Solicitors close in on High Court role

New rule means big savings for clients who normally have to hire barristers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 January, 2013, 4:47am

Experienced solicitors will be able to represent clients in the High Court as early as April, saving litigants tens of thousands of dollars as they will no longer have to hire a separate barrister.

Barristers have until now enjoyed a monopoly on the right to speak on behalf of clients at hearings in the High Court, which comprises the Court of First Instance and Court of Appeal. That rule is being relaxed for experienced solicitors after years of lobbying by solicitors who want to have equal standing with barristers.

A team of trainers from Britain will coach the lawyers on advocacy skills, including their presentation in court, questioning ability, and also written grounds for appeal, which are usually prepared by barristers, according to Law Society president Dieter Yih Lai-tak. The society believes the first batch of solicitors will be ready for assessment as early as April, soon after the completion of their training.

Law Society vice-president Stephen Hung Wan-shun stressed that the level of advocacy skills by suitable solicitors was expected to be on a par with that of barristers.

Law firms believe the new right for solicitors would help save costs for clients who may need to hire only one lawyer instead of two to handle their cases in court. The arrangement would particularly benefit parties involved in cases with less complicated legal issues.

"The amount could be tens of thousands of dollars, and the saving is mainly on the time a barrister will have to spend reading the files to understand the case with which the solicitor advocate, who may have been handling the case for a long time, is familiar. Of course, the exact savings varies from case to case," said Allan Leung, senior partner of Hogan Lovells, a leading law firm.

However, he believed there were certain cases that solicitor advocates were not best suited to handle. "For long trials involving complicated legal issues, a legal team including both solicitors and barristers, and hence a better division of labour, would be more appropriate," Leung said.

Solicitor Lau Kar-wah, principal of law firm Lau & Chan, believed the savings would mainly come from the time solicitors and their clients spent with barristers to study cases.

"Under our current division of labour between the two legal professions, the solicitor, the first point of contact, is like a family doctor who is more familiar with the facts of the lawsuit. Barristers are like specialists, more involved in research to build the legal argument," Lau said.