People often refer to their “lawyer”, but in England and Wales the term “lawyer” is a term that denotes both solicitors and barristers. So, what exactly IS the difference between Solicitors and Barristers? Some have likened it to the differences between your GP at the doctor’s surgery, where you might take advice on a range of general matters, and a consultant or surgeon who might become engaged “at the sharp end” should your ailment actually need specialist attention.
So, a Solicitor will offer clients a very broad range of advice on matters from wills and probate, conveyancing, family law, formation of companies and so on. Most of these matters will not involve litigation and referral to the court system. If they do require litigation, then sometimes a solicitor can undertake the work (much like very minor surgery is done at your GP).
However, if the litigation is complex the work will normally be referred to a Barrister – just as a serious medical condition might be referred to a consultant or surgeon. Barristers may work alone but often they work in “Chambers” – effectively the equivalent to a “Firm” of solicitors.
Barristers Chambers therefore specialise in litigation, this usually means acting as an advocate for clients in court, when matters come to litigation.
However barristers are also often called on – by solicitors or by the public coming directly to the barrister for advice to offer “counsel’s opinion” on particular legal points when a specialist view is required. This may be for clarity on a specific point of law, say to draft a tricky section of a contract, or it might be to ascertain the likely chances of success should a matter end up in court. Of course the purpose of such opinions is actually to avoid unnecessary litigation! Very senior barristers are sometimes appointed to become “Queen’s Counsel” or “QC” and you can find out more about the difference between Barristers and QCs here.
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