The easy answer to ‘what is the difference between a solicitor and barrister?’ is that a barrister defends people in Court through effective public speaking and advocacy, while a solicitor does legal work outside Court. However, there are some exceptions to this distinction.
For example, more solicitors are undertaking qualifications to become a solicitor advocate. A solicitor advocate is a legal professional who is fully qualified as a solicitor, but has the same ‘rights of audience as a barrister’.
A solicitor is a qualified legal practitioner who can take instructions from clients and advise on necessary courses of legal action. Clients can range from individuals and groups to public sector organisations and private companies.
In the event of a Court case, a solicitor will draft legal documents. Solicitors provide clients with specialist legal advice on a wide variety of legal matters, which are divided into contentious and non-contentious cases.
A barrister wears a wig and gown in Court. Barristers tend to specialise in courtroom advocacy and litigation, drafting legal pleas, giving expert legal opinions and researching the theory and history of law.
Barristers have to follow certain rules and regulations when practising, as outlined in the Bar Standards Board (BSB) Handbook. The rules cover what is expected of barristers, including their core duties, which features a list of the most important things a barrister should and should not do.
Equally, the rules cover how barristers should conduct themselves, what they can do when carrying out their work, and how they will be disciplined should they break code of conduct rules.
A solicitor represents and defends the legal interests of clients and can provide legal counsel in many situations. For example:
The work of a solicitor can be divided into:
Contentious legal work, which involves helping to settle disputes between two or more parties – typically in a Court or tribunal.
Non-contentious legal cases, which can involve handling the legal requirements of a client’s business or personal matter. For example, managing a company merger or drafting a will.
The duties of a solicitor can include, but are not limited to:
A barrister is often hired by a solicitor to represent a case in Court. Barristers only get involved in a legal case when appearing before Court is necessary. A barrister pleads a case on behalf of a client and the client’s solicitor.
The role of a barrister is to specialise in Court advocacy and be an independent source of legal advice for clients. Most barristers are self-employed and working in chambers, but also work for government departments such as the Crown Prosecution Service or the Government Legal Profession.
Employed barristers tend to work for private organisations, such as the in-house legal departments of charities and companies. At a more senior level, an employed barrister could be involved in the development of legal policy and strategy.
Many barristers specialise in one area of law, although some may have a more general practice covering a wide range of legal disciplines. The duties of a barrister depend on a range of factors, including the area of practice, but the key role of a barrister is to solve problems and resolve disputes.
The duties of a barrister can include, but are not limited to:
A barrister’s area of practice will determine the nature of their duties. For example:
Following the completion of a qualifying law degree, or a non-law degree and a law conversion course, such as the GDL, you need to make the decision as to whether you wish to practise as a solicitor or barrister because this is where the road splits.
To qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales, you will have to take the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). Previously, aspiring solicitors would have passed the LPC – and you may still be able to choose between the two.
It’s also possible to train as a solicitor via a paid solicitor apprenticeship if you have A-Levels. An apprenticeship includes SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. Plus, an apprenticeship offers on-the-job experience, which counts as QWE.
A graduate solicitor apprenticeship is an option if you already have a university degree.
To qualify as a barrister, you must complete three key areas of training:
Following the completion of your practising period, provided all relevant courses have been completed, the Bar Standards Board will give you a Full Practising Certificate. You’ll then be able to secure tenancy as a qualified barrister.
Most solicitors are employed by a law firm or commercial organisation as an ‘in-house’ solicitor. As an employee, they will receive a regular income, holiday pay, sick pay, benefits etc.
Barristers, on the other hand, tend to be self-employed and affiliated with a chambers, which they share with other self-employed barristers. With self-employment comes greater uncertainty in relation to income and during any holidays or sick leave, a barrister will not be paid.
Some barristers, however, are employed ‘in-house’ at law firms and large commercial organisations (such as the Government Legal Service), which takes away the uncertainty associated with being self-employed and brings with it regular income and benefits.
In terms of work patterns, solicitors and barristers can each work long, unconventional hours. Evening and weekend work is not uncommon for a barrister or solicitor.
A solicitor can be contacted and instructed at any time by the general public. This is not true of barristers. A barrister is only available to members of the public via the Public Access Scheme – if a case is straightforward.
Public access is available in all types of work that barristers can do, except for work funded by Legal Aid. If a case involves a child, public access is unlikely to be available.
The work experience opportunities available to solicitors and barristers is very different.
As an aspiring solicitor, you could gain experience through schemes such as:
As an aspiring barrister, you could gain experience through
Don’t forget, there are other opportunities if you’re unsure which pathway you’d like to focus on. Learn more in our work experience guide.
A solicitor’s salary varies depending on their area of specialisation and years of experience. For example, a solicitor can expect an average starting salary of £34,700 – but the highest salaries can exceed £140,000. The average amount a solicitor earns is £55,200.
A Barrister can expect an average starting salary of £40,300 – but the highest salaries can exceed £200,000. The average amount a barrister earns is £89,200.
We go into more detail about the difference between salaries for barristers and solicitors in our guide.
Loading More Content