The Solicitor and Barrister Profession in the UK – What is the Difference?

The difference between a solicitor and a barrister

The English legal profession (and that of a number of Commonwealth countries whose legal system derives directly from the common law) has two categories of qualified lawyer: barristers and solicitors.

Generally speaking, solicitors provide a range of legal services to companies, organisations and individuals on wide range of legal issues, in diverse areas of practice. The work of all solicitors may be characterized in terms of problem solving. Solicitors help to find solutions to their client’s problems within the framework of case law, statute and regulations. This skill is a key to the practice of each and every solicitor. The context of such work, however, varies greatly across the vast array of practice areas within the profession, depending on the size and type of firm.

Barristers, on the other hand, usually receive instructions from a solicitor. This difference in roles means that clients generally have to go through a solicitor to gain access to a barrister. Barristers are engaged by solicitors on behalf of their clients to provide expert legal opinion or advocacy services. Barristers need to be both legal experts and exceptional advocates. Historically, they have a wider right of audience than solicitors, although solicitors may now qualify for higher rights of audience.

The academic and training route to each of these two main branches of law differs, as do the professional bodies that oversee them. To become a solicitor a law graduate must first study a Legal Practice Course and then spend two years in practice working as a trainee (this used to be called “taking articles”). The professional body that regulates these courses is the Law Society.

To become a barrister the route after graduation is to follow the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) followed by pupillage in a Barristers’ Chambers). This side of the profession is controlled by the Bar Council. The systems are constantly under review and reform, and there are certain moves currently underfoot which would somewhat blur the distinction between these two groups of legal professionals.

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