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What’s the difference between a lawyer and a solicitor?

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The term ‘lawyer’ is a generic term that describes any person who is qualified to provide legal advice as a Licensed Legal Practitioner – within that definition, both solicitors and barristers are different types of lawyer.

Below we outline the definition of what a solicitor is, and what a barrister is….

What is a solicitor?

A solicitor can be defined as a qualified legal professional who offers support and legal advice to clients. The clients of a solicitor can be individuals as well as groups of people, private companies and public sector organisations.

What does a Solicitor do?

Upon receiving instructions from their clients, a solicitor will then provide their professional advice regarding what course of action is to be taken – which will depend on their specific area of expertise. Most of the solicitors in the UK are trained as litigators, which means they have expertise in taking proceedings to court, but there are many that do other work like conveyancing and those that specialise in certain areas of law (e.g. corporate law).

A solicitor will often work directly with their client(s) and, although their roles and activities tend to be influenced by their area of expertise, they will generally start by making sure they and their firm are suitable to provide the legal services and advice needed by the client; take the clients full legal instruction and advise them on the legal requirements in relation to their case.

Solicitors also deal with all the paperwork arising from a case, such as communication with other parties, letters and contracts and preparing papers for Court.

A solicitors job is also to negotiate with both their client and the other parties in a bid to achieve objective, collect further evidence, calculate losses and compensation amounts, loss of earnings and more – all while co-coordinating the casework and communication between parties.

Cases that involve solicitors can vary and range across the entire spectrum of the legal profession, from high value corporate and commercial cases through to personal injury, divorces, wills probate and much more.

In general terms, solicitors are there to represent their clients in legal disputes. However, in more complex disputes a solicitor may instruct a barrister or more specialist advocate to represent their client in Court. It is unlikely that a solicitor will actually represent their client in Court (although some do appear in Court as advocates), instead they will refer the case on to a Barrister…

What is a Barrister?

A Barrister is a legal professional who, as well as offering expert legal advice, also represents clients in Courts and tribunals.

What does a Barrister do?

Barristers in England and Wales are instructed or hired by solicitors in order to represent a case when it goes to Court. The role of a Barrister in the legal process can be defined as: “to translate and structure their client’s view of events into legal arguments and to make persuasive representations which obtain the best possible result for their client”. In basic terms, that means to present their client’s case in a manner that is acceptable to the Court, in order to get the best outcome for their client.

Barristers tend to specialise in certain areas of law, such as chancery law (trusts and estates), commercial law, personal injury law, criminal law, common law, entertainment law, sports law and so on.

Like solicitors, a Barrister’s work will vary depending on their area and level of expertise, although they will typically offer legal advice to their clients and on the strength of their case. Barristers will then represent the client in Court, presenting their case and examining and cross-examining witnesses. Following that, they will then contribute to the settlement negotiations, depending on the ruling of the Court.

There are an estimated 15,500 Barristers currently practicing across England and Wales, 80% of whom are thought to be self-employed. Some Barristers are employed, such as those working in agencies like the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or those employed in legal departments of businesses or organisations.

Self-employed Barristers tend to be based in offices that are known as Chambers, which they often share with other barristers. When they finish their professional training, many Barristers are given a permanent tenancy in a set of Chambers.

Due to the nature of a Barrister’s work, they may often find that they are acting on different sides of a case with another Barrister in their Chamber. This is a direct contrast to solicitors, who would be prevented from representing the other party of a case in the same firm due to a conflict of interest.

A system known as the Cab Rank Rule helps to keep Barrister’s independent and stops them picking and choosing the cases they work. This rule prevents a Barrister from refusing a case, and obligates them to accept any work in a legal area that they profess themselves competent to practise, at a court at which they normally appear, and at their usual rates.

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