Riley Floyd ’13 – “We’re constantly evolving. We’re not like you.” That’s how our tour guide today summed up the British legal system. And she was serious.
It’s interesting to think of the British legal system as an evolving one. After all, the British legal profession is still (for the most part) split between solicitors (those who directly assist legal clients) and barristers (who litigate for clients). What’s more, the barristers appearing in court still wear wigs and robes. But despite these seemingly antiquated remnants of a fading past, British law is anything but static.
Take the division between solicitors and barristers, for example. As time goes on and legal matters become more complex, the division between the two is beginning to fade. Increasingly, barristers have direct access to clients, and solicitors might not always need the assistance of a barrister to litigate their cases. The British legal system, despite its deeply rooted traditions, is still developing–much like our own.
We’ve talked a lot in this class about social and cultural values and how they manifest themselves in the law. I think it’s interesting that, as Americans, we often see ourselves as being more modern than our English predecessors. But, perhaps not surprisingly, the country that can trace its roots to 1066 and earlier has a lot to teach us. For example, British solicitors must rotate through four different sections of law during their training course. There is no such equivalent in American law. Sure, separate firms may institute requirements for their associates. But the ABA doesn’t mandate that every American lawyer must have litigation experience. Every British solicitor, on the other hand, must complete a litigation rotation.
Today, we toured the Inns of Court–complexes that initially served as the epicenters of legal education in London. Located throughout “Legal London,” the four Inns are: Gray’s, Lincoln, Inner Temple, and Middle Temple. Each Inn has its own style–much like a university or a fraternity. Early on, the Inns were a practical answer to a largely logistical question. Medieval legal proceedings took place in London. So, it became commonplace for visiting lawyers to rent space together. The Inns began as a place for lawyers to eat, sleep, and confer with each other about cases. Later, they became the destination for keen budding lawyers eager to learn. Today, the Inns of Court are still the aspiring barrister’s gateway to the bar. They contain a dining hall, library, and workspace. In addition, they house some practicing barristers. But they are not educational institutions. Joining an Inn is, however, mandatory for any aspiring barrister.
While solicitors complete training schemes with various firms, barristers complete what is known as the bar professional training course. They do so at the British equivalent of an American law school. The program lasts only one year. During their course, the barristers must attend 12 events at their Inn. The events might be formal, topic-based weekend retreats or formal dinners. The Inns provide networking opportunities for the next step in the barrister’s ascent to the bar: a pupillage in which an aspiring barrister works for a practicing barrister. It’s a kind of apprenticeship in litigation. And securing one is exceptionally difficult. I read somewhere that over 4,000 people compete for just 300 spots. Annually. Inns still prepare barristers for practice but without directly controlling their education. The Inns, then, epitomize this concept of deeply traditional practices evolving to meet modern needs.
It was incredible to learn more about modern legal education in Britain. It’s just fascinating to observe the differences and commonalities between our two systems. Today was especially fun because we got to learn from a professional. Our guide is a criminal solicitor. As we walked the streets of legal London today, I kept thinking about the differences between our legal system and Britain’s. My final paper in this class will take on a comparative study of modern legal education in America and Britain. Today’s literally on-the-ground learning added an invaluable layer to my research. And as we meet with practicing barristers and solicitors later this week, that will continue to be true. I love London. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. As an aspiring lawyer, I hope I’ll have the chance to work for clients who might have needs in Britain. It would be incredibly educational to team up with British colleagues. I get the feeling there’s a lot to learn.