CAREERS FOR BARRISTERS IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT & THE PUBLIC SERVICE
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Q. What is a Barrister?
A. A Barrister is an individual who has been called to the Bar by one of the four Inns of Court and who has not ceased to be a Member of the Bar.
Q. And what does a Barrister do?
A. It depends on whether he is practising or non-practising. A practising Barrister is either (a) a Barrister in independent practice, i.e. a Barrister who holds himself out to the public generally in England and Wales as willing, in return for the payment of fees, to render legal services to clients; or (b) an employed Barrister, i.e. a Barrister who, in return for the payment of a salary is employed wholly or primarily for the purpose of providing legal services to his employer, either under a contract of employment or by virtue of an office under the Crown or in the institutions of the European Communities and who has complied with the requirements of paragraphs 401(b) and 401(c) of the Code of Conduct (notification of employment details to the Bar Council and payment of subscription). A non-practising Barrister is a Barrister who is neither in independent practice nor an employed Barrister.
Q. I thought that only Barristers in practice from chambers were "practising". Since when have employed Barristers become "practising"?
A. Since the lst February 1989 when the fourth edition of the code of Conduct for the Bar came into force. One of the many changes it introduced relates to the status and rights of employed Barristers. If you are already a Barrister, or if you are a Bar Student, you should obtain from the Bar Council a copy of the current edition of the Code of Conduct (31st March 1990) (loose-leaf) together with all subsequent amendments and study it carefully. The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 makes fundamental changes to the legal profession and you should study it carefully. If you become a subscriber to the Bar Council you will receive free of charge the current edition of the Code of Conduct, the "Bar News" monthly, and "Counsel" every two months. Incidentally, payment of annual subscriptions is now compulsory for employed Barristers.
Q. What sort of work can an employed Barrister do?
A. He could be employed by a company as Company Secretary or he could be in the Legal Department of a large firm or he could be a Clerk to the Justices or go into the Civil Service or help with the drafting of Acts of Parliament, or he could specialise in lecturing, or in writing books about the law, articles for the legal magazines, or he could join the legal staff of a Local Authority, Health Authority, British Rail, the Post Office or any other Nationalised Industry or Public Body. He could pursue an entirely different career by seeking high rank in the Police Force or the Armed Forces as a lawyer. A Bar qualification opens the key to all these doors, and many more.
Q. I am particularly interested in the references to the public service and Local Government. I had always thought, however, that they only employed Solicitors. what opportunities are there for Barristers?
A. Well, let us have a look at them. First of all let us define our terms. The Local Government system in England and Wales consists of County Councils and District (or-Borough) Councils in the Shire Counties and just Boroughs in the Metropolitan Counties. In the rural parts of the Shire Counties there are also Parish Councils, but their staffing levels are normally so low as to give them no significance from the point of view of a professional career. London has its London Boroughs.
Q. : What posts are open to Barristers who want to practise law, as opposed to those who would find the qualification a useful second one to enable them the better to carry out their functions, say as Director of Planning or Director of Housing, with a full appreciation of the legal context and requirements, the central and local constitutional position .and the workings of the Courts?
A. There has always been a tendency to appoint Solicitors to the legal staff of a Local Authority rather than Barristers, but there has always been a consistent small group of the latter. They serve as lawyers and assist with the administration of their Authority. They have the opportunity to climb the Local Government ladder to the Chief Executiveship or Town or County Clerkship, or if their preference is for practical application of the law rather than overall management, to become Borough or County Secretary, Director of Law and Administration or whatever the local title may be. There are also openings for those wishing to concentrate on advocacy by taking up "Assistant Solicitor" posts specialising in local authority prosecutions and appearing at Planning and other Inquiries and Tribunals. The Crown Prosecution Service has taken over the prosecution functions of Police Authorities and also the prosecution of "police cases" formerly conducted by County Prosecution Departments. It is very important for Barristers not to be deterred from applying for posts advertised seeking "Assistant Solicitors" even if applications are not expressly invited from Barristers. Each application is likely to be considered on its merits. There is no longer any objection by the Bar Council to an employed Barrister taking a job with a title such as "Solicitor" or "Assistant Solicitor".
