Definition of solicitor
solicitor (plural solicitors)
- In many common law jurisdictions, a type of lawyer whose traditional role is to offer legal services to clients apart from acting as their advocate in court. A solicitor instructs a barrister to act as an advocate for their client in court, although rights of audience for solicitors vary according to jurisdiction.
- In English Canada and in parts of Australia, a type of lawyer who historically held the same role as above, but whose role has in modern times been merged with that of a barrister.
- In parts of the U.S., the chief legal officer of a city, town or other jurisdiction.
- (North America) A person soliciting sales, especially door to door.
- Jurisdictions using the common-law definition include England and Wales, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Solicitors are lawyers who traditionally deal with any legal matter including conducting proceedings in courts. In the United Kingdom, a few Australian states and the Republic of Ireland, the legal profession is split between solicitors and barristers (or, in Scotland, advocates), and a lawyer will usually only hold one title. However, in Canada, New Zealand and most Australian states, the legal profession is now for practical purposes "fused", allowing lawyers to hold the title of "barrister and solicitor" and practise as both. The distinction between barristers and solicitors is, however, retained. Some legal graduates will start off as one and then decide to become the other.
England and Wales
Before the unification of the Supreme Court under the Judicature Act 1873, solicitors practised in the Chancery Courts, attorneys practised in the Common Law courts and proctors practised in the Ecclesiastical Courts. After 1873 the titles of "attorney" and "proctor" disappeared as terms relating solely to legally qualified persons, being replaced by "Solicitor of the Supreme Court" in all courts. Since the replacement of the House of Lords with the Supreme Court the full title of a solicitor is now “solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales”.
The term "attorney" is however still used under English law to refer to someone legally appointed or empowered (who may but need not be legally qualified) to act for another person. Currently, the term is most commonly used to refer to someone so appointed under the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to act in this manner in a Lasting Power of Attorney.
In the English legal system, solicitors traditionally dealt with any legal matter including conducting proceedings in courts although solicitors were required to engage a barrister as advocate in a High Court or above after the profession split in two. Minor criminal cases are tried in Magistrates' Courts, which constitute by far the majority of courts. More serious cases start in the Magistrates Court and may then be transferred to a higher court. The majority of civil cases are tried in county courts and are almost always handled by solicitors. Cases of higher value (£50,000.00 or above) and those of unusual complexity are tried in the High Court, and the advocates in the High Court were until recently barristers engaged by solicitors to assist. Barristers, as the other branch of the English legal profession, have traditionally carried out the functions of advocacy in the High Court and Crown Court and Court of Appeal. However, barristers have now lost this exclusivity and solicitors may now extend their advocacy to such courts. In the past, barristers did not deal with the public directly. This rigid separation no longer applies. Solicitor advocates with extended rights of audience may now act as advocates at all levels of the courts. Conversely, the public may now hire and interact with a barrister directly in certain types of work without having to go to a solicitor first.
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