Should I Become a Solicitor or a Barrister?

Tough choices are ahead. You’re studying law but not quite sure what ye future holds, and you’re increasingly faced with hard choices, one of which includes your future career and expertise.

Below Francine Ryan, senior lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice Centre at The Open University, discusses all considerations to make, important questions to ask yourself first, and the differences between the two professions. Hopefully this should help you make up your mind.

Do you want to be the next Amal Clooney, Helena Kennedy or Michael Mansfield  or do you see yourself more of a Nick Freeman or a Christina Blacklaws. As a law student one of the decisions you have to make is which career path to choose- should you practise as a barrister or a solicitor?

What is the difference between the work of a SOLICITOR and a BARRISTER?

Solicitors and barristers both offer legal advice, but a barrister generally provides specialist advice and represents clients in courts and tribunals whereas solicitors work directly with clients advising them on a range of legal issues relating to their area of specialism. Solicitors deal with the paperwork, write letters, prepare documents, contracts, obtain evidence and if required issue legal proceedings. Solicitors correspond with opposing parties, negotiate settlements and implement agreements reached. Barristers provide written opinions, conduct conferences and represent clients in courts. Barristers tend to become involved if court proceedings are required. Barristers will present the case in court and if appropriate negotiate settlements.

Solicitors correspond with opposing parties, negotiate settlements and implement agreements reached. Barristers provide written opinions, conduct conferences and represent clients in courts. Barristers tend to become involved if court proceedings are required.

Although, the professions are separate, recent changes have led to some crossover in the work barristers and solicitors undertake.  Solicitors can apply for higher rights of audience which allows them to represent clients in the higher courts in England and Wales. Normally, a solicitor instructs a barrister on behalf of their client, but in certain circumstances, a client can instruct a barrister direct under the public access scheme.

To be employed or not to be employed that is the question?

Solicitors are employed by law firms, inhouse and in government organisations such as the Government Legal Services or local authorities. Working as a solicitor offers greater job security as you are employee with a salary, holiday pay and other benefits. Barristers are predominately self-employed and are attached to a set of chambers which they share with other barristers. Being self-employed can be more precarious particularly at the start of your career when you are building your reputation and client base. Some barristers are employed in the Government Legal Services and at the Crown Prosecution Service.

Training

To become a barrister, you need to pass the Bar Professional Training Course and complete a pupillage within a set of chambers. If you want to find out more about a career as a barrister listen to this podcast where the Secret Barrister shares his insights into working at the criminal bar.

The training to become a solicitor is changing currently you need to pass the Legal Practice Course and complete a two-year training contract. From 2021 the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) will be introduced; to become a solicitor, candidates will need to pass SQE 1 and 2, and two years qualifying work experience. To find out more information on SQE and how qualifying as a solicitor is changing, listen to this podcast.

What are the different skills required to be a barrister or a solicitor?

Many of the skills required of a barrister or a solicitor are the same, but perhaps where there is the greatest difference is that barristers need to enjoy performing! Barristers need strong advocacy skills, be prepared to respond under pressure and happy to work independently. Solicitors need good research and analytical skills, be able to work effectively in a team and have strong client skills. Think about what type of person you are, do you feel comfortable performing to a crowd or do you prefer working as part of a team; if you are still not sure you take this short quiz which might help you to decide. Try to get some work experience in both a law firm and a set of chambers as that will provide you with a good insight into the differences between the professions.

And maybe you want a career in law, but you are not aspiring to be either a solicitor or a barrister. Richard Susskind, in Tomorrow Lawyer’s argues that technology is changing the practise of law and law students have the opportunity to pursue a whole range of new jobs from Legal Technologists, to Legal Data Scientists. It is a great time to be a law student there are lots of opportunities to pursue exciting new jobs and traditional ones too.

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