Article: Solicitor or Barrister; which do I need?

If you have never had to instruct a lawyer before, it can be confusing knowing whether you need to speak to a solicitor or a barrister. The term “lawyer” is used to collectively describe both solicitors and barristers, both of whom are qualified and licensed Legal Practitioners, governed by regulatory bodies.

The difference between Solicitors and Barristers can be explained quite simply as follows: –

A solicitor tends to carry out the majority of their legal work, consisting of providing advice and support to clients, in a firm or office setting.

A barrister carries out the majority of their work as an advocate representing clients in Court. As a rule, barristers need to be instructed by a solicitor on behalf of a client. However, there are exceptions when a barrister can act on a “direct access” basis, instructed directly by the client.

Solicitors and Barristers go through different professional training in order to qualify in their chosen field.

As a client, speaking to and instructing a solicitor is usually the first step. Solicitors tend to have specific areas of expertise. For example, a solicitor who carries out property and conveyancing work will not necessarily provide advice on employment matters or contentious issues. For this reason, it is often necessary to consider which area of law you require advice in before instructing the appropriate solicitor.

A solicitor should advise their client on the relevant legal issues, correspond with the other parties in the transaction or dispute if required, and review, interpret and draft legal documents.

Often, it will not be necessary for a solicitor to instruct a barrister. Many issues can be dealt with directly by a solicitor, for example where specific advice is required, the matter can be dealt with by way of correspondence or where the matter is transactional, such as a property sale or purchase or a contract negotiation.

However, where specialist legal advice is required, or a matter is likely to involve litigation, it can be necessary for a solicitor to instruct a barrister, to either provide a written legal opinion or advice, draft court documents or attend court to represent a client.

Barristers also usually specialise in a particular area or areas of law and their role is to present their client’s case to the other side or to the court in as persuasive a way as possible, taking into account relevant legal arguments and very often case law. A barrister will advise a client, via their solicitors, of the strength of their case and how they envisage the case playing out, based on their expertise.

When barristers appear in court, they often have to wear the traditional wig and down attire, which is considered to be respectful to the court. Solicitors do not have to do so; however, they are usually expected to dress smartly when attending before a court….as are clients!

Some barristers can be instructed on a direct access basis, without the need for the client to instruct a solicitor first. Clients will need to go through the Public Access Scheme in order to do this. There are only certain circumstances and certain barristers who accept work on this basis.

Both solicitors and barrister owe a duty of care to their clients, and if you believe that your solicitor or barrister has fallen below the level of care which you would expect of them, or which you as a client feel is owed to you, then you may be able to bring a claim in negligence against your legal adviser.

Speak to our expert Professional Negligence team at Meaby & Co if you have concerns or simply want to know whether you might have a claim against your adviser or not. We will be happy to speak with you. Please contact Caoimhe Boyce on cboyce@meaby.co.uk for further information.