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COULD SOLICITORS AND BARRISTERS MERGE PROFESSIONS?

Here at Premex we value the principles of independence so we were intrigued when Radio 4's Law in Action   put the issue under the microscope.

With so much upheaval underway in the legal services sector, many of the fundamental roles in legal practice appear to be facing change of their own. Joshua Rozenberg dissected the topic of solicitor advocates and the blurring of lines between law firms and the bar after anecdotal evidence appeared to suggest that less experienced individuals could be affecting cases and potentially impacting litigants' right to a fair trial.

Of course what the programme proved was that while concern exists, the debate is far from over. Professor Richard Moorehead of Cardiff Law School pointed out there was no independent evidence supporting either side's argument that solicitor advocates over reach themselves, although he did say the quality of advocacy is something that's been left unscrutinised by regulators.

So is a greater fusion between barristers and solicitors the answer? Solicitor advocate Sundeep Bhatia understandably said yes, while Baroness Ruth Deech of the Bar Standards Board said flexibility was essential; A barrister, she said, "would always stand up and take the case, regardless".

Of course, consumers play an increasing part in the evolution of legal services and the debate was juxtaposed with comments from Elisabeth Davies, Chair of the Consumer panel at the Legal Services Board, who said professional titles would begin to lose their meaning for consumers. "What matters most is competence and the presence of a quality assurance scheme," she said.

It will be fascinating to see how this dynamic changes over the coming years.