menu

What is the difference between a barrister and solicitor?

It's not just about what wigs and gowns you get to wear. Find out the real difference between barristers and solicitors with this simple introduction.

The basic difference
The basic difference between barristers and solicitors is that a barrister mainly defends people in court and a solicitor mainly performs legal work outside court. However, there are exceptions in both cases.
Solicitor
When people talk about going to see their lawyer, it is usually a solicitor that they will contact. Solicitors can work for a big range of organizations, including commercial or non-commercial law firms, the government, private businesses, banks and corporations. They have specialist knowledge of different areas of the law such as family, crime, finance, property and employment. 

Most of the time solicitors advise clients, undertake negotiations and draft legal documents. It is primarily a desk job, but does involve travelling to see clients and representing them in court. 

In the past, a solicitor’s advocacy work was restricted to magistrates’ courts (where less serious cases are dealt with) and minor cases in county courts, but now there are a few solicitor advocates who work in higher levels of the court.
Barrister
Barristers can be distinguished from a solicitor because they wear a wig and gown in court. They work at higher levels of court than solicitors and their main role is to act as advocates in legal hearings, which means they stand in court and plead the case on behalf of their clients in front of a judge. They also have specialist knowledge of the law and so are often called on to give legal advice. 

Barristers do not come into contact with the public as much as solicitors. They are given details of a case by a solicitor and then have a certain amount of time to review the evidence and to prepare what they are going to say in court (a pleading). 

Most barristers are self-employed and work in Chambers with other barristers so they can share costs of accommodation and administrators. They can also be employed in-house as advisors by banks, corporations, and solicitors firms.
Training
Both barristers and solicitors start off doing the same training: they either complete an undergraduate course in law, or take another degree and follow it with the one-year Common Professional Exam or Post-Graduate Diploma in Law. After that, solicitors do a one-year Legal Practice Course followed by a two-year training contract. 

A barrister must take a one-year Bar Professional Training Course in place of the Legal Practice Course, and then they are ‘called to bar’ at one of the four Inns where they do a year’s pupillage shadowing a senior barrister and undertaking some court work. They can then join a set of Chambers as a fully-fledged self-employed barrister
Related Articles
  • Interested in becoming a barrister?

    Becoming a barrister can seem like a far-off, intimidating goal, but whatever your background, there's help available to show you how to get there...

  • Alternative legal careers

    Studying law doesn’t have to mean becoming either a solicitor or a barrister. Find out where else your studies could take you...

  • My job explained: Commercial lawyer

    David Camp is a commercial law solicitor working at Baker & McKenzie in the city. Find out what his fast-paced life is like and discover why he finds the work so rewarding.