The Difference Between Solicitors and Barristers

Lawyers generally fall into two categories: Solicitors and barristers.

Despite what some solicitors may tell you, or what they advertise, “Solicitors” are different from “barristers”. Both are legal professionals, but they specialise in different types of legal work.

The barrister is the one who conducts court appearances and speaks on your behalf. They are the representative for your interests, with formal training in cross-examining witnesses and court advocacy. However, they do not liaise directly with clients, with most of their focus being in preparing for their court appearance.

In contrast, a solicitor conducts most of their work directly in relation to the client. They collect the information and preparation work necessary for the court appearance. They communicate directly with the barristers to prepare for your case, eventually engaging with them for court advice and appearances.

An Overview: What is the difference between a Solicitor and a Barrister?

For those who have never had to engage with legal proceedings, your understanding of solicitors and barristers may be minimal. It can be confusing for those outside of the legal profession to know the differences, but we will go in-depth to both professions so you get the whole picture.

What is a Solicitor?

A solicitor is a type of lawyer that acts in the best interests of a client, also known as general practitioners of the law. This is because they are capable of providing advice to clients across multiple areas of law. For those seeking legal advice, both individually and as a business collective, a solicitor is your first point of contact. Solicitors will also take over managing a case’s daily legal affairs, there to both support and advise you.

They also provide several legal services, including: the protection of intellectual property, helping to draft legal documents, managing legal files, as well as assisting with business sales and purchases.

What Does a Solicitor Do?

Solicitors generally work in law firms, government institutions, private organisations, corporations and for themselves. Solicitors, whilst able to perform all of the duties that barristers perform, often hire the services of a barrister in more complex legal matters. This is common in cases that require representation in a higher court, such as the Supreme Court of NSW. This is because those barristers specialise in appearing before higher court judges, and therefore have the requisite experience needed to handle complicated cases.

Indeed, it is rare for solicitors who deal with disputes to spend much time in court. They usually spend time preparing for the litigation process, such as readying evidence and claims, or conducting negotiations for settlement out of court. They will usually only appear in court for their client to represent them in preliminary and interim hearings. More formal argumentative portions of proceedings do not typically require the presence of a solicitor.

However, solicitors who specialise in a particular legal matter may appear in the higher courts without having to brief a barrister. This is particularly common for those specialising in criminal law. In fact, in NSW, solicitors are licensed to practice as both a solicitor and barrister within the state, taking on all barrister responsibilities if it is thought best for their client.

What is the Difference Between a Solicitor and a Lawyer?

Solicitors are a type of lawyer, but they are rarely referred to as such. This is because most of their work is done out of the courtroom, whereas the term lawyer commonly refers to those who represent clients in court.

Previously, a solicitor’s work was restricted to magistrates’ or other small case courts, but now these advocates can be found in higher levels of court. This is why many solicitors are still referred to as lawyers, especially as the line of barristers and solicitors continue to blend.

When to Involve a Solicitor in Your Matter

You will have to involve a solicitor if you are looking into hiring a law firm for your case. They handle the daily tasks that a case requires to run smoothly, including drafting contracts and court documents, as well as managing your legal files and running communications.

Most solicitors will focus on advising and aiding you on your case, capable of adapting to almost all legal issues. However, you may want to continue involving solicitors in your courtroom matters if you do not believe you will require the services of a barrister. Solicitors with plenty of experience may offer their services to make your case in the courtroom, having had training in arguing for a client’s case.

How to Choose a Solicitor

Since a solicitor is your main point of contact within the legal practice, it is important to consider what kind of solicitor you want for your case. If you have required a legal practitioner before, but in a different area of law, you can ask them to refer you to someone in the firm who can handle your case.

Otherwise, it is best to choose a solicitor who shows clear interest in your case, as well as expertise in the legal matter at hand. Those that have shown great success achieving clients’ goals should also be considered as a great fit for you and your case.

What is a Barrister?

Unlike solicitors, barristers spend most of their time working within the courtroom. They are involved in a case when there are serious criminal charges being discussed, often in the higher courts of NSW. This is because a barrister is a solicitor who has completed the exams and requirements for their state’s Bar authority. Therefore, they have the skills and qualifying law degree to represent clients on the areas of law they specialise in.

What Does a Barrister Do?

Barristers do not work in the same office as solicitors. They work in separate offices called “Barrister’s Chambers”. This is due to barristers being an independent practitioner who will be put onto cases at a solicitor’s instruction. 

Barristers are very much like what specialists are like to medical practitioners. They will have expertise in a particular area of law, mainly representing clients whose case entails being charged under that purview. They provide advice on this issue, engage the court in arguments for your defence, and even handle court applications.

Solicitors, when faced with serious criminal cases for their clients, such as a larceny, Murder or affray charge, will “brief” a barrister who will appear for their clients. Many barristers are briefed in criminal trials before a judge or a jury, in the District Court of NSW or the Supreme Court of NSW. They are recognisable in court by their traditional wig, gown and jabot.

What is the Difference Between a Barrister and a Lawyer?

