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The Overlapping Roles of Barrister and Solicitor

Updated on November 4, 2011
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Lee is a freelance researcher and writer for six years. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Management

In modern-day Britain, there are two types of lawyers—that of the barrister and the solicitor. The split of the two legal professions have always caused some confusion in terms of its legal roles, functions, and training.



A barrister is a member of the legal profession that has been ‘called to the Bar’ ergo the name. They argue their cases before the court and also serve as legal counsels or advisers to their clients with the help of their solicitors. Up until 1990, barristers have the exclusive right to argue their cases in court, but now, this law has been revoked and solicitors, in some cases, are allowed to perform this role as well. To be eligible for the title of barrister-at-law, students must pass the qualifications and standards set by the Council of Legal Education and is only restricted to the Inns of Court. By paying a fee, students are summoned to the Bar. For a year, they have to become apprentices in the chambers of practising barrister.

Before presenting a case in court, barristers are usually aided and instructed by solicitors regarding their case. Since 1989, and from the beginning of 1990, many changes to the legal proceedings have been introduced to cut back on litigation costs—one of which is that barristers could present their case in court without their instructing solicitors in some cases. The law also states that barristers could not be sued by their clients for negligence in presenting their case in court and likewise, cannot sue their client for unpaid fees (“barrister”).


The solicitor on the other hand is a person who practice law before the supreme court of judicature. Solicitors are the ones who argue their case before a judge. They are considered as officers of the court. They also serve as mediators between barristers and their clients, who act as negotiators in terms of fees and in preparing for the case before going to trial. In some cases, solicitors are allowed to take the place of barristers in the lower courts; and in 1990 where conferred the rights of audience in higher courts. Solicitors also “have a monopoly of certain legal business and are subject to court regulation.” The qualifications, trainings, and standards to become a solicitor is set by the Law Society which includes, but is not limited to an apprenticeship under a practicing solicitor for at least several years and must be a graduate of law school (“solicitor”).

Gray Areas

Despite the very distinct roles and functions that was originally intended to be performed by a solicitor and a barrister, changes in the judicature have created some gray areas between the functions and roles of the two legal professions wherein they tend to meet in some areas.

For instance, originally there is a clear-cut distinction that solicitors are to handle legal matters outside the court while barristers would be in charge of arguing cases before the court. The roles are also very separate: the solicitor is the one who gives legal advises to the client and prepares the case for court. After all the legal preparations are handled by the solicitor, the barrister then takes over and brings the case before a judge. Through this process, it is only the solicitor who gets to transact directly with the client. “It is the solicitor who refers cases to a barrister if there is a need for the case to go to court.” In a nutshell, it is under the prudence of the solicitor if the client would require the services of a barrister (“Difference between Barrister and Solicitor”).

If and when a barrister is brought in the case, the client does not transact with him/ her directly. Rather, the client transacts with the solicitor and it is the solicitor who instructs the barrister in behalf of the client. This also means that solicitors are mostly in contact with clients and are often times barred from court while the barrister on the other hand has minimal or no dealing with clients but spends most of his time placing his arguments inside the court (“Difference between Barrister and Solicitor”). Thus, the main difference is the function that a barrister and a solicitor executes in a case. However, such distinctions are not so clear-cut anymore as amendments to legal proceedings have been introduced to cut back on litigation costs. Some roles and functions of solicitors and barristers are assumed by either/ or of the two parties.

lawyer dressed in barrister's robes and wig
lawyer dressed in barrister's robes and wig | Source

Despite the many commonalities shared by barristers and solicitors, particularly in their required academic training, work experience, and professional qualifications, there are still significant differences between their functions. “A barrister goes into court and fights whereas a solicitor’s job is mainly paperwork and advice members of the public when needed. Solicitors are a link to barristers, yet some professionals can approach a barrister directly. This is the main difference between the two professions” (Afzal).

Works Cited

Afzal, Alia. Explain the Difference between the Role of a Barrister and that of a Solicitor. October 2002. Web. 05 January 2011.

"Barrister." The Macmillan Encyclopedia. Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers Ltd, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 05 January 2011.

“Difference between Barrister and Solicitor” DifferenceBetween.Net. 2011. Web. 05 January 2011.

"Solicitor." The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. Credo Reference. Web. 05 January 2011.


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