Barrister vs. solicitor (definition, differences and duties)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The legal profession has various career opportunities you can pursue. If you're seeking a legal career, you may be trying to decide whether to become a barrister or a solicitor. Comparing the two roles can help you determine which profession suits you best. In this article, we define what a barrister and a solicitor are, outline the differences between being a barrister vs a solicitor and explain what they do.

Related: Alternative careers for lawyers (with duties and tips)

Barrister vs. solicitor definitions

The following are descriptions of each role:

What is a barrister?

A barrister is a legal practitioner who provides specialist advice while representing, advocating for and defending clients in a tribunal or court. Barristers may wear a gown and wig in court. These professionals often work at higher court levels. Their primary role is to be advocates during legal hearings, and they typically plead a client's case before a judge in court. Barristers possess specialist legal knowledge so their clients can ask them for legal advice. While many barristers focus on one area of law, some may work in various areas.

Barristers rarely engage with the public. A solicitor typically gives a barrister the details of a case before they review the evidence and plan what to say in a courtroom. Most barristers are self-employed and serve clients from chambers. Two or more barristers can work together in a chamber, sharing the workspace, advertising and administrative costs. Some companies employ barristers to work as internal advisers for banks, corporations, solicitor institutions and government agencies. The following are typical duties of a barrister:

  • receiving instructions from clients and their solicitors

  • conducting case research

  • managing legal cases

  • understanding legal concepts in a specialised area

  • advising other professionals

  • organising client conferences

  • preparing cases that reach a court, including formulating legal arguments

  • examining witnesses

  • representing clients in courtrooms

  • advising clients regarding the legalities of their cases

  • drafting legal documentation and negotiating legal settlements

  • recruiting pupils

  • supporting chamber management

Related: How to become a barrister

What is a solicitor?

A solicitor is a legal professional who prepares legal documents before and during a trial. When someone says they're visiting their lawyer, they often mean they're contacting a solicitor. Solicitors typically accept non-contentious cases, although some solicitors can engage in litigation. They can work for organisations such as non-commercial and commercial law institutions, private companies, government bureaus, corporations and banks.

Solicitors may handle similar tasks to barristers, such as estate planning, commercial contract drafting and real estate property transactions. A solicitor can advise clients on different legal areas, such as immigration and asylum law, family law, personal injury law and civil litigation law. Solicitors also draft legal documents and undertake negotiations. It's often a desk job, but can involve travelling to serve clients and represent entities in court, typically at lower court levels. Solicitors may receive the 'right of audience', which allows them to represent their clients in court. The following are the typical tasks of a solicitor:

  • instructing barristers and advocates to represent clients

  • drafting letters, contracts and other legal documents

  • attending meetings and negotiations

  • researching legal records and case law

  • managing their finances

  • updating their knowledge after legislation changes

  • preparing documents for court

Related: What does a solicitor do? (Legal specialisms explained)

Differences between barristers and solicitors

The following are some differences between the two careers:

Training

After completing a qualifying law degree or a relevant non-law degree and a law conversion course, you can decide whether to become a barrister or a solicitor. The two professions have varying training processes and requirements. Consider any additional training you require, each role's duties, your interests and the professional opportunities available to determine the best option for you. The following are outlines of the necessary training for each career:

Barrister training

To become a barrister, you require further vocational training after your law conversion course or law degree (LLB). A vocational programme provides you with the skills to enter a legal speciality. The various vocational training courses available include a bar practice course, a bar training course or a bar vocational study. If you have enough free time, you can take these courses while pursuing your degree as a part-time or full-time student. Some degree programmes also offer vocational training.

Following vocational training, you can take the bar exam before entering a one-year pupillage in chambers. A pupillage is an internship or apprenticeship and involves an observation period and a practice period, each lasting for six months. A pupillage application comprises various assessments and interviews. You may consult a professional who has shadowed a barrister to gain insight into the application process and what to expect once you start the pupillage.

Related: Vocational Training: Definitions and Examples

Solicitor training

To become a solicitor, it's necessary to complete a legal practise course (LPC), which typically lasts for one or two years. You undertake this after your graduate diploma in law or LLB. Attaining an LPC allows you to hold various posts in different departments to gain workplace training and experience as a solicitor. You may start a two-year training contract after completing the LPC before taking the Solicitors Qualifying Examination.

Related: How to become a solicitor without a law degree (with FAQS)

Work patterns

Law institutions and commercial organisations employ most solicitors in-house. These solicitors often have a regular income, sick pay, benefits and holiday entitlement. This arrangement offers better job security. Many barristers are self-employed and perform their duties in chambers that they share with colleagues. Self-employment may make your income uncertain. A self-employed barrister typically doesn't get sick pay or holiday pay. As barristers grow professionally, they can charge higher fees to cover gaps between work. Some self-employed barristers serve large legal institutions and commercial organisations as in-house legal practitioners.

Related: FAQ: How much does a barrister make?

Access to the public

Members of the public may contact and instruct solicitors, while they rarely have this interaction with barristers. For straightforward cases, individuals can engage and instruct a barrister after going through the Public Access Scheme. The Public Access Scheme is available for much of a barrister's work. Cases funded by legal aid are exempt. The Public Access Scheme may also be inappropriate for cases involving children.

Workwear differences

Barristers can wear the traditional court attire of a wig and a long black robe, although the wig is no longer a requirement. For example, some barristers who are civil practitioners have stopped wearing wigs. In contrast, solicitors can wear what they please, provided they dress smartly.

Related: A guide to business professional attire: definition and tips

Work experience opportunities

If you're considering becoming a barrister, the work experience you may undertake differs from that of a solicitor. Solicitors typically gain work experience through a holiday scheme or legal institution environment. Barristers may gain work experience through a mini-pupillage.

Related: Types of law work experience to advance your career

Payment and continuity

Solicitors often charge clients by the hour, while barristers earn money for every piece of work they complete. For example, clients pay barristers a specific sum to draft a document or represent them in a hearing. Solicitors are likely to handle a client's case from start to finish. Clients often retain solicitors to handle matters as they arise and manage them until there's a resolution. Barristers may only avail themselves to attend hearings, but they may miss hearings if the relevant party fails to inform them of the dates.

Legal institutions and chambers

Solicitors often perform their duties in the law institution that employs them. They can be partners in legal entities or work as in-house solicitors in an organisation. Solicitors serving the same organisation often represent the same side, as representing opposing sides may result in a conflict of interest or a breach of solicitors' professional rules. Meanwhile, barristers often work independently in chambers that they share with other barristers. The chamber allows barristers to share administration and marketing materials and costs. Two barristers in the same chamber may be opposing barristers in a case.

Role and purpose

Solicitors can engage barristers to handle their clients' cases. A solicitor may know which barristers occupy which chambers and what each of them can handle. This knowledge helps a solicitor match clients with the ideal barrister to satisfy their legal needs. Barristers are often advocates who present a person's case in a courtroom and argue their position. A barrister can't help a client's case until it's obvious that it may reach a court hearing. Some parties settle cases before a hearing is necessary, and barristers rarely help clients with such proceedings.

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