Traditionally Hong Kong solicitors have rights of audience in the following types of hearings in the High Court:
Following movements to call for granting higher rights of audience to solicitors in other common law jurisdictions notably in the UK, the Hong Kong Government has sought comments and opinions from various stakeholders in Hong Kong including the Law Society of Hong Kong whether there should be any change to the Hong Kong legal system in this respect. As a result in 2010, the Legal Practitioners Ordinance (Cap.159, Laws of Hong Kong) was amended to extend the rights of audience of Hong Kong solicitors.
Pursuant to the amended Legal Practitioners Ordinance, the Higher Rights Assessment Board (which is chaired by a judge and comprised of ten other members including judges, senior counsels and solicitors) has been established to make rules in relation to applications for higher rights of audience and determination of such applications. Successful applicants will be granted a special title of Solicitor Advocate and have the same rights of audience as barristers to make submissions in open court in the higher courts of Hong Kong. Therefore, under the current legal system in Hong Kong, a Solicitor Advocate has unlimited legal rights of audience in open court in any court of Hong Kong, including the High Court and the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong to represent his clients without the presence of a barrister.
As at 31 August 2021, 84 solicitors have been granted Solicitor Advocate since 2013.
It is not uncommon for a Hong Kong Solicitor to be asked, “When will you be “promoted” to become a Barrister?” Such question is particularly common in Chinese-speaking jurisdictions, as Solicitors and Barristers are translated in Chinese as “律師” (lawyer) and “大律師” (big lawyer) respectively. There is a general misconception that Barrister is the natural progression in a legal career. This is in fact not the case as one is no “better” than the other. Although very often Solicitors and Barristers work closely together, their roles are different and distinct.
A Solicitor is usually the first point of contact for most lay clients when a case arises.
Solicitors work in law firms which can involve in a wider variety of cases than Barristers. For example, corporate and commercial transactions; regulatory and compliance; real property transactions; intellectual property; and banking.
Like Barristers, Solicitors also handle contentious work and represent clients in courts. However, they have no right of audience in the High Court (except for the Chamber hearings) and hearings in the appeal courts. Since 2010, upon acquiring the higher right of audience, a Solicitor can earn the title “Solicitor Advocate” which allows him/her to make submissions in any court without limitation to the right of audience.
Some Solicitors also work in companies as in-house counsel.
Barristers are self-employed and cannot be instructed by a client direct.
A client is usually represented by a Solicitor, and it is the Solicitor who will then instruct a Barrister to assist on the case. Barristers work in offices called ‘Chambers’. Barristers within Chambers are all independent from one another. Barristers are advocates, and usually in a particular area of law.
Typically, one needs to obtain a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Postgraduate Certificate in Laws, as well as completion of two years of training as a “trainee solicitor” in order to be eligible for admission to practice as a Solicitor in Hong Kong.
Typically, one should be a holder of a Postgraduate Certificate in Law (PCLL); be a solicitor in Hong Kong; or an overseas lawyer, and have completed not less than 6 months of pupillage in order to be qualified for admission to practice as a Barrister in Hong Kong.
Within the legal profession, the Law Society of Hong Kong is the professional and regulatory body for Solicitors in Hong Kong whereas the Hong Kong Bar Association is the professional and regulatory body for Barristers in Hong Kong.
In summary, Barristers represent clients in court whilst Solicitors interact directly with lay clients. In recent years this distinction has blurred somewhat with higher rights of audience granted to Solicitor Advocate as explained above.
So next time when someone asks you what is the difference between a Solicitor and a Barrister, you should be able to explain that Barristers can be distinguished from a Solicitor not simply because they wear a wig and gown in court. Although Solicitors and Barristers work closely together, they are independent from one another.
The information contained in the articles is made reference to the law applicable on the date of publication. It should not be regarded as legal advice for individual cases.
If you have any queries, please contact your legal adviser.
Neither the Law Society nor the author of the article will be held responsible for any loss and damages arising from the information contained or omitted in the articles.