Q. These are the specialist tasks. What would a run of the mill lawyer in an ordinary Local Authority do?
A. Local Authorities are creatures of statute. They have specific powers and no "general competence". Thus it is necessary to identify for their every act a statutory basis, frequently elaborated upon by subsidiary legislation in the form of Statutory Instruments. These, in turn, are often accompanied by Circulars from the relevant Central Government Department and memoranda and advice from the same quarters. Sometimes this appears to be little more than exhortation of Governmental policy which a Local Authority should only challenge or oppose for good reason. It is the lawyer's job to be familiar with these various governing rules and to advise his Council and his colleagues on their relevance, application, procedural complexities, pitfalls and "avoidance". After all, it is his task to enable the Authority, if at all possible, to do as it wishes, not merely to be obstructive and tell it what it cannot do!
He must keep up to date with case law, be aware of planning decisions by the Secretary of State (or his Inspectors when they have delegated powers) and the views of the multitude of thinkers, writers and lecturers, which fill the Local Government and legal periodicals. He must take a lively interest in political attitudes and approaches. The political complexion of one's Authority will give strong clues to their ambitions and priorities, whether in the field of providing or subsidising facilities and services or staff relations, although local circumstances and pressures can sometimes give the impression that the teams are playing from the other end of the pitch!
Local Authorities vary considerably in size and so do their legal departments. There may only be two or three qualified lawyers, or there may be over 60 solicitors / barristers. The larger the team the higher the degree of specialisation. The sort of tasks to be performed would include a selection (limited or extensive) of these:
(a) representing the Authority and presenting its case at Public Inquiries relating to compulsory purchase of land, appeals against refusal or conditional grant of planning permission or the issue of an enforcement notice;
(b) prosecuting in food safety, food hygiene, weights and measures, health and safety at work and a variety of other cases, seeking to recover debts or possession of houses in the County Court;
(c) conducting correspondence on a wide range of matters where precision of terminology is required or where litigation may arise;
(d) conducting any such litigation or instructing one's colleagues in independent practice, attending conferences in Chambers and seeing the job through;
(e) advising one's colleagues in other sections or departments on a host of legal or procedural points, preferably in advance but sometimes when coals have to be plucked from the fire and advising when compromise is necessary;
(f) advising on employment law, grievance and disciplinary matters, and appearing before Industrial Tribunals;
(g) advising on and conducting child care cases in all courts.
(h) conducting negotiations for, say, a new shopping centre or a new Town Hall, to see that the "lease and lease back" or whatever relevant relationship is properly created, land assembled and financial aspects covered;
(i) advising on and preparation of contracts, whether for the building of a major road, estate of houses, a bridge, block of flats or for the installation of a photo-copier or a fire alarm system, or purchase of a couple of refuse wagons;
(j) keeping an eye on what is happening and, for example, safeguarding the Councilís interests by serving a Notice to Quit or preserving a lease by notice under the Landlord and Tenant Act;
(k) involvement with in-house training, attendance at seminars and, in some cases, lecturing or, at any rate giving periodic talks on the law;
(l) attending at Committees and advising on points of law, practice, or procedure and generally on the subject matter of agendas and drafting of reports and minutes and rules of conduct of meetings;
(m) maintaining links with Central Government, Statutory Undertakers, Industry and other public and private bodies;
(n) conveyancing, documentation for sales and purchases, leases and tenancies;
(o) drafting Road Traffic Regulation Orders, Byelaws, Notices and other local rules and regulations;
(p) preparatory work on local private Bills;
(q) keeping an eye on the local land charges registry;
(r) operating a law library;
That will do for starters!
Q. How, then, does one set about joining a Local Authority's legal team? Is there a central recruitment office?
A. No. Each Local Authority employs its own staff. It advertises in the local press for its clerical staff, but in the national daily and Sunday papers and the Local Government magazines for vacancies for administrative, professional and technical staff. Some Authorities seek legal staff also from the Private sector by advertising in the legal press. It's a matter of spotting the adverts and putting in an application.
