Solicitor v Barrister: The Differences

If you’re fortunate enough never to have needed legal representation in civil or criminal proceedings, your experience of the legal profession has probably been limited to the preparation of wills or property transactions. However, there are many situations in which the help of a barrister may be necessary from simply giving an additional legal opinion to representing you in court hearings. If this territory is unfamiliar to you then you may wonder why the legal profession is divided into two distinct functions.

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The Essential Difference

To explain it in the simplest terms, a barrister appears in court on behalf of a client to put their case before a tribunal, a magistrate or a judge, whereas a solicitor carries out all the legal work which is required outside the court environment.

Rights of Audience

Since 1971, solicitors have had what are known as ‘limited rights of audience’ which means they are authorised to appear in court in place of a barrister for certain types of proceeding. These rights were extended in 2010  but to be granted higher rights, a solicitor must gain an additional qualification to become a solicitor advocate. To date, the number of solicitors who have done this is relatively small.

What Does a Solicitor Do?

The route to becoming a solicitor starts with a law degree followed by vocational training which consists of the Legal Practice Course and a two-year traineeship with a law firm. Once fully qualified, solicitors take instructions from clients, give advice on options for legal action and provide administrative services such as conveyancing.

Their clients can be individuals, groups, companies and public sector bodies. If you have to go to court, the solicitor will draft all the legal documents and, if the case requires it, engage a barrister.

As the regulation of the legal profession has changed, access to the law has become easier with firms such as Parachute Law, a team of qualified Ascot solicitors and with offices elsewhere, offering phone, email, online and video-conference services.

Examples of a solicitor’s functions include:

– Protecting the rights of the individual
– Advising on divorce
– Assisting businesses with matters of contractual and corporate law
– Acting in civil litigation
– Handling immigration and asylum cases
– Researching legislation and case law

Many individual solicitors and firms specialise in specific areas.

In cities and towns like Ascot solicitors are available for in-person support although it isn’t always necessary to use a local firm.

What Does a Barrister Do?

A barrister also begins by taking a law degree (or Post-Graduate Diploma in Law if they already have a different degree). After that, they take the Bar course, usually for one year, followed by a one-year pupillage in a barristers’ chambers.

Although they can be called on to give specialised legal advice, particularly on contentious issues or in matters of company law, the barrister’s main role is to appear in court as the client’s advocate. They work mostly in litigation and criminal proceedings, making the client’s case in court as well as drafting pleas and giving expert opinions. Barristers in the UK are still required to wear the symbolic uniform of wig and gown. They operate from barristers’ chambers on a self-employed basis with clerks acting in effect as their agents to manage their fees and organise their diaries.

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Examples of a barrister’s functions include:

– Legal research
– Writing opinions
– Preparing cases for court
– Representing clients in civil and criminal courts
– Examining and cross-examining witnesses
– Negotiating settlements

Most barristers specialise in specific areas such as family, corporate or criminal law.