Tash Priestly explains the differences between solicitors and barristers, and why you might need one or both of them for your matter.
As with many other professions, within the legal profession, there are many specialised areas practitioners can advance into. The most common progression is from lawyer to barrister, or from solicitor to counsel, which, just to confuse everyone, means the exact same thing.
The difference between a solicitor and barrister
Your solicitor is who you meet with initially to obtain advice.
If you have a matter which needs to progress, your solicitor will be the one who communicates with you, drafts the necessary documents and letters and who handles all out of court aspects of your matter. Your solicitor may appear on your behalf in court for minor court appearances such as first return dates and for some interim hearings.
While your solicitor will have specialist knowledge in the area of law relevant to your matter, If your matter progresses to a contested interim hearing, or if it falls into the 5% of cases which progress to final hearing, it is likely your solicitor will advise you to engage the services of a barrister.
If your solicitor is comparable to a Doctor, then a Barrister is the equivalent of a specialist surgeon.
If your matter does not go to Court, it is unlikely you will need a Barrister. In contrast to solicitors, barristers spend almost all of their time in court, very rarely dealing with the preparation of a matter. Barristers are solicitors who have taken further exams and been admitted to the ‘bar’.
Their further study equips them with the expertise and skill required to appear in court regularly, present arguments to the judge and cross examine witnesses. Barristers are also the people in court who wear the gown, and on occasion, a wig.
If a barrister is engaged to run your matter, they will be ‘briefed’ by your solicitor who will provide them with the relevant documentation and give them direction on what outcome you are seeking. Your solicitor will be the one to communicate with your barrister. You will meet with your barrister with your solicitor for pre-court conferences but will otherwise you remain primarily in contact with your solicitor.
In some cases, Barristers may also be engaged by your solicitor early in your matter to provide expert advice on matters including complex legal arguments and strategy.
Within the world of barristers there are also levels at which practitioners can advance. You may obtain the services of junior counsel, counsel or senior counsel (SC, who used to be known as Queens Counsel, QC).
If you are involved in litigation and think you may require the services of a barrister you should speak with your solicitor about whether that is necessary for your matter and when they should be engaged.
Tash Priestly is a Family Lawyer at Farrar Gesini Dunn, Canberra Office.