Q. Do the Authorities say whether they want a Solicitor or a Barrister?
A. Not normally. There is an assumption that Solicitors will apply but if a Barrister submits a good application he stands a very good chance of being shortlisted and appointed, particularly if he has completed his pupillage. There is at present a very severe shortage of lawyers and it is far easier than ever before for Barristers to be appointed by Local Authorities. Once you have a job with one Authority you may be able to rise like the cream, or you may find it necessary to apply for posts in other Authorities to gain earlier promotion.
You will realise, of course, that as an employed Barrister you may not practise from Chambers at the same time, but in the event of your leaving employment, you can go into independent practice provided you have completed your pupillage, or have been exempted from it.
Money and other benefits? Check the adverts, but normally even a newly qualified lawyer receives a substantial salary and will be on a contributory inflation-proof pension scheme. Most Authorities would pay all your removal expenses and would give you a low interest loan to buy a car. Some Authorities would give you a free leased car and they may provide you with temporary or permanent housing accommodation or give you a mortgage subsidy. They should normally pay your subscription to the Bar Council.
Q. We've concentrated on Local Government, but what other bodies are there in a similar category?
A. Let's see now. Leaving aside the Civil Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, Commerce, Finance and Industry, there are the Statutory Undertakers: British Gas, British Telecom, British Rail, Electricity Boards, Water Companies (dealing with water supply and sewage disposal) and the Post Office, all of which have legal staff and are concerned with land transactions, purchase and lease of buildings, wayleaves and other agreements for their services, the pursuance of statutory requirements to achieve the laying of pipes and cables where needed. They all have contact with the other Undertakers and Local Authorities, for example, when services are laid in roads and to serve Local Authority or private residential or commercial developments. They, too, employ staff, meet the public, enter into contracts and the Water Authorities employ the Local Authorities to some extent as their agents.
The Magistrates' Courts Service is another source of career opportunities for barristers. The Service provides lay Justices of the Peace with independent legal advice on law, practice and procedure on matters ranging from criminal law, family law and child care law, to liquor licensing, betting and gaming. Magistrates' Courts deal with 96% of all criminal cases, and combined with their civil jurisdiction, provide a substantial career to the keen barrister. Point of contact in the London area is David Simpson, Justices' Clerk, The Court House, Harefield Road, Uxbridge, UB8 1PQ, Tel. 0895-30771 and for provincial areas, Anthony Heath, Secretary to the Justices' Clerks Society, The Court House, Homer Road, Solihullr B91 3RD, Tel. 021-705-8101. Information is available which explains the career opportunities available in the Magistrates' Courts Service in more detail, but enquirers are welcome to contact any of their local Justices' Clerks.
Q. And how do I find out about jobs with the other bodies you mention?
A. They advertise. Keep your eyes peeled and respond. or contact the body -vou are interested in and ask for information about any vacancies they may have or as to the best periodicals to examine in the local library for adverts.
Q. Anything else?
A. There are the Health Authorities, of course, at Regional or District level. The latter are not very rich in lawyers but opportunities do arise. Apart from the usual land sales and property dealings, and staff matters, there is again, contact with Local Authorities, Statutory Undertakers and Central Government Departments.
Local Authorities which have education under their belt, the colleges, polytechnics and universities, which provide facilities for law degrees or include law in the syllabus for other degrees or professional qualifications should also be mentioned. They need lecturers as well as administrators.
Q. The world seems full of oysters, apparently with pearls! Are there any problems peculiar to Barristers?
A. Unfortunately there are, but they are fewer than ever before. They vary from time to time but arise in four areas:
(1) Conveyancing. Restrictions on conveyancing have troubled employed Barristers in the past but there is now a system of registration with the Bar Council on the strength of the appropriate academic qualifications and practical experience. Details are contained in the Code of Conduct for the Bar. Conveyancing is normally carried out in the name of a Chief Officer who is either a Solicitor or an Employed Barrister who is registered with the Bar Council to carry out conveyancing.
