JL Merrow is here for her Relief Valve Blog Tour! Enter to win a copy of her Award Winning book SLAM!

British Lawyers 101 – the Inns and Outs of the British legal profession

Hi, I’m JL Merrow. Thanks for having me here as part of the Relief Valve blog tour.
Today, I’d like to talk about the British legal profession.

Giveaway: I’m offering a free signed paperback copy of 2013 Rainbow Award winning romantic comedy Slam! (I’m happy to ship internationally) to a randomly chosen commenter on the tour, plus a $10 Amazon gift certificate!
I’ll be making the draw around teatime on Monday 7th April, GMT. Good luck! 😀

As I understand it, and feel free to correct me, in the US, all lawyers are created equal; a one-stop shop for all your justice needs. Not so in Britain: here the breed is divided into two distinct sub-species with very different roles:



Wait, no, that’s not right.

Ah, yes. I meant to put in this picture: Working as a Solicitor

Solicitors are usually the first point of contact for your average Brit in need of legal advice. They are found in firms, which are located in ordinary office buildings.
They tend to provide all the services required by the average law-abiding person: wills, house conveyances, that sort of thing. They wear the sort of outfits that would be perfectly unremarkable on the man or woman on the (city) street.

If, however, you’ve been a naughty boy/girl and got on the wrong side of the law, or alternatively something’s got your goat and you have a yen to sue someone, you’ll probably find yourself in need of a barrister to argue your case in court. The chances are it’ll be your solicitor who finds one for you. Barristers congregate in Chambers, which are usually located in rather posher than average office buildings. They wear the sort of outfits which would be perfectly unremarkable on the man—and only the man—on the 17th Century street. Yep, even the women wear ’em. That means wigs and all in the criminal courts, although the wearing of these has been abolished in civil and family courts.

Tom’s sister Cherry in Relief Valve is a barrister, and to be honest Tom doesn’t have much of a clue what she does, making the somewhat sexist assumption (bad Tom!) that she handles divorces and “family stuff”. Interestingly, a 2011 survey by the Bar Standards Board found that female barristers were still outnumbered almost 2 to 1 by male barristers, whereas the gender split is close to 50:50 when it comes to solicitors.

Are the outfits to blame? Let’s face it, horsehair wigs aren’t a good look on anyone, but it could be argued that women get the worst of it, wearing a hairpiece designed for a man.

Then again, some of us have always suspected that men are (a) the more argumentative sex and (b) fonder of the sound of their own voices! 😉

Question: do you see the outdated outfits worn by British lawyers in court as part of a proud old tradition that should be maintained? Or do you think the Bar should embrace the 21st century, sartorially speaking? Or, well, at least the 20th?


JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance, and is frequently accused of humour. Her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy.
She is a member of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.
Find JL Merrow online at: http://www.jlmerrow.com, on Twitter as @jlmerrow, and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jl.merrow

Relief ValveIf you dig up the past, be prepared to get dirty
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing since plumber Tom Paretski and P.I. Phil Morrison became connected at the heart, if not always at Tom’s dodgy hip. Neither of their families has been shy about voicing their disapproval, which hasn’t helped Tom’s uneasy relationship with his prickly older sister, Cherry.

But when Cherry is poisoned at her own engagement party, the horror of her near death has Tom’s head spinning with possible culprits. Is it her fiancé Gregory, a cathedral canon with an unfortunate manner and an alarming taste for taxidermy? Someone from her old writers’ circle, which she left after a row? Or could the attack be connected to her work as a barrister?

Phil is just as desperate to solve the case before someone ends up dead—and he fears it could be Tom. At least one of their suspects has a dark secret to hide, which makes Tom’s sixth sense for finding things like a target painted on his back…

Warning: Contains a strong, silent, macho PI; a cheeky, chirpy, cat-owning plumber; and a gag gift from beyond the grave that’ll put the cat firmly among the pigeons.

Now available in ebook: Samhain Publishing | Amazon.com |Amazon.co.uk


  1. Your “solicitor” is called a “public notary” in Hungary, Romania, (even the US ) and we never think about them as lawyers. Lawyers do wear robes both in Hungary and Romania, thankfully no wigs though, it would be just weird. So yes, it does seem weird to me to see the barristers in full court regalia, and I often wonder if it isn’t distracting?


  2. I actually don’t think I mind it.It might seem weird to some but the British aren’t the only ones who have barristers. I think over the years I’ve become accustomed to the style because of the dramas my mother watch. Although I have moments where I think the wigs are a bit ugly or unfitting for the actor.


  3. Luv Relief Valve. Glad you didn’t use the other title Stop Cock which would not have done justice to the awesome story you wrote. Thank you for the explanation on the difference between a solicitor and a barrister. I always wondered about the difference. Yeah, the US only have lawyers, but they are kind of specialized like criminal lawyers, corporate lawyer, divorce lawyers, etc. I mean you name your problem and there is going to be a lawyer that specialized in that. I have to say I know the English luv their tradition, but even I have to admit in terms of clothing, the OMG horse hair wig(!) and the robe has got to go. Barristers should really step up into the 21st century. If nothing else it’s a time and money saver not to have to worry about keeping your wig and robe clean or heaven forbid left them at home when your are going to be at court.


    • Ah – kind of like in Britain, when we need a doctor we go and see a GP (general practitioner), whereas in Germany they go to doctors who specialise? It makes a lot of sense to specialise with law – there’s so flippin’ much to learn! I only ever took very basic law as part of my accountancy studies, but it still seemed to involve a shed-load of cases you had to memorise the names and details of. I’m kind of sad now I can no longer remember who brought the case about the snail in the ginger beer! 😉

      And with you on the unnecessary accoutrements. My SIL is a barrister, and she has visibly developed arms from all the files she has to lug about – she doesn’t need to carry ceremonial togs as well! Plus she had her wig vandalised one time… 😦


  4. Hmm, I honestly hadn’t thought about it before now! I guess it could be sort of a leveling device (since in the US jurors sometimes make assumptions due to the flashiness or shabbiness of lawyers’ looks, I think), but I’d have a hard time arguing a case in period costume…


    • Oooh, interesting point, Trix. That’s one argument often used to defend school uniforms in UK schools – nobody’s going to get picked on for their clothes not being trendy enough. Well, they do say clothes maketh the man, and I guess it’s hard not to make judgments based on appearance.


    • It does seem strange that they’ve clung to old-fashioned garb, when originally it was just normal clothes. I guess it does lend the whole thing a bit of pomp and ceremony, though.
      When I was a student in Cambridge, we had to wear academic gowns to formal hall (posh canteen dinners, basically) but at least we got to wear normal clothes underneath! 🙂


  5. Pingback: The Inns and Outs of British Law | JL Merrow

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