Unveiling the Legal Trio: Understanding the Distinctions Between Lawyers, Solicitors, and Barristers

Navigating the legal world can be a complex endeavour, especially when it comes to understanding the roles of lawyers, solicitors, and barristers. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct legal professions with unique responsibilities and expertise.

In this article, we unravel the differences between lawyers, solicitors, and barristers, shedding light on their respective roles, practice areas, and qualifications. By gaining a clear understanding of these legal professionals, you’ll be better equipped to engage with the appropriate expert for your specific legal needs. So, let’s delve into the world of legal practitioners and explore the nuances that set lawyers, solicitors, and barristers apart.

Topics to be answered in this article

Who exactly is a Lawyer?

A lawyer is a person who practises law. The role of a lawyer varies greatly across different legal jurisdictions. A lawyer can be classified as an advocate, government lawyer, attorney, barrister, canon lawyer, civil law notary,counsel, counsellor, solicitor, legal executive, or public servant — with each role having different functions and privileges. Working as a lawyer generally involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific problems. Some lawyers also work primarily in advancing the interests of the law and legal profession.
However, in the English legal system, there are two major categories of lawyers – solicitors and barristers. Aside from these categories, it is also worthy of note that a lawyer can also be a Chartered Legal Executive or a Licensed Conveyancer
Gaining a concise understanding of the major distinctions between a solicitor and a barrister provides valuable insights into their distinct roles within the legal profession. Exploring these differences can be both interesting and educational, offering a deeper appreciation for the unique contributions each professional makes to the legal system. Therefore, this is the distinction between a solicitor and a barrister.

What is a Solicitor?

A solicitor is a legal professional who provides legal advice, prepares legal documents, and represents clients in various legal matters. They often work directly with clients, handling matters such as contracts, property transactions, wills, and general legal advice. Solicitors may also represent clients in lower courts, tribunals, and some specialised areas of law.

What is a Barrister?

A barrister is a type of lawyer who specialises in advocacy and represents clients in higher courts, such as the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal. Barristers typically provide specialist legal advice and are often called upon to argue cases in court. They are known for their expertise in legal research, drafting legal pleadings, and presenting cases before judges and juries.

In other words, solicitors primarily provide legal advice and handle various legal matters, while barristers specialise in advocacy and represent clients in court. Both solicitors and barristers are types of lawyers with distinctive roles they play in the English legal system.

What are the differences between a solicitor and a barrister?

Notably, there are other contrasts between the responsibilities of a solicitor and a barrister which cuts across their roles, courtroom prowess, and qualifications and they are as follows;

Training and Qualifications 

The training paths for solicitors and barristers differ. Solicitors complete a law degree or conversion course, followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and a period of practical training known as a training contract. 

Barristers, on the other hand, must complete a law degree or conversion course, followed by the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), and then undergo a period of pupillage (apprenticeship) with an experienced barrister.

Many barristers are now self-employed and work in ‘chambers’. Some barristers are awarded Queen’s Counsel (QC) as a recognition for excellence in advocacy. They are seen as leaders in their area of law and will often take on more complex cases. 

Role and Practice

Solicitors primarily provide legal advice, draft legal documents, and represent clients in various legal matters outside of the courtroom. They have direct contact with clients and handle a wide range of legal issues. 

Barristers, on the other hand, specialise in advocacy and represent clients in court. They are typically instructed by solicitors or directly by clients for specific court cases.

Court Representation

Solicitors can represent clients in lower courts, tribunals, and some specialised areas of law. 

However, barristers are specialised courtroom advocates who focus on representing clients in higher courts, such as the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal. They are known for their expertise in presenting cases before judges and juries.

Legal Expertise

Solicitors often have broader knowledge across multiple areas of law and provide general legal advice to clients. They handle various legal matters, including contracts, property transactions, wills, and more. Barristers, on the other hand, tend to specialise in specific areas of law and have in-depth knowledge and expertise in those particular fields.

Direct Client Interaction

Solicitors have direct contact with clients and are typically the first point of contact for legal advice. They establish ongoing relationships with clients and handle their legal needs. 

Barristers, on the other hand, are usually instructed by solicitors or clients specifically for court cases and often have limited direct contact with clients.

With these clarifications, questions will arise as to how one can become either a barrister or a solicitor. Therefore to answer these questions, these are the steps becoming either of them.

How to become a solicitor

Follow these steps to become a solicitor:

1. Pass the SQE exams

The SQE process to qualification requires applicants to complete two years of qualifying work experience, pass two SQE exams, meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements and hold a degree-level qualification. You don’t need a law degree to pass the SQE as any degree or equivalent qualification is enough to gain entry. The SQE exam is quite complicated and many students take SQE preparation courses coupled with their independent study to improve their chances of passing the exam the first time.

