What is legal advocacy?

Legal advocacy is when lawyers represent someone (their client) in a court or tribunal. This means they do and say things on their client's behalf. Examples include:

  • sending a written summary of their client's case to a court or tribunal
  • presenting their client's case to a court or tribunal.

To provide legal advocacy services, a lawyer must be allowed to work as:

The only exception to this rule is in some tribunals.

The regulators of these lawyers set the standards they need to meet, including

  • treating people fairly and not discriminating against anyone
  • being competent, which means being able to do their job properly
  • acting in the interests of their clients
  • keeping their client's information confidential unless they agree to share it with other people
  • following their client's instructions, which means the decisions they make about how to take their case forward.
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You might need legal advocacy services if you’re being prosecuted for a crime or have a dispute which is going to court (often known as civil law disputes).

Here are some examples of disputes in which you might need legal advocacy services:

  • your ex-partner about divorce or childcare arrangements
  • your employer about your treatment at work
  • the Home Office about your immigration or asylum claim
  • the Department for Work and Pensions about your benefits
  • a local authority about excluding your child from school

The courts of England and Wales are split into lower courts, higher courts and tribunals.

Lower courts deal with less-serious cases:

  • Magistrates’ courts deal with less-serious crimes, including most driving offences.
  • The County Court deals with civil cases that aren't worth lots of money.
  • The Family Court deals with most divorce cases if they go to court.

Higher courts deal with appeals and cases that are serious

  • The Crown Court deals with crimes such as murder and appeals against magistrates' court decisions.
  • The High Court deals with civil cases that are worth lots of money as well as appeals against County Court and Family Court decisions.
  • The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court only deal with appeals against decisions of other courts and tribunals.

Only barristers and solicitors with a special qualification (called higher rights of audience) can represent someone in the higher courts.

Tribunals are similar to courts, but have different rules and deal with specific areas of civil law. Examples include:

  • employment law
  • immigration and asylum law
  • education law
  • the law on benefits.

In each area, there is a tribunal where claims start (known as a first-tier tribunal) and a tribunal to deal with appeals against decisions of a first-tier tribunal (known as an upper-tier tribunal).

To provide legal advocacy in an upper-tier tribunal, someone must be allowed to work as a barrister, a solicitor or a CILEx advocate. This also applies to some of the first-tier tribunals, including the one that deals with immigration and asylum law.

Some first-tier tribunals let people who aren't qualified as lawyers provide legal advocacy services:

  • People who are training to become a lawyer can volunteer for charities to represent people who can't afford a lawyer in first-tier tribunals.
  • Trade union officials can represent their members in the first-tier employment tribunal.

It's more common for people to represent themselves in tribunals because they're not as formal as courts. Find out more about representing yourself.