Lawyers, Barristers and Solicitors – is there a difference?
There is no fixed definition associated with the word lawyer. The word ‘lawyer’ is used as a generic term that can describe both barristers and solicitors – it could also be used to describe an academic involved in the teaching of law or it might even be a term applied to a paralegal (often without any legal qualifications) who works in a law firm.
The titles of ‘solicitor’ and ‘barrister’ are however titles with a specific definition.
- Solicitors are regulated by the Law Society and must have completed specific training before they can use that title.
- Barristers are regulated by the Bar Standards Board and are also required to have completed specific training before they can use the title.
The training undertaken by both solicitors and barristers has some similarities but also many differences. It should be emphasised that it is a criminal offence to use the term ‘solicitor’ or ‘barrister’ if you are not entitled to do so.
It is also true, at least historically, that barristers and solicitors performed different roles. Solicitors would traditionally be more involved in the management of your case (the conduct of litigation) and barristers would generally be instructed to represent you in court (rights of audience) or to prepare or give specific advice. It is largely true that it is the role of a solicitor to manage a case but many solicitors will now also represent clients in court. It is far less likely that a barrister would be involved in the management of your case.
It is a common misconception that a barrister is more experienced, more senior or more qualified than a solicitor and you should not instruct a barrister simply in the belief that they are better, more qualified or more experienced.
How is a barrister different to other kinds of lawyers?
A barrister is still largely regarded as a specialist in advocacy – presenting a case in court.
Barrister’s are also frequently instructed to advise on specific points of law in their particular area/s of expertise.
Barristers are usually self-employed whereas solicitors are usually employed by a law firm.
A barrister will more usually work from a collective of self-employed individuals under the umbrella of a ‘Chambers’.
Another significant difference is the ability to ‘conduct litigation’. Solicitors are allowed to conduct litigation as part of their ordinary role but only a relatively small number of barristers are authorised and therefore permitted to conduct litigation.
In some complex cases a barrister will be consulted early and will be involved throughout the litigation but it is very unlikely that they will have any role in the management of your case. A barrister is usually instructed and paid to complete specific items of work, i.e. (a) to attend a hearing, or (b) to draft (write) a particular document.
Solicitors will usually charge for the time that they are engaged in working on the file. Some solicitors are beginning to offer fixed price legal services and some will carry out work on an “unbundled” basis – this means that they will charge an agreed amount for a specific piece of work but will not maintain responsibility for handling the case beyond that specific piece of work.
Barristers are less likely to charge an hourly rate and will more usually charge a fixed fee for the specific work they are engaged to do. For this reason, a barrister is more often sent to court to attend a hearing or conduct a trial, not only because it is their traditional or specialist role but because it can be cheaper than sending a solicitor who is more likely to charge by the hour.