Barristers and Solicitors

Barristers

Barristers are known best for being specialist courtroom advocates and they deal with the vast majority of serious and high profile court cases. 

"Barristers are known best for being specialist courtroom advocates and they deal with the vast majority of serious and high profile court cases"

Barristers are legal professionals who are regulated by the Bar Standards Board and represented by the Bar Council. They are required to carry indemnity insurance to cover the legal services they provide. Most barristers are self-employed and many work from sets of chambers which are simply their offices. Some maintain specialist practices as sole practitioners and others are employed by solicitors’ firms, either as part of an in-house advocacy department or generally as part of a legal team working in a particular area of the law. Unlike solicitors, barristers rarely have high street premises, although many barristers now accept work direct from the public. Barristers often receive their work from solicitors. This work or ‘brief’ is to assist the solicitor's client and is usually either to give a written advice on a legal issue, to advise on the strength of a case or to represent the client in court.   

"Many barristers are now authorised to accept work from the public direct (often called Public Access or Direct Access)"

Once a solicitor briefs a barrister, the client has two legal representatives, the solicitor and the barrister. An obvious problem for anyone going to see a solicitor is that they might end up paying not just for one, but for two lawyers. While there can be a very good reason for having two lawyers (the solicitor and the barrister providing their own separate areas of expertise) it can also cause irritation for clients due to the high cost. To deal with this solicitors have extended their reach into work that barristers traditionally carried out: solicitors can now obtain higher rights of audience (the right to represent clients in the higher courts); this means that some solicitors can represent clients in the Crown Court and appeal courts without calling on the help of a barrister. That being said, many solicitors still choose to use barristers, principally due to their courtroom advocacy experience and specialist legal knowledge. 

Due to the fact that some solicitors can now do work traditionally carried out by barristers, barristers have also changed their working practices. The rules which used to prevent them obtaining work direct from the public have been removed. This means that many barristers are now authorised to accept work from the public direct (often called Public Access or Direct Access). There are some limited restrictions as to what a barrister can do in this situation, but this is a growing area where barristers can help clients with legal advice and representation in court. One such restriction is representing clients who are funded by legal aid; legally aided clients must approach a solicitor initially and the solicitor can then brief a barrister on behalf of the client at a later stage if required. For many cases which are privately funded, however, you have a choice whether to go direct to a barrister or a solicitor. You can read more from the Bar Council here about why you might instruct a barrister.

Solicitors

"Solicitors, particularly those who represent clients in criminal cases, are the lawyers you will find on the high street in most towns and cities"

Solicitors, particularly those who represent clients in criminal cases, are the lawyers you will find on the high street in most towns and cities. These high street solicitors are traditionally the first port of call for people with a legal problem, although such legal traditions are changing. Solicitors, or employees working for them, will take initial instructions from a client.  The solicitor will then advise on potential courses of action for dealing with their case. In criminal cases, many solicitors' firms employ accredited police station representatives to assist people who have been arrested and are about to be interviewed by the police. Solicitors can also attend police stations to provide advice. Traditionally solicitors would only represent clients in the Magistrates' Court but, as mentioned above, solicitors can qualify to obtain higher rights of audience meaning they can, like barristers, represent clients in the Crown Court and appeal courts. These solicitors are known as HCAs (Higher Court Advocates). Solicitors are legally qualified professionals who are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and represented by the Law Society. Like barristers, they must carry full indemnity insurance.  

"Solicitors (provided they are accredited to do so) can represent clients who are granted legal aid funding and have the expertise to advise clients as to legal aid eligibility"

Solicitors’ practices vary from small firms to extremely large organisations. The larger practices are often geared to providing specialist advice in those areas of the law which are less likely to be encountered by the average man and woman on the street. This includes business law such as mergers and acquisitions, specialist financing for business and high-value commercial disputes. Then there are the smaller high street firms which are geared up to providing a broad range of legal advice on those issues most commonly encountered, such as family law matters, housing, wills and probate, criminal law and personal injury.

Solicitors (provided they are accredited to do so) can represent clients who are granted legal aid funding and can advise as to legal aid eligibility. Barristers can represent legally aided clients when briefed to do so by a solicitor, but are not entitled to accept direct public access cases from clients who are also in receipt of legal aid. You can find more helpful information about solicitors and the services they provide on the Law Society website.

independent information TO HELP YOU

It always helps to be informed and you will find more helpful information about lawyers and the choices available to you on the independent Legal Choices website.