More than just “lawyers” – the difference between “solicitors” and “barristers”[1]

Wig and Gavel

Welcome to the first issue of “Moving Forward”, the official newsletter of Kahler Lawyers.  Our regular newsletter will cover topics including legal matters relevant to our specialist practice areas and general reflections based on our experience of juggling modern legal practice and day-to-day life.  Our newsletters are intended for those who lead busy lives, so our aim will be to publish short, easy-to-read articles that only take a few minutes to read and which are informative, interesting and useful, hopefully not boring, difficult or hard to understand.  We look forward to engaging with you in this and future issues and welcome your feedback or suggestions.

A question that we get commonly asked is “what is the difference between solicitors, barristers and lawyers?”  It is a fair question, considering that  Hollywood movies rarely if ever film solicitors or barristers doing their thing in the true sense, but rather lawyers doing their thing in a court room in the heat of battle and looking like heroes to try and win the day for their client.

In Queensland, solicitors and barristers all come under the heading of “lawyers”.  That said, they both serve very useful but distinct purposes.

Both barristers and solicitors are “officers of the court”, committed to advancing their mutual clients’ interests.  The overriding duty of barristers and solicitors is to the court and to the administration of justice.  They are independent of each other in a professional and business sense.

Solicitors work directly with their clients and often have a detailed and intimate knowledge of their clients’ affairs.  If anyone has a legal problem requiring professional involvement, then a solicitor is usually the first port of call not a barrister.  Solicitors practice in many shapes and forms from being a general practitioner covering many areas or specialising in only a few areas.  The proportion of solicitors who are general practitioners is much smaller today than it once was with there being a growing trend of solicitors specialising and acquiring detailed in-depth knowledge of certain areas.

The defining role of barristers is in advocacy, which is essentially standing up in court before a judge to argue a matter or run a trial.  But before a matter gets to court, it is the solicitor that gathers the evidence and facts before then referring the matter to a barrister, commonly known as “briefing”.  Once a barrister is briefed, the barrister then analyses and considers the facts, the law and its application to the facts, and makes submissions on the facts and the law.  Sometimes a particular barrister is briefed not only for his or her specialist advocacy skills but also because that barrister has specialist knowledge or expertise in a particular area that the solicitor does not have.

Barristers and solicitors have long performed constructive and complementary roles as officers of the court and in the administration of justice.  It is definitely a team effort where one is dependent on the other to advance a client’s case.

So as can be seen, there is a very clear division of function between solicitors and barristers which traces its roots back to the beginning of the 13th century when a secular legal profession first emerged in England.  They are more than just lawyers.


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[1] In preparing this article, we have drawn on the insights of Her Honour Justice Margaret Wilson in her paper “Barrister and Solicitor: A Symbiotic Relationship in the Interest of the Client” presented to participants in the bar practice course on 20 February 2014.

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Date:  Wednesday 3 May 2017