Why do Lawyers…?


Have you ever spoken to a solicitor or watched a barrister in action and wondered ‘why on earth do they do that?!’. Here are our answers to some frequently asked questions.

…Wear wigs?

In 17th Century, wigs were worn for fashion and practicality. Social class came into it too, and by wearing a wig, a lawyer could give the impression of good social-standing and respectability. Solicitors stopped wearing wigs in the early 19th century (much to the gratitude of many at LFBB I am sure!), but for barristers, this tradition endured, enshrined in the common law. Whilst today barristers are not required to wear wigs for civil cases, they remain in use in criminal trials.

The legal profession expects reform over the next few decades and barristers are fairly split over whether they want to keep them. Those in favour argue respect for tradition and better lines drawn over ‘who is who’ in the courtroom. On the other side of the argument are those who find them archaic and give the impression that the justice system is out of touch, let alone being hot and uncomfortable!

…Wear black?

Initially, barristers wore a robe again as a sign of social standing, and to distinguish themselves in a courtroom. Both Judges and advocates were even known to change the colours of their robes to match the seasons! In the 17th century, the introduction of new rules and mourning the death of Charles II led to barristers wearing black, and the style hasn’t changed much to this day. Similarly to wigs, many feel that wearing black robes shows respect for the justice system.

…Call some barristers ‘KC’ or ‘silk’?

A King’s Counsel (KC) is a barrister (although certain solicitors can qualify as KCs too) who is appointed by the monarch in recognition of being amongst the very best of their profession; they will have extremely good advocacy skills and will likely be an expert in their chosen field. The term ‘silk’ comes from their right to wear a black silk gown and a different style wig.

…Bow in court?

Judges are Crown representatives: if you ever spot an advocate bowing (in reality more of a respectful ‘nod’ than a showy bow!) they are not bowing to the Judge per se, but to the institution they represent.

…Write ‘without prejudice’?

Have you ever seen this written at the top of a letter regarding a legal matter? Litigation solicitors know well the costs involved in going to court, so if they can have a proper, open discussion with their opposite number to try to settle a genuine dispute before having to go to Court they will usually take the opportunity to try to save their client money. However, since the potential for a case going to court is always in the background, solicitors can use ‘without prejudice’ during communications made in a genuine attempt to settle the matter to avoid any part of the discussion being used by the other side against their client in a hearing.

By saying ‘without prejudice’ your solicitor is essentially saying to the other side ‘I am trying to settle this matter, but am not admitting anything!’

You may also see the phrase ‘without prejudice save as to costs’. This means the above, with the additional factor that when the main dispute is settled, the correspondence can be disclosed to court to help decide who pays which costs.

Have you ever noticed any of the above? We’re sure there must be more quirks about lawyers and the law- let us know if we can help you to unravel the enigma!



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