Barristers and solicitors are both lawyers but they specialise in different areas of legal practice. If you contact a law firm seeking advice you will be referred to a solicitor. Solicitors work directly with clients, providing guidance, case management and legal representation as their case progresses.
The title ‘solicitor’ dates back to the Victorian era and derives from a now obsolete meaning of the verb ‘to solicit’ – namely, ‘to conduct business on behalf of others’.
By contrast, barristers specialise in courtroom representation. They are the ones who argue cases in front of a judge, draft court statements, conduct cross examinations and advocate for their clients in person at legal hearings. When in court, barristers sport a distinctive, traditional uniform consisting of horsehair wigs, starched white collars and dark robes known as ‘gowns’.
Barristers do not usually work directly with clients. Instead, in most cases they are hired by solicitors who instruct them to act on behalf of clients who need the kind of specialist courtroom advocacy offered by barristers.
While most solicitors work as partners within a law firm, barristers are typically based in ‘chambers’, also known as ‘sets’ (as in ‘a set of chambers’). These premises may be for their own personal use or they may be shared with other barristers.
England and Wales are unusual in dividing the legal profession into two in this way. A few other jurisdictions – Northern Ireland, Hong Kong, South Africa and parts of Australia – follow our lead. But most countries have ‘fused’ systems in which lawyers fulfil both roles. In the United States, for example, attorneys work directly with clients and conduct courtroom advocacy and no distinction at all is made between the two functions.
Do I need both a solicitor and barrister to help me?
You might do – but this is not something you will need to worry about at the outset of your case. If you need legal advice or representation, focus on finding a solicitor. Then, once you have discussed the details of your case, that solicitor will advise you whether you may need a barrister too. If so, the solicitor will usually identify suitable candidates and make contact with them on your behalf.
Do barristers specialise in family law?
Yes. Just like solicitors, barristers – and sometimes whole chambers – develop specialisms in particular areas of practice, and family law is a prominent example. However, by their very nature, family law barristers only become involved in those more contentious cases requiring the attention of a judge. Most family disputes are settled out of court via negotiation and agreement.
If you are involved in a contentious family law case that may require the assistance of a barrister, Major Family Law can provide expert input. Why not call us today for a second opinion?