Firstly, the easiest bit is that a lawyer is someone who is involved in law; they can be a solicitor, a barrister, an unqualified person really; just simply they do law for a living. What is a lawyer uk.
A Solicitor is a member of the Law Society (the professional body for solicitors) and needs to be authorised and regulated (usually through a firm or practice) by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. I’m a solicitor; I’m a consultant solicitor with Nexa Law, which is regulated by the SRA.
A Barrister is someone who is regulated by The Bar Council and governed by the Bar Standards Board ; they are “called to the Bar” and are entitled to provide advocacy services particularly in the higher courts.
So what is the difference between a solicitor and a barrister?
I’m approaching this from my viewpoint as a litigation solicitor. But in my view, these days there is less of a difference between them. Both can provide legal advice to clients like you.
The website Legal Choices provides some further guidance.
I believe that historically solicitors used to be generalists (the traditional high street solicitor, would dabble in conveyancing, wills, family, disputes etc) and barristers used to be the specialists – the goto people for specialist advice.
These days, Solicitors have become quite the specialists as well (take me, for example, I only deal in Litigation Disputes and Business Law and within those areas have some in-depth specialist knowledge). Meanwhile, Barristers have become more general – although they still tend to specialise as well, particularly in niche areas such as Tax, IP, Insolvency, Property etc. Many though will simply be general litigators.
The biggest difference is that Barristers’ training is much more focused on the Court Advocacy – standing up in front of the Judge (and jury in criminal matters) and presenting the case, making the legal arguments and cross-examining the witnesses. While solicitors can do this, they require further qualifications known as Higher Rights of Audience in order to be an advocate in the High Court (audience being the Judge!). Bearing in mind the County Court only deals with claims under £100,000, many claims are actually High Court claims and so it is important to have a well-trained advocate on your side.
Solicitors like me can still do all the paperwork for High Court claims – they just cannot present the case before the Judge in Court.
And that, therefore, is the second major difference between solicitors and barristers, and that is the ability to conduct litigation itself. Barristers can assist solicitors with the drafting of Court papers, but Barristers are not permitted to “serve” proceedings or “file” documents at Court – a solicitor is the only professional allowed to do this. This is because of what is known in law as a reserved legal activities. Some Barristers have taken further training in order to conduct litigation, but most do not.
As a client like you, you can also go directly to certain barristers for advice and documents – this is known as Direct Access. However, most good Barristers will be busy in Court and therefore are not set up to deal with the daily grind of litigation – the calls, the emails, the letters, the paperwork, the documents etc – and so this is the role of the solicitor.
Historically, Solicitors were also the common public face of the legal profession and the Barristers were even higher-to-do. That’s rarely the case now, with most Barrister being very good with clients like you.
There is still some pomp and ceremony around being a Barrister, particularly in Court; they are obliged to wear a wig and gown, address the Judge, ask only certain questions and behave in a certain way.
So which is better, a solicitor or a barrister?
The answer then is it depends on what you want. If you want great legal advice and help in writing letters, negotiating a resolution or preparing for Court, then you need a solicitor. If you want to do all that yourself and just want someone for a High Court hearing (totally not recommended by the way!) then a Barrister is probably better for you.
One thing which remains true, in my view, is that for complex civil litigation like the type I deal with regularly, it is usually sensible for solicitor and barrister to work together as a team throughout, from the issue of proceedings to the Trial.
As a Litigation Solicitor myself, because I deal with a lot of High Court, I tend to use a limited number of Barristers who I know are very good at what they do, but who are reasonably priced and good with clients.
I use barristers from the following Chambers: