The Difference between Barristers, Solicitors and Lawyers
You may have heard of the terms barrister, solicitor and lawyer; but do you know what they mean and the difference between them? If not, you are in good company, as many people have only a vague understanding of what these jobs entail and indeed, which you should turn to if the situation calls for it. Hopefully this will help to clarify.
A lawyer is a general term that refers to people who practice the law and in the UK this covers a variety of roles. It can refer to solicitors and also barristers. Principally, a solicitor deals directly with clients and gives them advice in criminal and civil cases. When people speak about going to see a lawyer, it is generally a solicitor to which they will be referring. The majority of a solicitor’s time is spent advising clients, negotiating on their behalf or drafting legal documents. Additionally, solicitors can represent clients in court. There are over 150,000 solicitors practicing in England and Wales, according to the latest figures from the Law Society.
A barrister, on the other hand, acts as an advocate in court, and traditionally is instructed by a solicitor. They are easily recognisable because they wear wigs and gowns while in court. The barrister usually has no direct contact with the client. Barristers are mainly called to deal with cases in more senior courts, such as the Crown Court, High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court. Additionally, barristers are called upon when advice on points of law is required. When a person has completed the required qualifications and training, they are called to the bar, which means they can then practice as a barrister. In the UK, senior barristers are called Queen’s Counsel (QC) and make up approximately 10% of practicing barristers. QCs, (sometimes called ‘Silks’ due to the formal clothes they wear in court), are appointed by the Queen, upon the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor. There are far fewer barristers than solicitors practicing in England and Wales – according to the Bar Council, around 15,500 currently.
In recent times the traditional roles of solicitors and barristers have begun to change. Historically, solicitors only appeared in lower courts, such as magistrates’ or county courts, for less serious cases. However nowadays, some solicitors act as advocates in higher courts. Similarly, barristers now sometimes accept instructions directly from clients.