Lawyer, solicitor or barrister? Legal roles unravelled

Published on: 25 May 2017

Lawyer, solicitor or barrister? Legal roles unravelled

The lexicon of legal practitioners can be confusing, particularly when there’s perceived crossover between key professionals. So what's the difference between a lawyer, a solicitor and a barrister? Where do solicitor jobs stop and barrister roles begin? And how do lawyer positions link in?

Here’s a cut-and-dry guide.

What is a Lawyer?

Simplest first. ‘Lawyer’ is a catch-all term for any licensed legal professional who’s qualified to provide legal advice and services. Both solicitors and barristers fit neatly under this umbrella.

What is a Solicitor?

A solicitor provides legal advice and expertise to their clients, who can range from individuals and groups of people to private enterprises and public sector organisations. Essentially, solicitors do the countless hours of legal legwork (known as litigation) required to bring a case to court. Whether they’re representing a major-league law firm, or going it alone as a sole practitioner, solicitors are generally the first stop on a client’s legal journey, taking initial instructions, getting to grips with the issues involved and advising the best course of action.

Solicitors work directly with clients, guiding them through the legal process while working behind the scenes to prepare paperwork, gather evidence, negotiate with opposing legal representatives and co-ordinate all work related to their client’s case.

From commercial to conveyancing and probate to personal injury, solicitors focus on a particular practice area and their specialism shapes their day-to-day responsibilities. Whatever their expertise, a solicitor’s role includes:

  • Meeting and communicating with clients
  • Providing accurate legal advice relating to their client’s case
  • Assessing and finalising claims for compensation, damages, loss of earnings or maintenance
  • Overseeing the fulfilment of agreements and contracts
  • Creating documents, contracts and letters and preparing papers for court
  • Managing the work of legal secretaries, trainees, paralegals and assistants

To succeed as a solicitor, you’ll need a thorough understanding of the law (as well as expert knowledge of your practice area), meticulous attention to detail and a gift for negotiation. You’ll need to inspire confidence in your clients while deftly keeping expectations in check, so diplomacy, clarity and credibility are all key requirements, as are razor-sharp research and analytical skills.

What is a Barrister?

While solicitors lay the legal groundwork of a case, it’s generally down to their courtroom counterparts – barristers – to represent clients before the bench. Barristers are specialists in advocacy (or pleading a case before a judge) and work on behalf of individuals, companies or organisations to provide legal advice, interpret the law, shape legal arguments and act as their client’s voice in court.

Unlike solicitors, the majority of barristers are self-employed and, for economy and ease, often share a workplace - or chambers - with other barristers. Most often, they take on clients through referrals from solicitors based on their practice area of legal focus - from personal injury, family and housing to commercial to criminal.

While barristers spend much of their time arguing cases before a judge, conferring with other barristers and examining witnesses, their brief begins long before an appearance in court. A large part of their role involves research into legal issues and precedents, interpretation of the law and preparing legal documentation. The role also includes:

  • Taking instruction from clients and their retained solicitors
  • Preparing cases for court
  • Advising clients on legal issues and assessing the strength of their case
  • Negotiating out-of-court settlements

A career as a barrister demands logic, creativity and a highly detail-driven approach. You’ll need the outstanding oral communication skills to connect with clients, deliver crystal clear arguments and convince the court to decide in your favour. You’ll also require the resilience to bounce back if it doesn’t.  

Take a closer look at barrister and solicitor jobs on TotallyLegal.