Solicitors can now become senior counsel after 300-year-old law is overturned

Legal regulator invites applications for role from solicitors, with closing date July 24th

‘There will be great interest in seeing who the first Irish solicitor in history to be made a senior counsel will be,’ the director general of the Law Society, Ken Murphy, said. Photograph: Eric Luke

‘There will be great interest in seeing who the first Irish solicitor in history to be made a senior counsel will be,’ the director general of the Law Society, Ken Murphy, said. Photograph: Eric Luke

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Solicitors are now able to apply to become senior counsel, under changes passed in legislation five years ago now coming into force that will overturn 300-year-old rules.

Up to now the right to be a senior counsel was only given by the government to practicing barristers, following a decision to grant so-called “patents of precedence”.

However, a notice seeking applications from junior barristers and solicitors appeared on the website of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) earlier this week. The closing date is July 24th.

Patents date back to the 1700s, and were designed to allow barristers who became king’s counsel to appear in cases against the crown and also, if they were members of parliament, to not have to resign their seats.

Applicants must display competence and probity and professional independence, have excellent advocacy skills and a knowledge of specialist litigation, and be of good character and tax compliant.

“They must be willing to advance an argument that is not popular and be committed to their duty to the court, particularly where that duty may conflict with their client’s interests.”

Solicitors have had a right of advocacy in all courts since 1971. Solicitors chosen will still be solicitors, and not barristers. However, it is not yet clear how appointment will affect a solicitor’s income.

“But I know some will [be chosen], and there will be great interest in seeing who the first Irish solicitor in history to be made a senior counsel will be,” the director-general of the Law Society, Ken Murphy, told The Irish Times.

The advisory committee is chaired by the Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, along with the presidents of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, The Attorney General, the Bar Council chair, the president of the Law Society, and the chair of the LSRA, also serve.