Becoming either a barrister or solicitor is the most common route into the legal profession. However, deciding to become a solicitor or barrister is a tough choice. If you find yourself at a crossroads, there are several things you can consider to help you decide which career you are better suited to.

Solicitor Or Barrister? A Summary

Why Become A Solicitor?Why Become A Barrister?
Job stability and excellent career progression
Independence and flexibility - most barristers are self-employed
Work for a private law firm or commercial organisation
Handle the more specific and complex areas of a legal case
Work as part of a team
Take the role of leading advocate in trials
Transferable skills
Case variety and intellectual challenge
Regular working routine
Good work-life balance

Why Be A Solicitor?

A career as a solicitor offers you a unique opportunity to get involved in a diverse range of work and contribute to the growth of a law firm or commercial organisation. As a solicitor, you will be an employee of a firm or organisation and you will be guaranteed a monthly salary, annual leave, and a wide range of other employment benefits. This provides you with job stability and financial security.

In contrast, 80% of barristers are self-employed. They have no access to employment benefits such as sick pay, holiday pay or maternity leave. There is also no guarantee of a monthly salary, meaning their income can vary significantly from month-to-month depending on caseloads and client payment dates.

Choosing to be a solicitor means you will work closely with colleagues within a law firm or organisation on specific cases in order to meet the needs of clients and to maximise the profits of the department in which you work. Working within a team means you will always have a support network in place.

Senior members of the law firm or organisation in which you work can mentor and support you, equipping you with the skills that you need to help advance your career. You will also benefit from administrative and research support from a team of paralegals, legal secretaries and other administrative staff to help you manage your caseload.

If you like routine, solicitors are responsible for dealing with clients on a day-to-day basis, answering their queries and updating them on developments in their case. The client-centred focus of solicitors means that they have extensive client contact and can build close relationships with clients.

Most law firms will also pay for your further education, for example, covering the cost of your GDL or LPC training, which can be expensive. You could also receive an award to cover your living costs while you are studying.

Another aspect of being a solicitor that differs from a barrister is that solicitors work more closely with clients. You will be the point of contact for your client, answering questions and advising them, while barristers are brought in when a matter becomes contentious.

Find out more with our ‘How to become a solicitor’ guide.

Why Be A Barrister?

If you like debating with opponents, public speaking or leading and directing how a case should be managed, then a career as a barrister could be right for you. Becoming a barrister gives you more freedom in your work because you will be self-employed. However, you will be part of chambers, so there will be opportunity to collaborate with fellow barristers in small teams.

As a barrister, you will typically handle the more specific and complex areas of a legal case. The scope of a barrister’s work means they are rewarded more lucratively in comparison with solicitors in some areas.

If you have aspirations to represent clients in legal trials, this is another advantage of becoming a barrister. In the legal process, you will have the role of leading advocate in a trial, and you will be part of a team that puts forward the case on behalf of a client. You will be responsible for arguing and winning a legal dispute. It is worth noting that barristers are instructed by solicitors, so you will spend a lot of time working with your peers at law firms, rather than directly with clients.

Speaking before a judge and jury in a court of law is arguably the most exhilarating part of a barrister’s career.

Find out more with our ‘How to become a barrister’ guide.

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Barrister vs Solicitor – Key Considerations

Salary

If a good salary is the most important aspect of your legal career, then it’s worth pursuing a career as a city solicitor or commercial barrister, where your earning potential will be very high. Salaries for solicitors and barristers can vary significantly depending on experience and where they work.

You may have to consider relocating in order to work for a big city law firm or barristers’ chambers or at least be prepared to commute if you want to maximise your earning potential. You can learn more about barrister vs solicitor salaries in our dedicated guide.

Work-Life Balance

If a good work-life balance is important to you in your legal career, then a career as a high street solicitor may suit you as the job is a little less demanding compared with a career as a city solicitor. Equally, as a self-employed barrister, you have more autonomy over your working hours, though, once a trial has started, you will need to attend as required by the court.

Both roles can involve working hard to meet deadlines, as a solicitor might need to complete a contract within a set deadline or work with a barrister to get everything ready for a trial. Similarly, barristers will need to work hard to make sure they well-prepared in the lead up to a trial.

Personality Traits And Skills

Your personality traits and skills can determine whether you are better suited to a career as a barrister or solicitor. If you are a person with strong advocacy skills, an interest in public speaking and arguing cases in a confident manner while thinking on your feet, you might want to consider applying those skills to a career as a barrister.

If you are a person with good research and analytical skills and excellent attention to detail, then a career as a solicitor could be the best fit for you. If you prefer working with clients on a daily basis and building strong relationships, becoming a solicitor is the perfect pathway into the legal profession.

Making Your Choice

It’s important to do your research when considering a barrister career or a solicitor career. However, research will only take you so far. To help you make a concrete decision, you should consider securing work experience and speaking to qualified legal professionals. These options will give you a better idea of which role you are better suited to.

Work Experience

Work experience gives you the opportunity to see for yourself what the role of a barrister and solicitor is like. If you are considering a career as a barrister, a mini pupillage is ideal. If you are an aspiring solicitor, securing a short-term placement within a law firm or a place on a vacation scheme will provide you with invaluable experience.

First-hand experience is the best way to get an understanding of each job role and to help you decide whether you could see yourself working in either profession. Simply being in a law firm or chambers environment surrounded by legal professionals will give you the opportunity to observe how solicitors and barristers operate.

Talk To Qualified Solicitors And Barristers

Talking to qualified solicitors and barristers is a good way to network and learn from those in the profession. If you are a law student, you can attend events for aspiring lawyers, which will present an opportunity for you to speak with legal professionals – including legal employers, barristers and solicitors – and ask questions about what it’s like to be a barrister or solicitor.

Equally, you could join your university law society and participate in mooting events or pro bono activities. If you aspire to be a barrister, you can attend court and tribunal hearings to observe proceedings.

If, after qualifying as a solicitor or barrister, you find that you have made the wrong choice, it is possible to switch from one profession to the other.

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