When it comes to the legal system in England, both barristers and solicitors are types of lawyers – that is, professionals licensed to practice law. Both individuals operate within the judicial system as different types of legal representative. Individuals from both professions need to obtain a law degree, although each will have quite different training and undertake a distinct type of legal work.
The process of becoming a barrister is slightly more extensive than that needed to become a solicitor. After obtaining a degree, a trainee barrister must become a member of one of the four Inns of Court in London and complete a pupillage, spending a year in an authorised establishment. Once a barrister has been called to the bar, he is able to practise law in the higher courts. Whilst a solicitor must also obtain a law degree, he or she must also pass a Legal Practice Course and complete a two-year training period with an approved training establishment before applying to the Law Society for official admittance to the roll of solicitors. A solicitor can only practise at Magistrates level.
Whilst barristers act as specialists in a specific field of law, and spend most of their time in court addressing the judge, they are in fact considered self-employed and cannot form companies. Instead they must group together to form a ‘chambers.’ As they are all independent professionals, it is often possible to have solicitors within the same firm representing clients from opposing sides without any conflict of interest occurring. Because barristers are enlisted to complete very specific pieces of work, it is possible that several barristers can end up dealing with just one case. As they are more experienced at dealing with court processes, hiring a barrister is deemed more cost effective as they are paid for each piece of work (such as drafting documents and attending hearings) separately. Barristers aren’t always available for client interaction as they operate to strict schedules and typically this is where the solicitor comes in.
Although solicitors also specialise in particular areas, they are primarily office-based, meeting with clients and performing administrative duties. Acting as intermediaries between the barrister and the client, solicitors will remain present for the duration of a whole case. Paid by the hour and filling a largely administrative function, they support barristers by note-taking and organizing files.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the two is sartorial; in court, barristers in Ireland, England and Wales usually wear a horsehair wig, bands, a collar and a gown. One of the most common misconceptions is that only barristers can become judges, but this isn’t true and either can in fact become a judge.
Thanks to Personal Injury Solicitors Doncaster for providing this article.