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What is the Difference between a Lawyer and a Barrister? (2019 Update)

What is the Difference between a Lawyer and a Barrister? (2019 Update)

Although lawyers and barristers are both members of the same profession, their roles are significantly different.

18th February 2019

The words ‘lawyer’ and ‘barrister’ evoke images from TV shows such as Law & Order and Suits. Granted, these images inevitably involve white wigs, high heels, and black suits. But beyond corporate attire, lawyers and barristers are considerably different. The legal profession is one of the oldest in the world, but it’s more diverse than many people think.

Some will argue that barristers and lawyers are inherently the same, in that they are legal advocates that spend their days in Court. However, each does significantly different things and undergoes different training. Simply put, a barrister is a lawyer – but a lawyer is not a barrister.

In this article, we’ll discuss what makes lawyers and barristers different members of the same profession.

What’s the difference between a Lawyer and a Barrister?

Although we often hear the words barrister and lawyer used interchangeably, there is actually a big difference between the two. Specifically, barristers are lawyers who specialise in Court litigation while lawyers can refer to both barristers or solicitors.


In Australia, a lawyer is the broad term referring to any person who has been admitted to the legal profession either as a barrister or solicitor. Lawyers tend to focus on and build experience in certain areas of law. For example, you can find:

For small businesses seeking legal services, a business lawyer would be helpful. They would be responsible for drafting contracts, protecting intellectual property, commencing legal action, providing advice on regulatory issues and other legal services.

Solicitors can appear in Court, however this isn’t necessarily their specialty. Solicitors have expertise in preparing documentation, advising clients and finding legal solutions.


When legal disputes enter the Court system, barristers are briefed to appear. Barristers are experts in courtroom advocacy and preparing matters for trial. Due to this, barristers also command a higher fee than solicitors, but work independently (not in a law firm). Barristers often work in quarters called ‘chambers’. These chambers are fundamentally a shared space where multiple barristers work.

Barristers are also responsible for retaining their own clients. Barristers are usually retained by solicitors, and client bases are built by cultivating professional relationships. Lawyers wishing to become barristers have to undertake a series of exams and a year of training known as a ‘readership’. Upon successful completion of these, they are admitted to the bar.

These lawyers engage in litigation, advising on the outcome of cases and the strategic elements of running a court case. Barristers also draft and review Court documents. As a court advocate, they will conduct court appearances, presenting their client’s case, arguing points of law and evidence while examining the witnesses. A barrister is a lawyer, but a lawyer is not necessarily a barrister.


Lawyers and barristers have a natural overlap in their roles, but they are different. Barristers are vital where a matter is going before the Courts, and solicitors are instrumental at every step before that.

If you need legal advice, you should first contact a lawyer to weigh up your options.

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Ricky Chan

Ricky is a Paralegal working in our content team which aims to provide free legal guides to facilitate public access to legal resources. With a keen interest in contract law, his primary research focuses on small businesses, and how they can better navigate complex legal procedures.