Lawyer is the broad term for those with a practising certificate of law. Therefore, a barrister is a type of lawyer. However, there is a significant difference between barristers and lawyers, which is that barristers are lawyers specialising in advocacy.

Barristers advocate for a client and their interest, differentiating themselves from other lawyers by representing clients in court. They have spent time studying and applying proper court etiquette and procedures, taking a year to conduct a Bar Professional Training Course that other lawyers do not undertake. It is this specification of their role that separates them from the title of ‘lawyer’.

When to Involve a Barrister in Your Matter

If you are looking for specialised assistance in a matter, it is best to involve a barrister with plenty of experience in that area of law. You cannot retain a barrister directly, however, as that is the solicitor’s role.

Although some experienced solicitors are capable of appearing in court and legal arguments, it is best to include a barrister in your case when it goes beyond that solicitor’s understanding of law. Their capabilities as an advocate mean that they will have your needs at the forefront of their concerns. This may be just as an advisor or observer of evidence outside of the courtroom, but making arguments in court is where they work best.

At times your solicitor may also bring on a barrister to provide opinions on your case. In the case of particularly difficult or complex issues, they will also aid in drafting court documents.

How to Choose a Barrister

Your solicitor will choose a barrister based on what your court case is about, finding a criminal barrister who specialises in handling your particular crime. This may mean commercial law, property law, or even family law, depending on whether you have committed acts like corporate crime or damaging property.

Thus, the factors that determine your solicitor’s decision are:

  • The type of crime at hand
  • Which barrister they believe to be most suitable and/or experienced enough for the case
  • Your financial circumstances

Do I Need a Solicitor or a Barrister?

Even with all the information provided in this article, it can still be hard to know whether you need a solicitor or a barrister for your legal matters. However, regardless of your case type, when you approach a law firm for aid, you will need a solicitor before retaining a barrister. Solicitors advocate for your case and will help advise you if you need the services of a barrister.

You will always require a solicitor if you need a legal professional, and there are some instances where you only require these advocates for your case. This is because solicitor advocates often take on a barrister role as well as their usual solicitor role. They are as used to running a case as a barrister is, with expertise in assaults, small drug charges, drunk driving and AVOS.

A solicitor may advise you to hire a barrister directly if your case requires someone with more experience in courtroom proceedings. While some solicitors are confident in overseeing a case all the way from the beginning through the courtroom, barristers are the ones with practical legal training in trial or court appearances, as well as conducting arguments. By hiring a barrister, you will also give your solicitor plenty of time and space to handle their regular legal obligations, including organising your court documents and evidence.

Cases Where Only Solicitors are Required

Although both solicitors and barristers tend to have their legal specialities, especially barristers, an experienced solicitor may be all you need for a case. They are more than capable of guiding you through the documentation and explanations of your case as well as actually advocating for you in the courtroom.

It is up to you whether or not you only want a solicitor handling your case. If they have plenty of experience in persuading a judge or magistrate, then you may also desire the services of a barrister.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a QC and an SC?

A “Queen’s Counsel” and a “Senior Counsel” are basically the same thing. Some years ago, the legal profession changed the previously known “QC” title to “SC”. There are many that still hold the title of QC, however SC’s are now outnumbering QC’s, as the term QC is slowly phased out.

Will I need a solicitor and a barrister for my case?

Many specialist criminal solicitors do most of their own court work, like ourselves. However, solicitors who do little court work (and maybe do not specialise in Criminal Law) will often brief barristers for most of their cases involving substantial legal argument.

It really all depends on the experience of the solicitor handling the case and the complexity of the case. With criminal matters that are dealt with in the Local Court, it is generally easy to find solicitors that are highly competent in appearing in the Local Court, and can represent you without the assistance of a barrister. In fact, it is arguable that specialist criminal solicitors often have more experience than a barrister in simple Local Court cases!

At LY Lawyers, we brief only the best barristers in Sydney. Call us on 1300 595 299 for a free consultation.

Cost of Barristers and Solicitors

The costs associated with hiring both a barrister and a solicitor vary due to several differences, including: seniority, expertise, urgency, and location. However, as decreed by the ‘Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW)’, solicitors are entitled to charge fees which are fair and reasonable.

When choosing a legal practitioner, you can inquire as to whether they charge a fixed amount, an hourly rate, or whether they can be negotiated with your current circumstances to concede to a different method of charging.

What is an Attorney?

The role of an attorney is not a common one in the Australian legal system. They do not usually appear in the Australian court system, but rather advise outside of it based on their speciality.

While the US uses the term of attorney as a generalisation for lawyers that have passed the bar, Australians do not use this term often, instead sticking to lawyer. Furthermore, attorneys do not require a law degree, but may have one, along with their training that helps them specialise in an area of the law.

Is a Lawyer a Solicitor?

Simply put, all solicitors are lawyers, but not all lawyers are solicitors. In Australia, lawyer is used as a generalisation for anyone who can practice law. Solicitors, however, have the specific role of being the client’s first point of contact, as well as organising and advising them on their case.