As you come to the end of your law degree, you will need to start thinking about the type of lawyer that you would like to be. With fierce competition for training contracts and pupillages, you need to start to building as much relevant experience as possible. This work experience is dependent on whether you want to be a barrister or solicitor.
So, how do you make the choice that’s right for you?
Do you prefer to work independently or within a team?
While barristers must operate within chambers, they work independently. In effect, they are sole traders running their own businesses. This means that they spend a large amount of their time working alone. As a result, a career at the bar requires both confidence and self-reliance and tends to attract independent workers.
By contrast, to be a solicitor you need to be a team-player. You will work closely with your colleagues on specific cases and within your wider department in order to ensure that you meet the needs of your clients and maximise your department’s profits. You therefore need to both enjoy and be effective at working with others.
Do you like public speaking?
As a barrister you must be confident on your feet so that you can advocate for your client. If the prospect of public speaking makes you nervous, then it’s likely that a career at the bar is not for you.
How much client contact do you want?
Solicitors often have clients on a long-term basis and as a result they will deal with a variety of their legal problems. They are also responsible for day-to-day contact with clients. This means that they are able to get to know their clients and build close relationships with them.
On the other hand, barristers have much less contact with their clients, sometimes only meeting them on the day of a first hearing and only interacting with them for limited periods of time. You need to consider what would best suit you and your skill-set.
Would you like to be self-employed?
80% of the 15,900 barristers in the UK are self-employed. These independent barristers have no access to employment benefits such as sickness pay, holiday pay or maternity leave. It also means that they do not have the guarantee of a monthly salary, with their income varying massively from one month to the next depending on their caseload.
This means that self-employed barristers have greater influence over their working hours and holidays because they’re their own bosses. However, junior barristers report rarely taking time off during their first couple of years. This is in order to establish their reputation and ensure their finances.
Alternatively, whilst solicitors have less control over their working hours, they enjoy a monthly salary and a range of employment benefits which vary depending on their firm.
In deciding between becoming a barrister or solicitor, you need to consider whether you value the stability of an employer and all the guarantees that this brings or want the independence and flexibility of being self-employed.
Written by: Hannah Capstick
Think you’ve made a decision between becoming a barrister or solicitor? Further information on both of these professions can be found here for barristers and here for solicitors.
You can also join our brand new Facebook help groups for each role: