What is the difference between solicitor and barrister professions? Discover the difference between a barrister and solicitor and the qualifications and training processes to be completed for either career.

What is the Difference Between Solicitor and Barrister?

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’.

What is a Solicitor?

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.

What is a Barrister?

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.

What Does a Solicitor Do?

A solicitor represents and defends the legal interests of clients and can provide legal counsel in many situations. For example:

  • Protecting the rights of an individual, making sure they are fairly treated by public or private organisations
  • Helping businesses with personal transactions
  • Supporting people with civil litigation
  • Advising individuals going through a divorce
  • Dealing with immigration and asylum cases

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:

  • Liaising with clients and other legal professionals, including barristers
  • Researching cases and legislation
  • Drafting letters, contracts and legal documents
  • Representing clients in Court or at tribunals

What Does a Barrister Do?

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:

  • Understanding and interpreting the law
  • Taking instruction from clients and solicitors
  • Undertaking legal research
  • Writing opinions, advising solicitors and other professionals
  • Preparing cases for court, including holding client conferences and drafting legal arguments
  • Advising clients on matters of law and the strength of their case
  • Representing clients and presenting arguments in Court
  • Examining and cross-examining witnesses
  • Summing up reasons why a jury and judge should support a client’s case
  • Negotiating settlements

A barrister’s area of practice will determine the nature of their duties. For example:

  • A criminal barrister can expect to be involved in more courtroom advocacy work
  • Family barristers could be representing clients in Court over a divorce case
  • Barristers practising commercial law are likely to appear in Court a lot less and spend more time undertaking drafting and advisory work
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The Difference Between Solicitor and Barrister Training

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.

Solicitor Training

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.

Barrister Training

To qualify as a barrister, you must complete three key areas of training:

  • Academic. You need at least a 2:2 undergraduate degree. If you graduated from a qualifying law degree more than five years ago, or studied a non-law subject, you also need to complete the GDL conversion.
  • Vocational. You must first join an Inns of Court and then complete the vocational component of Bar Training.
  • Pupillage or work-based learning.

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.

The Difference Between Solicitor and Barrister Work Patterns

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.

The Difference Between Solicitors’ and Barristers’ Access to the Public

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.

Solicitor Vs Barrister Work Experience Opportunities

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.

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How Much Does a Solicitor Earn?

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.

How Much Does a Barrister Earn?

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.

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