The choice between solicitor vs barrister is one of the most important decisions a law student in England or Wales will make.
Each is a rewarding path full of different challenges. Depending on your interests and personality, you may be better suited for one instead of the other.
Your preferences in training, work environment, job independence, and day-to-day responsibilities should all be taken into account as you decide what role you want to play in the legal process.
Discover some of the important distinctions to see which might be a more fulfilling work experience for you.
Solicitor vs Barrister: The Two Roles Defined
Besides whether or not you get to wear a wig and gown in court, solicitors and barristers serve different functions in the legal process.
The separation of roles between solicitor vs. barrister has historical roots in how England’s legal system was divided. Originally, solicitors were lawyers approved to practice in the Equity courts and barristers in the common-law courts.
The system is no longer divided this way; however, solicitors and barristers still uphold different roles within it.
Solicitors, in a nutshell, are lawyers who handle all legal duties outside of representing clients in court. Barristers, by contrast, mostly handle the courtroom responsibilities of arguing cases before judges.
Deciding which role better suits your personality should be one of the first questions anyone interested in a legal career should ask him or herself.
Your regular experience will vary greatly depending on which legal path you choose. Consider your strengths, weaknesses, and main interests as you decide how to specialize.
Because they do not generally argue before a court, much of a solicitor’s work is done preparing for cases and meeting clients’ needs before trial. Their day-to-day activities involve quite a bit of research, drafting documents, and advising clients.
When it becomes evident that a court appearance is necessary, a solicitor will retain a barrister on her client’s behalf. She will also instruct the barrister on how the client wishes to proceed.
There is less predictability in a barrister’s routine by contrast. A lot of their day-to-day depends on the nature of the case they are trying at the time.
For a clearer picture, check out this personal account of a day in the life of one barrister.
Employee or Self-Employed?
Beyond the theoretical differences, there are logistical pros and cons of choosing between pursuing a career as a solicitor vs barrister. You must decide whether you are more suited for the stability that comes with being employed by a firm or the independence of working for yourself.
Typically, solicitors are part of a team. They work closely with other solicitors and members of their firm to handle issues for their clients.
As regular employees, solicitors enjoy considerable job security — a regular income, sick leave, holiday pay, and other benefits. The stability this affords solicitors is very attractive to many considering legal careers.
Barristers, on the other hand, almost always work independently. Their hours and income are much less predictable, often varying greatly depending on the nature of the case to which they are attached or their experience level.
What barristers lack in predictability, however, they often make up for in opportunity and flexibility.
Excited by the prospect of self-employment? Consider these 10 tips for establishing your home office and set your career as a barrister on the right path.
Take inventory of which lifestyle is more conducive to your personality and your family’s needs as part of your decision-making process.
Education and Training
Coming out of university with a law degree, or a non-law degree and an appropriate conversion course like the Graduate Diploma in Law will position a law student at the crossroads of deciding between solicitor vs barrister.
Each path requires different subsequent training because the nature of the work you’ll be doing varies.
Training for a solicitor is two-fold. First, you’ll complete a course called the Legal Practice Course. This 1-2 year program teaches the ins and outs of your role as a solicitor.
Upon completion, solicitors-in-training begin a 2-year training contract, affording them practical experience in different areas of the law. Most training contracts are done at a law firm like Seatons Solicitors, where the trainee will spend time in various departments becoming an expert.
Barristers, on the other hand, complete a program called the Bar Professional Training Course. After passing this course, would be barristers participate in a 1-year pupillage where they have an opportunity to shadow an experienced barrister.
These pupillages usually take place in chambers and will get the barrister up to speed with everything needed both to navigate appearing before the court and handling the responsibilities of being self-employed.
The Line is Becoming More Blurry
While there are differences in the overall experience of a solicitor vs barrister, the distinctions are not as clear-cut as they used to be. If you find yourself attracted to elements of both legal roles, you can still have a fulfilling legal career.
Solicitor-advocates are solicitors with rights of audience in certain courts. Instead of having to retain a barrister, they can represent their clients before the judge.
Likewise, a portion of barristers (roughly 1/5th) are employed. They work for the government or Armed Services, in large firms, or for the Crown Prosecution Service.
If client advocacy is important to you but you aren’t interested in the lifestyle of being self-employed in chambers, you can consider one of these avenues to pursue the Bar.
If neither of these pathways seems like the best fit for you but you’re interested in a rewarding career, consider these 5 other law firm jobs that might match your goals and strengths.
What’s the Right Career for You?
Reflecting on the lifestyle and day-to-day experience you desire you will help you decide whether you are more suited for a career as a solicitor or a barrister.
There is no right path, only the one that is right for you.
Both come with challenges and advantages. Consider what you need to feel successful and who you’d most like to work with.
You can have a lucrative, fulfilling legal career in many ways.
We’d love to hear your career tips and opinions, too! Contact us and share your feedback.