In the UK, a lawyer is a general term for anyone that has had a legal education and training. Solicitors and barristers are specific types of lawyers that practise the law in England and Wales. Solicitors typically advise clients, draft legal documents, and help file court applications, while barristers specialise in providing expert legal opinions and representing clients in court.
What is a solicitor?
A solicitor is a type of lawyer who has completed specific training and education to become qualified in providing legal advice and assistance. Solicitors work closely with clients to help them with various legal issues. They can work in private law firms, companies, or government organisations.
What do solicitors do?
Solicitors have several important responsibilities that help their clients with legal matters including:
Giving legal advice: Solicitors help clients understand their rights and responsibilities under the law. They can explain how the law applies to a particular situation and suggest the best course of action.
Preparing documents: Solicitors draft and review legal documents, such as contracts, wills, and property agreements. They make sure that these documents follow the law and protect their clients' interests.
Negotiating and resolving disputes: Solicitors often work with other parties to negotiate agreements or settle disputes out of court. They use their knowledge of the law and negotiation skills to find solutions that benefit their clients.
Managing cases: Solicitors keep track of the progress of their clients' cases, making sure that everything is done on time and according to the law. They also communicate with their clients to keep them informed about what's happening.
How can a solicitor help?
Solicitors can help clients in many ways, depending on the situation and the area of law involved. If you need help with any of the following a solicitor may be right for you:
Buying or selling property: Solicitors can guide clients through the process of buying or selling a home, ensuring that all legal requirements are met and that the transaction goes smoothly.
Dealing with family issues: Solicitors can provide advice and assistance in matters such as divorce, child custody, and adoption, helping clients navigate the legal process and protect their interests.
Disputes between a landlord and their tenant: Solicitors can help clients resolve conflicts between landlords and tenants, such as rent arrears, eviction proceedings, and disputes over property repairs or maintenance.
Neighbour disputes: Solicitors can provide advice and assistance in resolving conflicts between neighbours, such as boundary disputes, noise complaints, or issues relating to shared spaces.
Immigration: Solicitors can help clients with various immigration matters, such as applying for visas, work permits, or citizenship. They can also provide assistance in appealing immigration decisions and navigating the complexities of immigration law.
Do solicitors represent you in court?
Solicitors can represent clients in lower courts, such as the Magistrates' Court and County Court. However, for more complex cases or when a case goes to a higher court, like the High Court or Court of Appeal, solicitors often instruct a barrister to represent their clients.
Some solicitors choose to become "solicitor advocates". This allows them to represent clients in higher courts as well. Solicitor advocates have completed additional training and qualifications to gain higher rights of audience, enabling them to act in a similar capacity as barristers in court proceedings.
The main advantage of using a solicitor advocate is the continuity of service they provide. Since they can handle both the preparatory work and court representation, clients can have a single point of contact throughout their legal matter. However, it's essential to note that not all solicitors are solicitor advocates, and the choice between using a solicitor advocate or a barrister for court representation will depend on the specific case and the expertise required.
What is a barrister?
A barrister is a special kind of lawyer in the United Kingdom who focuses on giving expert advice about the law and speaking for clients in court. They have gone through special training and education to become really good at talking in court and understanding legal issues. Barristers usually work on their own but are part of professional groups called "chambers."
What do barristers do?
Barristers have several important jobs to help their clients with legal problems, including:
Speaking in court: Barristers speak for clients in court, using their skills to explain their client's side of the story, ask witnesses questions, and convince the judge or jury to agree with them.
Giving legal advice: Barristers give expert opinions about difficult legal questions, helping clients and solicitors decide what to do in a particular case.
Preparing for court: Barristers work with solicitors to get ready for a trial, looking at evidence, finding examples from other legal cases, and figuring out the best way to present their client's case in court.
How can barristers help?
Barristers are really helpful when clients need expert advice about the law or someone to speak for them in court. Here are some examples of how barristers can help:
Complicated legal cases: In cases that are really difficult or involve a lot of money, a barrister's knowledge can help clients understand what's going on and try to get a good result.
Appeals: If a client doesn't agree with a decision made by a lower court, a barrister can speak for them in the appeals process, using their deep understanding of the law to argue for a different result.
Criminal defence: Barristers can help clients who are accused of crimes, using their skills to explain their client's side of the story and protect their rights during the legal process.
Public law: In cases where people have problems with public organisations, like government agencies or local authorities, barristers can give expert advice and speak for their clients in court to make sure their rights are respected.
By offering their special skills in speaking in court and understanding the law, barristers can play a big part in helping clients get the best possible result for their legal problems.
Do I need a solicitor or a barrister?
To figure out if you need a solicitor or a barrister, think about the kind of legal help you need compared with the key differences between a solicitor and a barrister.
Solicitors usually help with general legal advice, creating documents and handling things before a case goes to court while barristers focus on helping with very specific legal questions you might have about a complex area of law and speaking in court.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to decide what type of lawyer is right for you.
How common is my legal issue and am I just looking for advice?
If you need help with common legal problems or making legal documents like contracts or wills, a solicitor might be the right choice. They can also help you with talking to other people to solve problems or representing you in lower courts. Barristers usually focus on more specialised legal advice and speaking in court, so they might not be the best choice for these situations.
Is my legal problem complicated or about a specific area of law?
If your legal problem is more difficult or about a special part of the law, a barrister could be better for you. They are good at talking in court and can help with harder cases or when you need to go to a higher court. Solicitors usually help with general legal advice and normal legal issues.
Will any court action be involved?
If you think your case might go to court, especially to a higher court, or if it's a more difficult case, a barrister might be the best choice. They are experts in speaking in court and can help you have the best chance of winning. If your case is in a lower court, a solicitor might be better since they can help you there and work with a barrister if needed.
You should note that it might be appropriate to start your case with a solicitor who can then suggest a barrister if they think it's needed later on down the line. At Lawhive, we see this sort of thing a lot with cases like neighbour disputes where initially someone needs a legal letter sent but later on court action needs to be taken.
Other types of lawyers
Besides solicitors and barristers, you should be aware of these other types of lawyer
Legal executives are qualified lawyers regulated by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) who usually specialise in one area of law. They often work alongside solicitors and handle similar tasks such as giving legal advice and preparing documents. The barrier to becoming a legal executive is lower than becoming a solicitor. Their breadth of knowledge also tends to be more limited. You should consider using a legal executive if you have a fairly simple case and a tight budget as they usually offer lower fees than solicitors.
Paralegals are not qualified lawyers, but they have legal training and work under the supervision of a qualified legal professional such as a solicitor or barrister. They help with various tasks like research, drafting documents, and managing cases. Paralegals can gain experience and knowledge in different areas of law and sometimes choose to become solicitors, barristers or legal executives later in their careers. It’s unlikely that you would ever work exclusively with a paralegal as their main role is to provide support to the qualified lawyer they work under. That said, it’s not uncommon for a paralegal to be the main contact for your case. We recommend that you confirm with any solicitor, barrister or legal executive you plan to work with who your main contact will be prior to asking them to complete any work for you.