If you are interested in working in the legal profession, it is important that you understand the different roles which exist. Many people are confused about the differences between a lawyer, a solicitor and a barrister. This text aims to provide some clarification to help to give you a better understanding of these roles.
What is a Lawyer?
The easiest part of the discussion is defining a Lawyer. This term is an umbrella term which is used to describe any Licensed Legal Professional in the United Kingdom who is qualified to dispense legal advice. Both solicitors and barristers are therefore considered to fall under the umbrella of “Lawyer”.
What is a Solicitor, and what do they do?
A solicitor is a type of lawyer who may work with individuals, groups, and private and public sector organisations. Traditionally, solicitors would be the first port of call for people who needed legal advice, and they may refer cases on to a barrister if necessary. As part of their role they will be expected to communicate with clients and produce necessary documents and paperwork to assist with the actions. This can include the creation of documents, contracts and letters to meet the needs of the client. They will also take the lead role in preparing papers for court, and leading any legal secretaries or assistants who may be supporting the case.
Solicitors do cover a wide range of different legal areas, including family law, personal injuries claims, wills and probate, property law, and some aspects of criminal law (normally low level cases). In many of these areas of law, one of their primary roles will be to act as a negotiator between their client and another party, with the view to securing agreed objectives for their client. Whilst solicitors can appear in court when necessary, they may require a barrister to act on their behalf in some instances. In these cases, they will act to support the barrister.
A good solicitor is required to have a thorough understanding of the areas of the law that they practice in, and they must pay attention to detail, as even small mistakes can be costly. They should have good negotiation skills, but they must also have the ability to control their clients expectations, so that they client understands if their demands are unreasonable.
What is a Barrister and what do they do?
A barrister is a type of lawyer who can represent individuals or organisations in court room sessions or via written legal advice. In general, barristers are only involved in the legal process once legal representation is required in court. They may also provide written opinions to clients (or their solicitors) to advise them on the strength of their cases. This may include advice on whether they believe that the case should go to court.
Barristers normally specialise in one particular area of the law, so that they can offer the best possible representation in these areas. As part of their role in the courtroom, they may present evidence, examine witnesses and make strong statements to support their client’s case. Barristers do not normally work directly with clients, but they are normally briefed by solicitors to help them to understand the details of the case. A single barrister may work with a large team of solicitors to develop a strong case for the client.
Many barristers in the United Kingdom are self-employed, but maintain close links with different legal firms in the area. These barristers may work in “chambers” with other practicing barristers in the area. It is possible for two barristers within a single chamber to be working against each other on opposite sides of a case. Some top barristers work with the Crown Prosecution service on behalf of the nation. Other barristers work full-time with commercial clients, as part of their legal departments.
A barrister normally specialises in one area of the law, and therefore must have a thorough understanding of this platform. They must have strong negotiating skills, and be prepared to fight for things which oppose their beliefs. The Cab Rank Rule in England and Wales means that barristers must accept a case if they are offered it, regardless of their personal convictions, unless they can prove that there is a conflict of interests.