Who will you come across when seeking legal advice?

Whether you're drafting a will, dealing with a property dispute, or seeking counsel for a criminal matter, having the right legal advisor is crucial. 

But who are the key players in the Scottish legal landscape? You will come across various legal professionals, each with distinct roles, responsibilities and qualifications. 


In Scotland, solicitors are entrusted to help people during many important stages of their lives. In addition to providing legal advice, this can include buying a house, drafting contracts, providing advice at a time of bereavement, or representing a client during a court case. As legal professionals, they provide a range of services to individuals, businesses and organisations. 

As law experts, solicitors can give you legal advice, including telling you what your rights are and how to enforce them. They can use their experience to help you potentially resolve a problem without having to go to court or a tribunal; alternatively, should you end up in court, they will be on hand to represent you.

Solicitors can specialise in different types of law. For example, in the event of a marital dispute or divorce, you would need a solicitor experienced in family law; if you need help with inheritance, wills, or executors, you may need a solicitor who specialises in probate.

Solicitors are not only there to provide support in difficult times - they are also expert at pre-empting problems, such as helping an individual minimise their tax liabilities, or writing a water-tight contract or will.


Sometimes, the terms ‘solicitor’ and ‘lawyer’ are often used interchangeably, yet they hold different meanings and implications within the Scottish legal system. A solicitor in Scotland is a legally qualified professional who provides a wide range of legal services; the term ‘lawyer’, however, is a broader reference to anyone practising law, including solicitors and advocates. 

In Scotland, ‘lawyer’ can also refer to individuals who have obtained a law degree but have not completed the additional training required to become solicitors. Lawyers may provide legal advice and representation in certain areas of law, but may not have the same breadth of expertise as qualified solicitors.


Advocates - comparable to barristers in England and Wales - are independent (self-employed) lawyers specialising in either civil or criminal law. They are authorised to represent clients in higher courts, including the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary.

They receive their work and fees from solicitors, who transfer clients to them in cases that go to court. While advocates practise in the courts of Scotland as members of the Faculty of Advocates, they can also appear before the UK Supreme Court and other decision-making bodies, such as tribunals and arbitrations. Senior advocates are also known as King’s Counsel (KC).

Advocates work in collaboration with solicitors, who handle the preparatory work and client representation in lower courts. Other typical duties include interviewing clients and providing them with expert legal advice. They also research and prepare cases before presenting them in court, as well as write legal documents and prepare written pleadings for civil cases. Advocates are also involved in questioning witnesses and negotiating settlements.

Solicitor advocates

Just to make things a little more complicated, there are also solicitor advocates: solicitors who have been granted extended rights of audience before the higher courts in Scotland. They do the same job as advocates and, indeed, some are themselves KC.


Paralegals play an important role in the Scottish legal sector. They are employed to undertake legal work, but are not qualified solicitors. Many paralegals specialise in a specific area of law, such as trusts and executry, debt recovery conveyancing, litigation or family law.

Paralegals perform various administrative tasks, legal research, document preparation, and client communication under the supervision of solicitors or advocates. They play a vital role in supporting legal professionals and contributing to the efficient functioning of legal firms and departments.

Notaries public

Notaries public are legal professionals who are authorised to authenticate and certify documents for use in legal transactions, both domestically and internationally. They are solicitors who have also been admitted and registered by the Law Society of Scotland as notaries public. 

Their duties include witnessing and certifying signatures, administering oaths and affirmations, and verifying the authenticity of legal documents. Notaries public play a vital role in ensuring the validity and enforceability of legal documents, particularly in cross-border transactions and international trade.

Legal aid professionals

For those who cannot afford legal representation, legal aid professionals can provide essential assistance when required. In Scotland, legal aid is available to individuals who meet certain criteria, ensuring access to justice for all, regardless of financial circumstances. Legal aid lawyers handle a wide range of cases, from criminal defence to family law matters, and play a vital role in upholding the principles of fairness and equality in the legal system.

There are four types of legal aid available, comprising ‘advice and assistance’, ‘civil legal aid’, ‘legal aid for children’s hearings’ and ‘criminal legal aid’. More details can be found via Citizen’s Advice.

In-house counsel

In larger organisations, especially corporations and public bodies, in-house counsel are employed to provide legal advice and representation internally. They work closely with the organisation's management to ensure compliance with legal requirements, mitigate risks, and navigate complex legal issues that arise during business operations.


The majority of criminal and civil cases in Scotland are heard in the sheriff court. Most sheriffs are resident to a particular court, but some float between courts, sitting wherever they are required. They usually wear a wig and gown, although when hearing small claims, many dispense with this formality.

Sheriffs are judicial officeholders who preside over civil and criminal cases in Scotland's sheriff courts. They are legally qualified and possess extensive experience in legal practice. They hear a wide range of complex cases, including civil disputes, criminal prosecutions, family matters, and housing issues. Sheriffs are responsible for ensuring that court proceedings are conducted fairly and in accordance with the law.

Sheriffs can deal with any crimes except murder, rape and treason. There are two types of criminal procedure in Scotland: solemn procedure (for more serious offences) and summary procedure. In solemn cases, when a trial is held against a person accused of a crime, a jury decides the verdict. In summary cases the sheriff, sitting alone, decides the verdict.

Procurators fiscal

Procurators fiscal are public prosecutors responsible for prosecuting criminal cases on behalf of the Crown in Scotland. They work for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and play a crucial role in investigating crimes, determining whether to bring charges, and presenting cases in court. Procurators fiscal work closely with police officers, witnesses, and other legal professionals to ensure that criminal cases are prosecuted effectively and in the public interest.

These are just a few of the legal professionals you may encounter in Scotland. Each plays a unique role in the administration of justice and the provision of legal services, while helping to protect individuals' rights and interests. 

So, whether you're drafting a contract, navigating a property transaction, or facing a legal dispute, having the right representation can make all the difference in achieving a favourable outcome. If you need further assistance with any of these issues, seek legal advice.

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