5 Major Differences between Solicitors and Barristers

In England and Wales, the legal profession is not a fused profession, so there are two prominent roles: solicitors and barristers in the legal industry. While both professions involve practicing law, they possess distinct responsibilities and areas of expertise. In this overview, we will delve into the contrasting aspects of these professions, ranging from their training and scope of work to their relationship with clients and courtroom representation.

Legal Training and Qualifications
The paths to becoming a solicitor and a barrister differ in terms of education and training. To become a solicitor, you do not have to complete a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree and then the Legal Practice Course (LPC), followed by a 2-year training contract. University graduates in any subject can take the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) directly and then gain 2 years of Qualifying Work Experience to become a solicitor in England and Wales.

To become a barrister, you must complete an undergraduate law degree (LLB) where you must study seven foundations of legal knowledge, including, Contract Law, Public Law, Criminal Law, Tort Law, EU Law, Equity and Trusts, and Property Law. Then, you must complete the vocational stage of bar training which is the Bar Training Course (BTC), followed by a one-year apprenticeship with a practicing barrister or chambers, known as pupillage where you will gain practical experience in advocacy and courtroom work. Please note that Bar Vocational Course (BVC) and Bar Practice Course (BPC) are different names of the BTC provided by different training providers.

Regulatory Body
For solicitors, the regulatory body is the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The SRA is an independent regulatory body established by the Law Society of England and Wales. It sets out the Code of Conduct, rules, and principles that solicitors must adhere to, ensuring they maintain the highest professional standards. The SRA is responsible for granting solicitors their practicing certificates, handling complaints against solicitors, and taking disciplinary action when necessary. It also sets requirements for solicitors' education and training.

For barristers, the regulatory body is the Bar Standards Board (BSB). The BSB is an independent regulator established by the Bar Council of England and Wales. Its primary role is to regulate barristers and specialised legal services provided by barristers' chambers. The BSB sets the Code of Conduct that barristers must follow, ensuring professional ethics, integrity, and competence. It oversees barristers' education and training. The BSB also handles complaints and disciplinary matters relating to barristers' professional conduct.

Roles and Scope of Work
Solicitors primarily work directly with clients, providing legal advice, and handling various legal matters. They are often the first point of contact for individuals or businesses seeking legal assistance. Solicitors engage in non-contentious work, which involves legal matters outside of the courtroom, such as drafting contracts, negotiating settlements, conducting legal research, and managing legal transactions like property conveyancing or corporate mergers. They may also represent clients in certain court proceedings, including lower-level courts or tribunals.

Barristers are specialist advocates and typically focus on courtroom advocacy. They are instructed by solicitors or directly by clients for their expertise in specific areas of law. Barristers appear in court, present cases, cross-examine witnesses, and make legal arguments. They specialise in either criminal law, civil law, or both. Barristers often work independently or as part of barristers' chambers, which are groups of barristers who share resources and facilities.

Client Relationship
Solicitors have a direct and ongoing relationship with clients. They provide legal advice, handle administrative tasks, and act as the main point of contact throughout a case or legal matter. Solicitors develop a deep understanding of their clients' needs, gather evidence, and formulate legal strategies accordingly. They maintain long-term relationships with clients, often providing ongoing legal support.

Barristers are typically engaged by solicitors or clients for specific cases or matters. They have a more specialised role, focusing on advocacy and representing clients in court. Barristers do not usually have direct client relationships. Instead, they work on cases assigned to them by solicitors, who act as intermediaries between the client and the barrister. Barristers rely on solicitors to provide them with instructions and relevant information about the case.

Court Representation
Solicitors have the right to represent clients in certain court proceedings, such as the lower-level courts, employment tribunals, and some family courts. However, their advocacy role is generally more limited compared to barristers unless they have earned higher rights of audience to become a solicitor advocate. Solicitors often work with barristers for complex or higher-level court cases, where specialised advocacy skills are required.

Barristers, as specialist advocates, have the right to represent clients in all levels of court, including the higher courts and appellate courts. They are trained to present cases, cross-examine witnesses, make legal arguments, and provide expert legal advice on complex matters.

In short, solicitors act as legal advisors, maintaining direct relationships with clients and handling a wide range of legal matters, whereas barristers specialise in courtroom advocacy, representing clients and presenting cases in court. Understanding the differences between solicitors and barristers is crucial for LLB students considering a career in law or individuals seeking legal representation.
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