The legal profession is a vital part of the legal system in Victoria and is made up primarily of Solicitors and Barristers. Legal professionals provide advice to individuals and/or organisations, as well as appearing in Court to represent their client. Practicing as a legal professional involves the application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualised problems, or to advance the interests of the client. Scholars of history trace the origins of lawyers back as far as Ancient Greece, although Emperor Claudius of the Roman Empire was the first to formally recognise advocacy as a profession when he lifted the ban on charging fees for advocacy services. The roots of the Australian legal profession are planted firmly in the traditions of English common law espoused in the Middle Ages.
Usually, any person with a legal problem will initially think about consulting a Solicitor. Solicitors provide legal advice to their clients on legal matters, draft legal documents and prepare evidence for Barristers so that they may properly represent the client in court. Many Solicitors represent their clients in the Magistrates’ Court and will provide the necessary assistance to Barristers for matters in higher courts. There are a small number of Solicitors who perform as advocates in the higher courts. Solicitors may work independently as sole practitioners, be employed by private law firms with multiple partners or be employed directly by the government in various public service organisations, such as the Office of Public Prosecutions, Victoria Legal Aid or the Government Solicitor’s Office.
Barristers are lawyers with specialised skills/knowledge who represent clients in court. Usually, a client will primarily look for opinion from a Solicitor, however, often the Solicitor will refer the matter to a Barrister to obtain advice on merit and to have the Barrister attend court on behalf of the client. The most skillful Barristers are recognized by the mark of distinction of Senior Counsel or SCs. Prior to 2000, they were appointed as Queen’s Counsel or QCs. They are also referred to as “Silks”, which is a reference to their right to wear a silk gown once they are appointed to this senior position.
Barristers and Solicitors have individual professional associations.
Law Institute of Victoria
The Law Institute of Victoria (www.liv.asn.au) is the peak representative body for Solicitors in Victoria. The Institute provides a range of vital services for members such as continuing legal education, advice on ethics, access to a vast library of books and resources, mentoring, client referral services and general advice regarding practice management. The President and the working committees work collaboratively with various government bodies, stakeholders and community organisations in projects such as law reform, access to justice and other community initiatives.
The Victorian Bar Association (www.vicbar.com.au) is the professional association of practicing Barristers in Victoria. The Bar Association is tasked with the responsibility of making the professional conduct rules that govern Barristers, processing applications as well as investigating complaints against Barristers, as referred by the Legal Services Commissioner. The Association also undertakes the usual duties such as administering specific committees (i.e. pro bono committee, new Barristers committee etc.) supporting the various sub bar associations such as the criminal bar, commercial bar, family law bar etc., and working collaboratively with community, government and other stake holders in various projects of community importance such as gender equality at the Bar, as well as documenting the history of Barristers through the Victorian Bar Oral History database.
Legal Services Board
The Legal Services Board (www.lsb.vic.gov.au) is a self-governing authority in charge of the regulation of the legal profession in Victoria. Functions include registration, enforcement of guidelines for practitioners and ensuring compliance. The Legal Services Board is also tasked to protect consumers’ interests and to uphold the highest standards of professionalism for lawyers.
The Legal Services Board administers practicing certificates which permit recipients to practice as a lawyer in Victoria. The Legal Services Board can help you to find out if you want to know whether a particular person is a lawyer in Victoria. The Board also holds records about any adverse findings made against lawyers such as professional misconduct.
Legal Services Commissioner
The Legal Services Commissioner (www.lsc.vic.gov.au) deals with complaints against lawyers registered in Victoria. Such complaints may be about matters such as professional service or conduct (for instance, irrational delay, fraud, conflicts of interest) or about excess or undisclosed legal costs.
The Commissioner also educates the members of the legal profession about professional responsibility and integrity, as well as educating the general public about what they are supposed to expect in dealing with members of the legal profession.