Barrister vs solicitor: difference and job requirements

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 10 April 2022

Two of the most common types of professionals within the law are barristers and solicitors. While these two roles have many similarities, barristers and solicitors have different responsibilities and skills. If you're interested in a career in law, you may consider the role of barrister or solicitor. In this article, we discuss what barristers and solicitors do, what the primary differences are between the two roles and what skills are relevant for you to have as a barrister or a solicitor.

What is a barrister?

Barristers are law professionals who work directly with clients to represent and defend their cases in court. It's common for barristers to specialise in one form of law, like family or criminal law. Other barristers take a more general focus and have extensive knowledge of multiple areas of law. It may be common to work irregular hours as a barrister, depending on your caseload and the client's needs. As a barrister, you may represent clients as individuals or in the form of an organisation or larger corporation. Here are some of the duties a barrister completes:

  • advises clients on all legal matters involving their case

  • manages a variety of cases at one time

  • speaks on behalf of the client

  • examines witnesses in court

  • negotiates settlements for the client

  • writes legal documents

  • finds pupils to educate

  • conducts legal and historical research for cases

  • prepares arguments for court

  • keeps up-to-date on legal concepts and issues

  • represents clients in court

  • understands legal concepts and jargon within a specialisation

  • advises clients on the legalities of their case

  • receives clients from solicitors

  • advises other legal professionals

Barristers follow a specific set of rules when engaging with the law and court system. Here are some of the rules the law requires barristers to follow:

  • Barristers have an obligation to the court system and always present the truth without misleading the court in any way.

  • Barristers ensure client confidentiality above all else.

  • Barristers may only accept work to which they can dedicate an appropriate amount of time.

Related: What does a barrister do? (With types and salaries)

What is a solicitor?

A solicitor is a legal professional who meets with clients, discusses case details and advises them on all legal proceedings relevant to their case. As a solicitor, you may work irregular hours if you have a significant caseload or are preparing for a court session. It's common to specialise in a specific area of law as a solicitor. You may represent many clients, including individuals, families, organisations, corporations, multinational corporations or small local businesses. Here are some of the responsibilities you may have as a solicitor:

  • handling the financial side of your practice

  • offering instructions to barristers on legal matters

  • writing contracts or legal letters

  • developing documents for court proceedings

  • providing legal advice to clients and legal professionals

  • conducting legal research on records, historical context and laws

  • staying up-to-date with the current legal legislature

Related: What does a solicitor do? Salary, role and responsibilities

Barrister vs solicitor

While several similarities exist between barristers and solicitors, these two roles have distinct areas of speciality and responsibility. Here are some of the differences between a barrister and solicitor:

Job duties

The primary difference between a barrister and a solicitor is the duties they complete. Generally, barristers advocate for their clients directly in a court setting, while a solicitor completes more work in an office setting. A solicitor can represent clients in court if they obtain the 'rights of audience'. This allowance provides solicitors with considerable responsibility, but barristers still retain more power than barristers. A solicitor is usually the first legal professional a client contacts. Depending on the client's needs, a solicitor refers the client to a suitable barrister.

A barrister and solicitor may work together to build a case and develop legal arguments, but solicitors rarely go to court. Solicitors conduct their work for clients in a more relaxed setting like their office, where they advise clients on legal proceedings and may negotiate between two parties trying to reach an agreement. Barristers may be present for some of these proceedings if they're involved with the case, but it's more common for the barrister to perform court-related tasks.

Work environment and employment

The work environment of a solicitor differs significantly from the work environment of a barrister. While both solicitors and barristers work in an office for some portion of their day, barristers may travel more between their office and court to attend hearings. A solicitor handles almost all of their legal responsibilities from the office. The nature of a solicitor's work environment is a by-product of their employment status, as it's common for solicitors to own their practice. Conversely, it's more common for barristers to be self-employed and take on contract work from courts or solicitors.

Due to these differences, a solicitor receives holiday pay and sick leave, while a barrister may not earn money during time off as they're self-employed. As barristers gain experience and on-the-job experience, they can charge increase their fees to cover time off. Occasionally, law offices employ barristers as in-house employees to handle client cases.

Training and education

It's common to retain a law degree if you're studying to become a barrister or a solicitor. To become a solicitor, there are several avenues for entry. If you didn't complete a law degree, you could pass a preliminary examination to qualify. Next, you take the FE-1 entrance examination, which covers common areas of law. As a trainee solicitor, you can take a professional practice course to further your practical knowledge. After completing a sufficient amount of in-office training, you can apply for admission into the Roll of Solicitors, which is the final qualification to become a practising solicitor.

If you're planning to become a barrister, it's important to obtain an undergraduate degree in law. If you completed your undergraduate degree in a subject area other than law, you could complete a shorter conversion course to fulfil the legal requirements. Many aspiring barristers complete a postgraduate degree to further their knowledge. After completing your educational requirements, barristers take examinations set by the King's Inns. You qualify for admission into the Roll of Practising Barristers when you pass your tests. The final requirement to become a barrister is 'devilling' or completing an apprenticeship.

Related: What is pro bono work? (Plus how to get started and tips)

Access to the public

Barristers and solicitors differ based on their access to the public. Members of the public always have direct access to solicitors. Solicitors meet with a potential client and, depending on the case, refer the case to a barrister who specialises in the area.

Workwear

Barristers and solicitors differ in their work attire. The court expects barristers to wear the traditional garb, including a robe and a wig. Solicitors dress in business attire like suits and other professional clothes. Depending on the court, a barrister may wear professional clothing instead of the traditional robe and wig.

Critical skills for barristers and solicitors

If you want to become a barrister or a solicitor, you may benefit from developing a wide range of skills. Here are some of the skills you may benefit from having in the role of barrister or solicitor:

Verbal communication

Being able to communicate with others is at the centre of what a barrister or solicitor does. A barrister may communicate publicly often in the courtroom. A solicitor may communicate with smaller groups or individuals but often negotiate for their clients in an office environment. Barristers and solicitors may communicate with clients who don't understand legal proceedings. Being able to communicate with clients in an approachable, humanistic way that people understand can be helpful.

Related: Communications skills you need to succeed

Written communication

Written communication is a vital skill for all people who work in the legal field. As a barrister or a solicitor, you may spend a considerable amount of time writing legal documents for clients, fellow lawyers or court proceedings. Writing clearly and concisely can simplify the legal process for you and your clients.

Empathy

You may benefit from being empathetic as a solicitor or barrister. Clients may come to you with a range of sensitive issues. You can develop a trusting relationship with your clients by expressing empathy.

Adaptability

Adaptability is a core skill for people who work in law. Sometimes, you may change your arguments or presentations based on last-minute information. Being adaptable can help you remain calm and professional when facing challenges.

Time management

As a barrister or lawyer, you may work with multiple clients at one time. Being able to prioritise cases and clients depending on deadlines and needs is a vital skill. Time management skills help you stay on schedule and complete tasks before their deadlines.

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