Research by academics at Bristol University has shown that very few solicitors are taking up advocacy rights in civil courts and that they are not likely to do so in the future.
A team from the University's Department of Professional Legal Studies, commissioned by the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education, conducted two-hour long interviews with 60 solicitors and a dozen barristers.
It found that while many solicitors with a criminal specialism were taking up their rights, few civil specialists were, and there were no signs solicitors would do so in the future. It concluded that barristers had little to lose from further liberalisation of the rules.
Tim Press, a former London solicitor who teaches on Bristol's legal practice course, said: “People may have been expecting civil litigators to develop in-house advocates and have their own cab rank of advocates sitting in the basement. By and large that hasn't happened. Expectations were unrealistic.”
The cause, Price said, was that solicitors, unless they have court appearances at least once a month, do not have the trial experience necessary to take the written advocacy test – even though the pass mark has been reduced. They also do not want to bother learning and renewing advocacy skills.
“Solicitors like the current system. It is efficient and cost-effective despite the fact that two people are involved,” said Price. “The Bar should not fear further deregulation. Left to its own devices, the profession would organise along these lines anyway. The only barristers with anything to fear are those who aren't very good.”