Rights of audience are a Holy Grail

The Lord Chancellor's recent consultation paper contemplates all solicitors having full rights of audience on qualification. A death-knell for the Bar? Well, hardly. The realities of training, cost and attitude appear to favour the status quo.

According to the rules of professional conduct, solicitors must consider whether they have sufficient experience or competence before appearing as advocates.

Given the limited advocacy undertaken by most solicitors, appropriate training is very important. It is expensive but essential to protect the public, the courts and the profession from the dangers of inadequately skilled advocates.

Case handling is where litigators make their money; in the mechanics of discovery, preparation of evidence, settlement and client care.

These are valuable skills, the provision of which enable the proprietors of the major City businesses to charge up to £200 per hour for the services of quite junior assistants.

These rates reflect the underlying costs; regular salaries for staff, office space and a return for the partners. In the City at least, the price of an assistant solicitor's time is almost always higher than that of a similarly qualified junior barrister.

A City partner may well be correct to assert that his firm is a "seething pool of talent waiting to be released on the higher courts" (Mark Humphries of Linklaters, The Lawyer, 14 July). But would the cost of releasing the talent from this seething pool be competitive? Anyone in a position to cast an eye over the respective charge-out rate can see a strong case that it would not.

As to attitude, the seething pool comprises lawyers who chose to be solicitors rather than barristers. A Bristol University survey last year found that few of those solicitors who presently have higher rights of audience actually use them.

Mark Parkhouse, Rakisons