The Law Society is investigating ways to promote the work of solicitor-advocates amid concerns that they have been subjected to a ‘negative campaign’ questioning their competence.

In an interview for the Society’s advocacy section, president Robert Bourns (pictured) said solicitor-advocates were not being given enough credit for their excellent work.

Bourns said solicitor-advocates had been subject to a long-term negative 'campaign' that appears intended to raise questions over their adequacy and competence.

‘They have taken the brunt of public spending cuts and yet continue to do incredibly important work to a very high standard,’ he added.

Based on his own experience, Bourns said the Jeffrey Review on independent criminal advocacy, which was endorsed by former justice secretary Michael Gove, unfairly dismissed the significance of the work undertaken by a solicitor in the progress of criminal defence cases from police investigation to trial.  

He also challenged ‘serious criticism’ that solicitors were not good at recognising or dealing with conflicts of interest.

As a result, the Society has established a working group to look at what can be done to promote the position of solicitor-advocates.

‘Significant’ initiatives will be unveiled later this year, Bourns said.

Discussing the impact of litigants in person on workload and costs, Bourns said the profession needs to recognise that solicitor-advocates and the advocacy of solicitors is different from the advocacy offered by some counsel.

‘Solicitors are constantly described as trying to position themselves alongside barristers in an almost competitive environment,’ he said. ‘Clearly, there is an element of competition for work, but actually the advocacy that solicitors practise is very different.’

William Richmond-Coggan, vice-chair of the Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates, said the association had won numerous victories in the drive to put barristers and solicitor-advocates on an equal footing in the eyes of the court and the public. These include initiatives over court dress and a recent campaign to have the QC applications process reviewed in order to root out potential bias against solicitor applicants.

But Richmond-Coggan said there is more to do. ‘It is no secret that the bar, particularly concerned about the threat posed to its junior members by the cost-effective, pragmatic and end-to-end service that solicitor-advocates routinely offer, is determined to fight for its members’ interests, even if that is at the risk of unjustly discrediting their fellow professionals,’ he added.

‘While we would not necessarily stoop to the same tactics, the association is determined to continue fighting for the interests of its members. And if the Law Society is serious about doing the same we will welcome them to the cause.'