Solicitors Attorneys & Barristers
The division between barristers and solicitors has been present for many hundreds of years. Barristers specialised in pleading cases and attorneys and solicitors instruct barristers and act in preparatory steps in a court hearing and also in legal matters not involving litigation.
Attorneys were attached to one of the three courts of common law and solicitors were attached to the court of chancery. When the single Supreme Court of Judicature was formed in 1877, the expression solicitor supplanted that of attorney.
Historically admission to the legal profession was regulated by the courts. The courts recognised the right of a party to litigation to appoint a person to represent him as an attorney in legal proceedings.
The previous informal manner of admission to the legal profession came to be regulated by the adoption of statutes by the Benchers of the Honourable Society of King’s Inns. The Benchers comprise judges and senior lawyers and was formed in 1539.
By the early 17th Century, persons could not be admitted as attorneys in any of the court unless they were first admitted to membership of the Society. It appears that some period of formal apprenticeship was required. Attorneys were obliged to have paid commons and other duties to the King’s Inns.
Apprenticeship Required by Law
A 1733 Act required that the right to exercise the profession of attorney at law might be attained by persons binding themselves to service in the office of some admitted attorney for a certain period and afterwards applying to one of the courts of law in Ireland where they may be admitted to practise as an attorney in such court. A person was not to be admitted unless he has so practised for five years.The indentures of apprenticeship were to be enrolled in the appropriate court with an affidavit of due service sworn.
A person might also be admitted if he was an official of the court of chancery or to an admitted or licensed solicitor in England and Ireland.
An Act of 1773 required reputable practising attorneys of the court to enquire into the moral and educational qualifications of apprentices seeking admission. An apprentice could not be admitted unless he attended the courts in Dublin for two terms for each of three years during his apprenticeship.
A Society of attorneys was formed in 1774. It set up a committee to supervise the application of the new law and the regulation of the profession. It proposed certain law reforms.
The Law Club of Ireland was formed in 1791 and like the 1774 Society was later dissolved.
The 1792 Catholic Relief Act abolished legal disabilities for Catholics and dissenters although they could not hold the position of King’s Counsel and in effect judges. This was later removed in 1829.
In the same year the Benchers issued new draft rules for the governance of the profession. A committee was appointed to confer with a committee of barristers and with a committee of attorneys on such rules as related to their respective practices. The 1792 rules were rejected by the Bar and new rules were issued in 1793.]]
The 1793 rules declared the Benchers’ full authority to make rules for the business and practice of attorneys and for their admission to the said Society as members thereof, for the admissions of dealings into the said Society, concerning ranks and degrees and for advancement of knowledge in the science and practice of law.
The rules required every barrister and solicitor to be members of the Society and bar students to be members and to pay fees including a deposit for chambers. The rules derived their force from the fact that the Benchers comprised and included judges.
Solicitors were granted a monopoly in the preparation of property deeds in Ireland in 1816 partly appeasing complaints regarding annual stamp duty of their practicing certificates which was significant.
1821 legislation allowed university graduates to be admitted as attorneys and solicitors after a shortened period of apprenticeship of three, instead of five years.
The Law Society
The Law Society was established in 1830. Its principal objects were
- preserve the rights and privileges of attorneys
- to promote useful communication amongst members of the profession, fair and honourable practice and to adopt measures calculated to ensure respectability and advantage to the public
- to suggest to the authorities, such alterations as experience of changing in circumstances may require for improving the rules and practice of the courts of law and equity
- to adopt such measures as may be best calculated to prevent admission of uneducated or improper persons and to prevent unqualified persons from practising
- for procure and erect hall for the purpose of the Society when the fund should be sufficient to do so.
After 1843, copies of petitions and affidavits of prospective apprentices were to be lodged with the Society as well as with the King’s Inns in order to vet apprentices. The 1773 legislation continued to reserved the rights for judges to examine into the qualifications of applicants for admission to practice in the courts and to admit such persons and with such discretion as, theretofore.
Unification of Solicitors & Attorneys
In 1836, the Benchers adopted the rule that any future applicant to take apprentices had to be not only admitted as an attorney in all three common law courts, but a solicitor as well. This was a significant step in creating a unified profession of solicitor.
In 1840 legislation provided that where a practitioner paid stamp duty on securing his admission in any of the four superior courts, he would be entitled to be admitted in the other three without additional duty.
An applicant for admission had to post his intention in the Four Courts. Objections might be made. In 1848, it was agreed by the Benchers that copies of petitions and affidavits for prospective apprentices should be lodged with the secretary of the Society as well as the King’s Inns so that the Society might object to persons they believed unsuitable.
There was disagreement between the Law Society and King’s Inns regarding the basis on which the Benchers regulated the taking of apprentices by solicitors. The Law Society argued that apprentices were entitled to have their intentions enrolled without payment to King’s Inns provided they complied with the 1733 and 1773 Act.
Attempts were made to introduce legislation in parliament by Daniel O’Connell to make the Law Society independent of King’s Inns and give it powers to make byelaws for the government of the Society.
In 1841, the Society adopted new rules. In particular it provided the Society would be formed
- for the regulation of the profession of attorney and solicitor
- for protecting their rights and privileges
- for the institution and support of a library for the use of profession and
- the means of instructing apprentices.
It should be called the Society of Attorneys and Solicitors in Ireland. The Society should give lectures and provide better education in the laws and practice in courts suggest alternations of law, preserve the rights and privileges of the profession and regulate the admission of solicitors.
The Law Society developed its role as the spokesman for the solicitor’s branch of the profession at the expense of the Law Club of Ireland which it slowly eclipsed.
Incorporated Law Society 1852
The Law Society was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1852 for benefit of the profession. The members of the Society were to be called a body politic and corporate in deed and by law by the name of the Incorporated Society of Attorneys and Solicitors of Ireland with perpetual succession. The Charter recognised the Society’s roles and functions and its public role.
The Society in its early years post-charter sought to inaugurate a scheme of education for apprentices and established its independence from King’s Inns. It also achieved an increasing degree of self-government and recognition of its position as the regulatory body for solicitor. This ultimately culminated in the Solicitor’s Ireland Act 1898.