Understanding the difference between a solicitor and a barrister is important for clients who wish to employ a lawyer to ensure that they're getting the best service for their case. It is also important for those getting into a career in law, so they can choose which path is best for them and their skill sets. Though they both fall under the general definition of a lawyer, solicitors and barristers do have clear and important differences.
Type of Work
The biggest difference is how a barrister and a solicitor will interact with you and your case. Some have compared barristers to the doctors of the legal word, and solicitors as the nurses. This is because a solicitor spends most of his time out of court, involved in the day-to-day legal affairs of whom they're representing. This includes email and telephone communication, discussing the case with the client, writing letters and documents, and handling negotiations that take place out of court.
The barrister's job is the other half of the legal system—court. While the solicitor can appear in court on behalf of his client, it is usually the barrister who performs this role. Since they do not have to spend their time drafting documents and dealing with the nuances of client relations, a barrister's skill set develops more into the areas of public speaking, learning how to argue, and specializing in certain areas.
As a client, it is important to know that you cannot retain a barrister without first retaining a solicitor. Generally, when approaching a lawyer for legal help, what you will be hiring is a solicitor, who will assist you in processing all the documents, files, and notes regarding your case. The solicitor then will contact a barrister or recommend you to a barrister who fits your case. They will work together directly and the barrister will go on to represent you in court.
Because of this, most barristers are self-employed, while most solicitors work for a salary and are regularly employed. It can be argued that becoming a barrister is riskier for young lawyers because your income will be less certain than solicitors. It is rare for a barrister to be kept on retainer by a firm, and this happens only when they specialize in a high demand area that they are expertly talented in.
This is not necessarily a bad thing: as a barrister, you have more flexibility with your working hours as you are in charge of your own workload. Being a solicitor is similar to having a day-to-day office job, which may not be for everyone.
- A barrister must undergo further training and further certification than a solicitor. He must be familiar with the intimate knowledge of each level of Court that he is certified in. They need to be more creative than most solicitors, as they must identify the most appropriate case preparation for each individual case they work on. Because of their greater responsibilities in court, most judges are usually selected from barristers, not solicitors.
- Solicitors also have the added responsibility of owing their clients a duty of care, such as a certain standard of competence. If the client is unsatisfied, solicitors can be exposed to negligence actions; barristers are immune to negligence actions
- Solicitors can usually choose their clients and refuse and accept certain briefs, while barristers generally do not hold that luxury
Knowing the key differences between solicitors and barristers can save you a ton of time and money and ensure that you are getting the best work for your case, or help you choose the right career path.