(2) Rights of audience. Under the pre-1989 Code of Conduct for the Bar employed Barristers could not appear as Counsel in any Court and they had to appear as an officer if specifically authorised by a resolution of their employing authority or unless they had the leave of the Court. The current Code of Conduct allows employed Barristers to appear on behalf of their employer as Counsel in any Court in circumstances where Barristers in independent practice do not have an exclusive right of audience in such Court; they are not required to be instructed by a Solicitor and have to wear robes, if robes are customarily worn by Counsel in that Court. However, there are limitations. The employed Barrister can only appear as Counsel if he has completed his pupillage, or he is currently serving the second six months of his pupillage, or he became an employed Barrister before lst January 1989 and has been an employed Barrister for not less than five years, or he has obtained the consent of the Bar Council. Those who do not qualify to appear as Counsel may still be able to appear by leave of the Court, or as authorised officers, but they are not allowed to robe. The importance of completing pupillage cannot be stressed too strongly.
(3) Direct access to Counsel. This is now permissible in any matter unless rules of court require the intervention of a Solicitor.
(4) Section 20 of the Solicitors Act 1974 and the Rules of the Supreme Court. A body corporate may not begin or carry on proceedings in the High Court otherwise than by a Solicitor. Likewise a body corporate may not take any step in defending an action in the High Court, except to acknowledge service of a writ and to give notice of its intention to defend, otherwise than by a Solicitor. An employed Barrister cannot act for his employer in his own name in High Court proceedings. Anything he does would have to be in the name of a Solicitor, normally a fellow employee of the same employing authority, unless he has been authorised as a litigator by the Bar Council. A real problem would only arise if no Solicitor is in the employment of the employed Barrister's employer, in which case a Solicitor in private practice would have to be engaged. There is nothing in the rules of the County Court which compels a body corporate to employ a Solicitor as its agent and employed Barristers should have no particular problem.
Q. What does the Bar Association for Local Government and the Public Service do?
A. The Association and its predecessors constantly seek to clarify and extend the rights of employed Barristers and are collaborating closely with the other two bodies representing Employed Barristers, namely the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry (BACFI) and the First Division Association, Government Legal Service and Crown Prosecution Service (FDA). All three Associations are represented on the Bar Council. The right for employed Barristers to appear as Counsel on behalf of their employer was promoted by the Association. A recent amendment to the Consolidated Regulations which was also promoted by the Association now allows up to six months pupillage to be satisfied by an equivalent period of pupillage with an employed pupil-master approved by the Joint Regulations Committee. Another amendment, likewise promoted, allows a three months pupillage to be satisfied with a three months pupillage served with a Solicitor who is either employed or who is in private practice, provided that it ends before the commencement of pupillage in chambers. These modes of satisfying pupillage do not count towards the non-practising six months. The current position should be ascertained from the Bar Council. The Association also advises on Public Sector careers, holds some lectures and seminars and makes representations to various bodies on subjects relevant to its activities and on professional matters.
Q. Just remind me. Where do I find information about the world of Local Government?
A. You may care to have a look at copies of the following publications which are available in most libraries, for articles and advertisements for vacancies in Local Government and the Public Sector generally:-
Law Society's Gazette
Law Society's Guardian Gazette (monthly)
Local Government Chronicle
New Law Journal
Justice of the Peace (for appointments in the Magistrates' Courts Service)
Quality national daily and Sunday papers.
Local Authorities are busy places of work with a constant flow of contacts with, use of, and potential conflicts within the law. Everything from constitutional principles to details of an enforcement notice or the "small print" on a quotation come the way of a Local Government lawyer. Why not consider Local Government as a career?
It is hoped you will find these explanations helpful. If you would like any point clarified further, then please contact the Honorary Treasurer of the Association by letter or preferably by telephone. There is another booklet called "A Career in Local Government for Barristers" which is available free from the Association. If you do obtain full time employment in the Public Sector you can apply for membership of the Association. Further information and application forms are obtainable from:-
Mr. Mirza F. N. Ahmad, MBA, LLM, Barrister,
Chief Legal Officer,
Birmingham City Council,
Ingleby House, 11-14 Cannon Street,
Birmingham B1 5EU
(Revised: November 2003)
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