The question is often asked of a solicitor, “when are you going to become a barrister?” Those that ask think that becoming a barrister is the natural progression in a legal career. Others may not know the differences between these legal roles and the fact that, for many legal professionals, it is a choice made quite early in their careers as to which avenue they wish to go down.
For those going through family proceedings, it is important to know what roles and responsibilities your legal team is made up of. Some clients may never require the assistance of a barrister in their proceedings because their case may never have to go to court. For others, they may utilise the expertise of a barrister throughout their divorce or children proceedings. One is not “better” than the other and, whilst a solicitor and barrister may work quite closely together on a particular matter, their roles are distinct and go beyond the common distinguishing factor of ‘one wearing a wig’.
What are the differences between solicitors and barristers?
What does a solicitor do?
Solicitors work closely with their clients, taking their instructions and providing the necessary legal advice and services relating to their case. Solicitors deal with most of the paperwork and communication involved in their client’s case, for example writing letters, making telephone calls, drafting documents, and preparing their cases for court. Particularly in family proceedings, solicitors will also liaise with the opposing party and try and negotiate financial arrangements (a Consent Order) or the arrangements for the children, in the hope of avoiding court proceedings which can be lengthy and costly.
Solicitors can, and do, represent their clients in court. However, due to the particular skills of a barrister and their expertise in advocacy (speaking in court), a solicitor may instruct a barrister to represent the client. This is also common if the case is particularly complex i.e. there may be a number of businesses or overseas assets to be dealt with in the financial proceedings.
What does a barrister do?
Barristers are self employed and cannot be instructed by a client directly unless they offer direct access services. A client is usually represented by their solicitor, and it is the solicitor who then instructs the barrister to assist with the case. Barristers work in offices called ‘Chambers’. Barristers within Chambers are all independent from each other, and therefore, it is not unusual for barristers in the same Chambers to be on different sides of the same case. Solicitors working at the same firm would be unable to do this, as there would be a conflict of interest.
Barristers are specialist advocates, and usually in a particular area of law. Therefore, a barrister may be utilised in a case to either advise about the law or to go to court and represent the client. Importantly, the barrister and solicitor are independent from one another. The barrister’s role is not just to reiterate the advice a client has already received from their solicitor, but to provide their expertise and knowledge of the Court process and how a Judge is likely to deal with their matter.
A barrister is experienced at talking in court, addressing the Judge, cross examining witnesses, and also thinking on their feet. Another important role of a barrister is negotiating and trying to reach a settlement with the other side. The solicitor, or a representative from the firm (i.e. a paralegal or trainee solicitor), will often support the barrister in court by attending the hearing and taking a note, and also having the files to hand.
Both solicitors and barristers can become a Judge.
If you require the assistance of a solicitor, please do not hesitate to contact us on 029 2034 2233.
Written by: Lucy Chandler