Seventeen solicitors have become the first in the profession in Ireland to be granted the title of senior counsel.
The development is a significant one in Irish legal history as until recently only barristers could obtain the prestigious title.
Among those granted “patents of precedence” by the Government were criminal defence solicitors Michael Staines and Dara Robinson, civil and criminal practitioner James MacGuill and commercial litigation solicitor Liam Kennedy.
The 17 also include insolvency practitioner Bill Holohan, personal injury solicitor Damien Tansey and medical negligence solicitor Roger Murray.
The term senior counsel can only be used by practitioners who obtain a patent from the Government.
These recognise competence, probity and independence, and either advocacy skills, expertise in specialist litigation or specialist knowledge of an area of the law.
The system of awarding patents dates back to the 1700s. Barristers who become senior counsel get called to the inner bar and can earn higher fees.
Solicitors who become senior counsel will remain solicitors. It remains to be seen whether the change will result in more advocacy by solicitors in court and what impact it will have on their earning potential.
The change to allow solicitors to apply to become senior counsel was introduced in the Legal Services Regulation Act in 2015, but it was this year before solicitors could apply.
Under the Act, a committee chaired by the Chief Justice makes recommendations to the Government on who to grant patents to. It is understood around 70 solicitors applied.