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  • Rai Gill

What is the difference between a lawyer, barrister and solicitor?

Updated: Jan 25

A lawyer is any individual involved in the legal profession and is often considered an umbrella term applicable to both solicitors and barristers.

The difference between a solicitor and barrister arises from their respective functions in the judicial process. In criminal matters, this distinction is generally between work in and out of the courtroom.

What does a Solicitor do?

A solicitor, usually as a member of a firm, is the first point of contact in any legal matter. As such, solicitors are a lay client’s main gateway and guide into the legal world.

A solicitor will manage a case throughout its journey, from first to last. Initially, this can be anything from a client wanting general advice before any particular legal action, to formal representation in a police interview or court. Solicitors will then conduct the case on behalf of the client until it is completely resolved.

The duties of solicitor include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing advice to clients on their case and how to proceed.

  • Accompanying clients to police station interviews.

  • Liaising on behalf of a client with the Police, Crown Prosecution Service, and the Court.

  • Gathering and reviewing evidence.

  • Analysis of the prosecution evidence.

  • Leading a client step-by-step through the legal process through conferences and regular communication (including remotely, in person, and in prison).

  • Drafting and submitting any relevant or necessary legal paperwork.

  • Assisting clients in obtaining Legal Aid, where needed or available.

  • Instructing a barrister for relevant cases.

  • Instructing experts where required.

All solicitors have a right to represent their clients in magistrates’ and youth courts. This involves presenting a client’s case to judges, and also questioning witnesses and conducting trials. In these cases, solicitors will deal with all aspects of fact and law that may arise.

Solicitors may also apply for extended rights of audience so enable them to conduct advocacy in the Crown Court, Court of Appeal and beyond.

What is the role of a Barrister?

Barristers are the second limb of the umbrella term ‘lawyer’. They are usually instructed by solicitors and therefore the relationship between the barrister and lay client is through the solicitor.

When we say a solicitor instructs the barrister, this is a rather legal term. It essentially means that the solicitor explains what the case is all about, gives directions on the work to be done, provides the lay client’s instructions on the evidence to the barrister and matters of preparation and strategy are discussed as a team.

A barrister is often considered to be a specialist advocate as they spend considerably more time training in this area. Their main role is to represent the client in court, from the magistrates’ courts up to the Crown Court and beyond that to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

They are usually distinguished by their wigs and gowns, which they wear in the Crown Court.

In court, a barrister’s duties include:

  • Representing a client in pre-trial hearings, including bail applications where applicable;

  • Questioning witnesses (examination-in-chief, cross-examination, and re-examination);

  • Running legal arguments on behalf of the client to the court;

  • Making closing speeches by addressing the jury on the evidence they have heard, make submissions on the strength of the prosecution/defence case and addressing them on the burden and standard of proof.

Their role is varied and so this is not an exhaustive list.

In addition, outside of the court, a barrister main duty is to prepare a case for trial. This can involve liaising with both the instructing solicitors and the client. Barristers, often specialise in a specific legal subject, may advise on complex areas of the law or evidence. They will also provide their opinions throughout the case to the client and solicitors wherever needed.

The two limbs of the professional work in tandem together and comprise the legal team for a defendant facing allegations/charges during what is often a very frightening time.

As a firm of Solicitors, we take great care in instructing the right barrister for our client and their specific matter.

Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.

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