Stewarts partner Philippa Charles attended a roundtable to discuss the role of solicitor-advocates, and the changes that need to be made to ensure a level playing field with the bar.

The members of the roundtable represented a wide range of practice areas from criminal law to arbitration, which was the topic covered by Philippa. It was chaired by Eduardo Reyes from the Law Society Gazette.

The conversation started by discussing the difference between solicitor-advocates and barristers, and the fact that there seems to be a lack of training available in this area for solicitors. Barristers are mentored in advocacy whereas, for solicitors, it can be hard to find someone to fulfil this role, as it is a skill that is less practised.

Philippa noted that training and support should not just centre on oral advocacy, and commented:

“There are things that aren’t directly advocacy-related, like how best to structure a skeleton argument so it gets the right points across; how best to make use of your authorities; or how best to deploy your [factual] evidence, particularly in pure submissions advocacy.

“There’s certainly room in the market for someone to come along and give training on those things. This would boost people’s confidence in terms of being ready to prepare and present their own cases.”

Philippa went on to discuss how prepared the advocate has to be when dealing with cross-examination.

“You have to do your own preparation,” she said. “In some of the larger commercial firms that do a lot of arbitration, you find that the advocate has had the questions prepared for them by a junior, and they turn up with a script and they run through the script.

“I’ve never been comfortable with that. Unless you can own the case yourself, you can’t present it well and you can’t cross-examine on it well.

“You’ve got to find the right balance in terms of actually taking enough time to prepare it properly to deliver it as the advocate.”

The roundtable went on to discuss the role of advocacy within arbitration, the presence of advocacy departments within some of the larger firms and how a lot of US firms now insist on doing their own in-house advocacy.

The discussion concluded with a call to increase the number of solicitor QCs. In January 2016, three solicitors were appointed as QCs, all arbitrators. This was down from five in January 2015.

To read the full article, please click here – Roundtable: solicitor-advocates



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