You may need legal help at some point, so it is important to know whose services you might require for specific situations. The titles legal practitioners have can vary depending on their function. As you go around London for example, you may notice signage for barristers’ chambers or even advertisements (whether print, mass or digital media) for individual lawyers, law firms or solicitor firms in London. But what makes each of them different anyway? How are barristers, lawyers and solicitors different from each other? We shall answer that here.
This one should be clarified first, because every licensed legal practitioner is a lawyer. In other words, “lawyer” is the generic term for all who are qualified to provide legal advice in one or more areas of law, including barristers and solicitors.
Barristers can be a junior counsel or Queen’s Counsel (determined by appointment and are usually experiences barristers). In England and Wales, solicitors hire barristers to represent cases in court. Their main role in court is to advocate in legal hearings and plead the case on their clients’ behalf in front of a judge. Typically, they also advise clients on the law and the strength of the case through a written ‘opinion’.
Barristers usually specialise in specific areas of law (e.g. criminal law, commercial law, entertainment law, sports law and common law). Some may be employed in solicitors’ firms, agencies or specialist legal departments of certain organisations. However, most of them tend to be self-employed and work in offices known as “chambers” which they share with other barristers. Barristers of the same chamber can be on opposite sides of one legal dispute, while solicitors from the same firm might not be allowed from doing so due to conflict of interest.
Barristers also adhere to the Cab-Rank Rule which prohibits them from refusing a case and choosing cases they prefer to work on.
Solicitors are lawyers who provide expert legal advice and support directly to clients. Their clients can be individual people, groups, private organisations or public sector organisations. Like barristers, solicitors may specialise in specific areas of law or be “general practitioners”.
Solicitors directly take instructions from clients and, depending on their area of expertise, will advise their clients on the courses of legal action to take regarding the case. They mostly take charge of all the paperwork and communication necessary to their clients’ cases. They also negotiate with clients and opposing parties to implement agreements, calculate claims ( for damages, loss of earnings, maintenance etc.), gather evidence and co-ordinate with everyone involved in the case.
Although they can appear in court as advocates, solicitors are unlikely to represent clients should a case go to court and usually refer the work to barristers instead. In disputes, however, solicitors may represent their clients in court.
To put it simply, barrister and solicitor are types of lawyers. Although there can be exceptions for each, the basic difference between a barrister and a solicitor is that barristers defend people in court although they may not be directly instructed by the client, while solicitors work directly with the client and usually perform legal work outside the court.