2. Get a relevant degree

Although it isn’t necessary, gaining an LLB law degree, also known as a Bachelor of Law, can make it easier to pass the SQE examinations as you already have the foundational knowledge. SEQ1 tests your functioning legal knowledge while SEQ2 tests your practical legal skills. If you don’t want to take an LLB law degree, holding a degree in the field you want to give legal advice in, such as computer science if you’re wanting to specialise in technology law, can be beneficial.

3. Gain work experience

The final part of getting SQE certification is to complete two years of work experience. Before 2021, this was known as a ‘training contract’, so many law firms may still use this term to this date. What they mean is work experience. Since the changes made to the SQE in 2021, you can now use more types of work experience to qualify. Ensure you read through the SQE guidelines and check that your work experience meets their requirements.

How to become a barrister

Follow these steps to become a barrister:

1. Complete your education

Becoming a barrister generally includes three stages. Stage one is academic, stage two is vocational and stage three is professional:
Academic: The first stage requires you to complete an undergraduate law degree or obtain a one-year postgraduate conversion course if you already have a bachelor’s degree in a different subject. Postgraduate conversion courses, usually the graduate diploma in law conversion course (GDL), are for those with graduate degrees in relevant subjects, but not legal degrees.
Vocation: Often called a Bar training course, this stage of the process ensures you have the specialist knowledge, skills, attitude and competence for becoming a barrister.
Professional: Essentially an apprenticeship with a barrister’s chambers, this is a form of on-the-job training that lasts for around one year. They’re available from several organisations including the Government Legal Profession.

2. Take an integrated course

The Bar Standards Board, the institution that oversees barristers, has introduced another route to becoming a barrister. It’s now possible to combine your academic and vocational requirements into a single integrated course. Courses like the Bar-focused LLM or other undergraduate degrees offer these integrated courses. You complete them before you move onto the professional stage by taking what’s often called pupillage with a barrister’s chambers.

3. Find employment at a chambers

Having completed your pupillage with a barrister’s chambers, the next stage is to find full-time employment. People usually refer to this as a ‘tenancy’. Your other option is traditional employment with an organisation where you work in-house, but most barristers are usually self-employed in a set of chambers.

At Goughs Solicitors, our commitment to addressing clients’ issues goes beyond traditional boundaries. While our firm boasts a strong team of experienced solicitors specialising in various fields of law, we have also expanded our roster to include barristers, chartered legal executives, and professionals with diverse legal backgrounds. This strategic approach allows us to offer comprehensive and well-rounded solutions to meet the evolving needs of our clients.

By integrating different legal professionals within our team, we can draw upon a wealth of expertise and perspectives. Our barristers bring their specialised advocacy skills, representing clients in court and providing robust legal arguments. Chartered legal executives contribute their deep knowledge in specific areas of law, assisting with complex legal matters. Together, our diverse team collaborates seamlessly to provide a comprehensive range of services and address a wide spectrum of legal issues.

We take pride in fostering a collaborative environment where our professionals work together to ensure clients receive the highest level of legal representation. Whether it’s family law, property transactions, wills and estates, or any other legal field, our multidisciplinary team is well-equipped to navigate complex cases and deliver optimal outcomes.

At Goughs, we believe that addressing clients’ issues requires a dynamic and versatile approach. By combining the expertise of solicitors, barristers, chartered legal executives, and other legal professionals, we can tailor our services to meet the unique needs of each client. With our diverse and dedicated team, we are committed to providing comprehensive and effective solutions that address the full spectrum of our clients’ legal challenges.


Goughs Solicitors: Putting Clients at the Heart of Everything We Do

At Goughs, our solicitors are at the heart of our law firm, providing personalised and client-centric services. On a daily basis, our dedicated solicitors engage with clients, actively listening to their concerns, identifying legal issues, and offering tailored legal advice. Once instructed by our clients, our solicitors leverage their expertise to diligently work towards resolving those legal matters. The specific duties undertaken by our solicitors at Goughs vary based on their areas of specialisation. With a focus on expertise and client satisfaction, we are committed to empowering our clients and achieving successful outcomes in a wide range of legal fields.

How can Goughs help?

If you require legal assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us via the form below or on info@goughs.co.uk.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in joining the Goughs team, please explore our opportunities here, or email recruitment@goughs.co.uk for more information.

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Author Bio

Lauren Bridger

I joined Goughs in February 2012 having previously spent five years working in accounts for a global insurance company.

I became an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in 2016 having completed the Level 3 Diploma in Human Resource Practice.

I undertake a very broad HR role within the firm, with a particular focus on working closely with the partners in attracting and selecting the right people to meet the firm’s strategic objectives. I also work closely with other members of the HR team on developing key processes to enhance the performance of the firm and make Goughs a positive, supportive working environment.

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