First and foremost, Solicitors and Barristers are both Lawyers – a generic term used to describe anyone who is a Licensed Legal Practitioner.
We have a split legal system in England and Wales with two separate legal professions, one which conducts Litigation – the work of solicitors, and the other specialising in Advocacy – the work of barristers. That said, in these modern and forever changing times, there is a slight crossover in the work of the two professions as some barristers are authrorised to conduct litigation and some solicitors do court advocacy but these are in the minority. Both professions have different training and expertise, different rules and their own regulator.
Solicitors are licensed litigators and conduct the process of litigation, i.e. running a client’s case; completing court forms, issuing court applications, lodging documents with the court, corresponding with the other side and the court, providing legal advice and support to their clients. In their case-management role solicitors are able to instruct other professionals on behalf of their client, such as an expert witness, a surveyor or a barrister and can sign documents on behalf of their client. Some of the work of solicitors is transactional, conveyancing for example.
Barristers are specialist legal advisers and court room advocates. They are self-employed, independent and objective lawyers, trained to advise clients’ on the strengths and weaknesses of their case. They have specialist knowledge and experience in and out of court, which can make a substantial difference to the outcome of a case. Early advice from a barrister can often save clients the cost and worry of an unnecessary trial and can strengthen the client’s hand at negotiation. Even at a trial, a well-argued case and good cross-examination can make a huge difference to the final outcome.