The first group of solicitors to be granted the title of “senior counsel” has been announced, following Cabinet approval.
For centuries only barristers could be awarded the title, which means they are called to the “inner bar” and are permitted to charge higher fees.
Under legal reforms introduced by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority Act 2015 and approved by cabinet on Tuesday, solicitors can now be made senior counsels. However they will remain solicitors.
A committee chaired by the Chief Justice makes recommendations to the Government on who should receive such “patents of precedence”.
The title recognises particular competence and expertise in lawyers. It is not yet clear how the senior counsel title will affect the earning ability of solicitors who receive it.
It is understood over 60 solicitors applied to be considered for the title, of which 17 were chosen.
These include well known criminal defence solicitors Michael Staines and Dara Robinson and Dundalk solicitor James MacGuill.
"I am delighted that the contributions and services of the solicitors' profession are recognised and valued on par with our barrister colleagues," said Law Society President Michele O'Boyle.
“It is in the public interest that there is competition and choice. I hope and expect many more solicitors who possess the necessary skills, knowledge and experience will apply in the coming years. This is particularly so in circumstances where solicitors are central to the functioning of the courts system and the administration of justice.”
In addition to the 17 solicitors, 20 barristers were also made senior counsel on Wednesday.