The Difference Between Lawyers and Solicitors (2024 Update)

Is there really a difference bewteen lawyers and solicitors? Well, it’s a bit of a trick quesiton. The term ‘lawyer’ and ‘solicitor’ can be used interchangably. However, they do refer to two different things. The term solicitor and barrister also refer to different aspects of the legal system. In this article, we’ll outline the subtle differences between them, so you’ll know when you’ll need them.

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Lawyers

The term ‘lawyer’ is an umbrella term that refers to both roles within the legal profession. This means it encompasses both solicitors and barristers.

Therefore, a lawyer is an individual who has completed a Laws degree and been admitted to practice the law. The tern ‘lawyer’ does not take into account the type of ‘lawyer’ that individual is, such as a solicitor or a barrister. It is merely an umbrella term that refers to an individual that has been admitted into the legal profession.

How does someone become admitted?

Law degrees can only be completed at accredited universities, and are known as either ‘L.L.Bs’ (undergraduate) or Juris Doctors (postgraduate). After this, law graduates need to undertake a graduate diploma in legal practice (GDLP) in order to be admitted into the legal system. This involves a mix of further academic study and undertaking practical training at a law firm or legal business.

After completing the GDLP, law graduates can be admitted as lawyers. Supreme Courts are specific to the State or territory they have jurisdiction over. Being admitted means that law graduates are granted a practising certificate. Once a lawyer starts practising, they can choose or be trained in a specific area of law. There are many different areas of law, such as:

  • Business Law,
  • Administrative Law,
  • Criminal Law,
  • Family Law,
  • Environmental Law,
  • Constitutional Law, and more.

Lawyers can specialise in one main area, or multiple areas of law.

Example

Mary is a commercial solicitor. Robert is a barrister who she is briefing for one of her cases. Mary and Robert are both lawyers.

Solicitors

A solicitor is a type of lawyer that has been admitted to the Supreme Court. They are qualified to manage your case and have many duties such as:

  • Providing legal advice
  • Explaining legal concepts
  • Undertaking legal research
  • Drafting and reviewing documents
  • Preparing your case
  • Negotiating on your behalf
  • Representing you

Solicitors may work independently, as part of a law firm, or for the government. They may represent individuals, groups, or companies and organisations. They will advise their clients on how best to proceed with their legal issues. This often involves getting in touch with a barrister to represent you in court. Solicitors rarely represent their clients in Court unless it is a preliminary matter. They mainly deal with prior negotiations between clients, preparing documents for court, and giving legal advice. Solicitors working in the same office generally do not work on opposing sides of one case.

Example

Smith and Carney Partners is a suburban law firm in Sydney. The firm’s partners, Linda Smith and Aaron Carney are practising criminal law solicitors. Linda and Aaron have a new client, Adam, who has been charged with assault. For Adam’s case, they have been taking his instructions and are advising him on his options moving forward. 

Barrister

A barrister is a type of lawyer that has to be admitted to the Supreme Court of their state. In NSW, they are required to obtain a practising certificate which is provided by the NSW Bar Association (or the equivalent association in other States). Barristers mainly represent people in Court. They work independently or in offices called chambers. Solicitors and Barristers often work together to represent you, as Barristers are the experts in the courts and tribunals. Barristers work represents the views of their clients and their clients’ solicitors in court. Further, barristers are somewhat unique, in that they do not have the freedom to choose which cases they want to undertake.

Unlike solicitors, barristers may work on opposing sides of one case, because of the independent nature of their role and they are only allowed to refuse briefs if they have a good reason.

Example

Adam’s trial for assault has been set down for 4 months away. Adam’s solicitors have decided to brief a barrister to appear in Court. The barrister will review all of the Court documents and prepare a case to present at trial.

Split versus fused profession

Although barristers and solicitors have fundamentally different roles, the degree to which someone can operate as both vary. In NSW and Queensland, a barrister cannot work as a solicitor and vice versa. This is because there exists a separate independent bar association in which barristers are members. By contrast, in every other Australian State, there exists a ‘fused’ profession. This means that when a graduate is admitted to practice, they can perform the functions of both a solicitor and a barrister. Subsequently, the degree to which a legal professional can act as a solicitor or barrister is different throughout the country.

Key Takeaways

Knowing which type of legal professional you need is important. Accordingly, both solicitors and baristers are lawyers. However, a solcitiro is not a barrister, and vis-a-versa. It is important to remember that barristers are normally only retained where there is a Court action involved. Further, solicitors will advise you and draft your documents at every stage prior.

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