You have probably heard the terms ‘lawyer’, ‘solicitor’, and ‘barrister’ to describe a legal professional. The terms may have come up in an article you read about a recent court case, or you may be involved in legal proceedings, and your lawyer has informed you that they will need to instruct a barrister.

While all describing a type of legal professional and often arise in the context of court proceedings, there are differences between the three, which we explain below.

What is a Lawyer?

A lawyer is a person who has had obtained a legal qualification (generally either a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor degree) and has had the requisite legal training to permit them to give legal advice. It is, therefore, a generic term to describe a legal practitioner, and applies to both solicitors and barristers.

What is a Solicitor?

The definition of a solicitor under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW), is a legal practitioner who holds a practising certificate. They may be supervised or unsupervised – a solicitor must complete 24 months of supervised legal practice before they can be unsupervised. The term ‘solicitor’ is not commonly used – they are simply known as lawyers. 

A solicitor is a lawyer that provides legal advice to clients in one or more areas of law. They are the first port of call when an individual or a business needs legal advice on an issue, or legal services such as drafting contracts, protecting intellectual property, or assisting with business sales and purchases. They manage the daily legal affairs of their clients.

For solicitors that deal with disputes, most of their time is spent out of court and dealing with preparatory matters for litigation such as preparing claims and evidence or conducting settlement negotiations. However, solicitors will appear in court unless a barrister is required.

What is a Barrister?

Where a court matter involves complex issues, often a solicitor will instruct a barrister (sometimes referred to as ‘counsel’) to appear in court on behalf of their clients. A client cannot retain a barrister directly.

A barrister is an expert advocate. They provide specialist legal advice in specific areas of law and spend much of their time representing individuals and businesses in court.

The relationship between a solicitor and a barrister can be likened to your general medical practitioner (GP) and a specialist that they may refer you to (for example, a cardiologist). Your GP will assess your problem, do some preliminary tests and give you their advice, and then they may refer you to a specialist to explore that advice and get their expert opinion. Your GP and specialist will often then work together to assist you.

A barrister will assist their instructing solicitor with drafting court documents and will focus on giving strategic advice on how the case will run, and preparing submissions for when the case proceeds to a hearing. In other words, a solicitor engages a barrister for specific items of work that require their specialist skills and advice, and a client should not be concerned about duplication of work.

What is an Attorney?

In Australia, the ‘attorney’ or ‘attorney-at-law’ term is not commonly used except in the case of ‘trade mark attorney’. Instead, ‘lawyer’ or ‘solicitor’ is more commonly used. For example in the US, an attorney is a lawyer that has passed a bar examination and has been admitted to practice law in the particular jurisdiction. Attorneys act as lawyers but not all lawyers can perform the work of attorneys.

Key Takeaways

The term ‘lawyer’ is an umbrella term for both solicitors and barristers. Solicitors provide general legal advice on a variety of issues. Barristers are specialists in certain legal fields and only solicitors can instruct them on behalf of their client to appear in court for complex legal issues. If you need legal advice, contact LegalVision’s business lawyers on 1300 544 755.

Bonnie-Anne Talese
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