A barrister is a qualified legal professional who offers specialist advice whilst representing, advocating and defending its clients in court or at a tribunal.
Many barristers specialise in one area of the law, although some may have a more general practice covering a variety of areas. Find out how to become a barrister in our guide.
A solicitor is a qualified legal practitioner who is responsible for preparing legal documentation in the run up to and during a court case. A solicitor provides specialist legal advice on contentious and non-contentious work to their clients on a variety of areas of law.
Put very simply, barristers tend to practise as advocates representing clients in court, whereas solicitors tend to perform the majority of their legal work in a law firm or office setting. There are, however, exceptions to this rule in both cases.
From an advocacy perspective, for example, the line between the two professions has become more blurred in recent times.
Solicitors can obtain ‘rights of audience’ which enables them to represent clients in court.
This means that solicitors can now perform many of the functions of a barrister up to a certain point, although barristers are able to work in a significantly higher level of court than their solicitor counterparts.
Although many solicitors do have rights of audience, the majority of them typically perform ‘behind the scenes’ type-work such as:
Following 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 practice as a solicitor or barrister because this is where the road splits:
As it stands, to become a solicitor, you must complete a vocational 1-2 year course called the Legal Practice Course (LPC) after your LLB or GDL, followed by a two-year training contract.
From 2021, you will have to take the Solicitors Qualifying Exam in order to qualify.
To qualify as a barrister, on the other hand, you need to complete the vocational component of bar training after your LLB or law conversion course.
After this, fledgling barristers will do a 1-year pupillage, which usually takes place in chambers. Pupillage involves shadowing a barrister before getting involved in the practical work of chambers.
Prefer a more visual guide to solicitor and barrister qualification? Check out our infographic!See the Infographic
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. This obviously offers a lot of job security.
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.
As barristers become more senior and can charge higher fees, this becomes less of an issue, but for barristers just starting out, this can be a real challenge.
Barristers, however, are not always self-employed. Some barristers 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.
Members of the public are free to contact and instruct a solicitor. This is not always true of barristers.
For reasonably straight forward cases, a member of the public can instruct a barrister, if they go through the Public Access Scheme.
Public access is available in all types of work that barristers can do, except for work funded out of legal aid. It is also unlikely to be appropriate in cases involving children.
Traditionally, a barrister in court was expected to wear traditional court attire in the form of a long black robe and wig.
Although many barristers are still expected to dress in this way, for an increasing number of barristers, including, for example, some civil practitioners, this is no longer necessary.
If you are thinking about pursuing a career as a barrister, the work experience you should consider undertaking is different compared with the work experience you would consider if you were thinking about pursuing a career as a solicitor.
Budding solicitors would be considering work experience in a law firm-type environment, in the form of vacation schemes or otherwise. Budding barristers, on the other hand, would be considering work experience in the form of a mini pupillage. Find out more about law work experience in our guide.
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