygone era with reluctance and will be an advocate more comfortable in the dynamics of modern litigation, who little cares for tradition if it does not serve the client.

Do not doubt that clients require the integrated service – it is the pressure from clients and potential clients which is bringing about change. Clients are increasingly questioning the roles of lawyers in litigation. They recognise that, when there was no choice, they were obliged to pay for duplication. Now they have a choice, they will increasingly refuse to pay.

But clients do not want their solicitors to pretend to be barristers. They want their choice of litigation solicitor to be their advocate. If a client retains a highly specialised commercial litigation solicitor, he is entitled to expect that specialist to argue his case. He does not want the presentation of his case delegated to a generalist. Let there be no mistake about this – barristers have largely become the GPs of the legal world; City solicitors have long since taken their place as the consultants. Solicitor advocates are not taxi drivers.

The call for change is not confined to some firms but applies to all firms. If a firm is offering a fully integrated litigation service, it has an advantage over one which is not. No firm can continue to ignore the changes to rights of audience which have occurred. Recruitment advertisements for junior lawyers with advocacy experience have begun to appear.

And what of the commercial Bar, whose work is the battleground for City solicitors? Increasingly City firms are performing the advocacy work previously undertaken by junior barristers.

That will continue. Eventually there will be no reason for any City firm to use a junior barrister in commercial litigation. Even in major commercial litigation solicitors will insist on working with senior barristers to the exclusion of junior barristers.

The work of junior barristers will disappear and the source of tomorrow's senior barristers will run dry. Today's top advocates, senior commercial barristers, will be replaced by solicitors. Today's junior litigation partners will be tomorrow's trial advocates.