Difference between Lawyers, Solicitors & Barristers

Different Types of Lawyer

Searching the internet for a lawyer  can be a daunting task as the industry is brimming with choice and there are a huge range of specialities and different types of lawyer.

If you need to instruct a firm, it is easy to assume that you need a solicitor however in the modern law firm, there can be a variety of different legal professionals who all probably cost different amounts. Whilst a solicitor is clearly a well rounded and qualified professional for any legal task it may not always be necessary to instruct one.

Firms today are filled with solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and unqualified case workers.

So what is the difference between barristers and solicitors?

The term “lawyer” a very broad and encompasses all of the titles mentioned above. Its simplified definition is someone who is legally able to charge for their time in providing legal advice/expertise and they must be regulated by an authority. For example, solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority where as a Legal Executive will be governed by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.

Solicitors and Barristers are the titles that are more widely known with Legal Executives gaining more prominence as the years go by but what a student ultimately becomes is dependant upon their route to qualification.

Below are the routes typical to obtain certain titles/qualifications.

Solicitors

A solicitor will usually have studied Law(LLB)  at University or obtain a degree in another area and then pass a “conversion course” which is a General Diploma in Law.
An LLB teaches a broad curriculum focused around the  “core law modules” (Legal Research, Foundations of the Legal System, Criminal Law,  Public Law, Obligations A Part I: Contract and Tort Law, Land Law, Law of the European Union and Obligations B -Part II Contract and Tort Law) but also offers optional modules including Media Law and Sports Law.

Some students may study a joint honours degree (Law with another subject such as Criminal Justice or Business). This does not prevent them from becoming a solicitor however they must complete additional courses/study if the core modules are not all covered during their degree.

Once a student has completed their LLB (or equivalent study of all core modules), they must then complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which is usually a further year of full-time study . This aims to bridge the gap between academic study and the practicalities of working in a law firm.

Following completion of the LPC, the aspiring solicitor needs to apply to law firms for a training contract. They will be employed at a Law firm as a Trainee Solicitor for two years and have a direct supervisor who assists in their training and development towards becoming a fully qualified solicitor.

Barristers

The route to becoming a barrister  also usually starts with an LLB. Following the academic stage this is where the paths of a solicitor and barrister diverge. A prospective barrister must then complete the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), and attend twelve qualifying sessions at their  “Inn”. The Inns of Court provide the means by which a person can become a barrister and this process is known as the “Call to the Bar” or “Call”. The Call to the Bar however does not entitle a person  to practice as a barrister. ITo practice as a barrister, you must have completed a pupillage at either the self-employed or employed bar and hold a practicing certificate.

Legal Executives

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX)  was established to help address the increase in the number of people who wanted to become lawyers who may not have embarked upon one of the routes mentioned above.
So many of us started out in careers we realised were not a good fit for us and CILEX wanted to provide an opportunity to become a legal professional at any stage by offering an alternative route to qualification.

It is not only non-law students who opt for the CILEX route however as it actually offers a route to become qualified that is preferable to many people due to the fact that a person does not need to complete the LPC or obtain a training contract in order to become qualified. This is appealing as training contracts can be difficult to obtain and additional courses mean the costs to qualify can become extremely high

CILEX allows a person to jump into their course at different stages depending on their previous qualifications and experience and it is split into various levels.  If you have no previous legal education at all then CILEX would recommend completing access courses prior to beginning Level 3 which teaches the equivalent to an LLB and covers all core law modules.

Once Level 3 is completed, a CILEX student proceeds to  Level 6 which allows them to pick two modules to specialise in. Following completion of Level 6,  they become a fully qualified Legal Executive. If you have already completed an LLB you become exempt from Level 3 entirely.

The differences between Solicitors and Legal Executives are now minimal and both professions do almost the exact same work,  possess a similar level of legal knowledge and shoulder the same responsibilities. The only immediately noticeable difference between them is the letters that come after their name. Legal Executives can become partners in law firms and even act as Judges.

CILEX also offer an additional course that allows a student to become a Legal Executive Advocate (similar to a barrister) and can also offer the chance to obtain higher rights of audience which allows them to represent people in the Crown Court as well as Magistrates’ Courts across England and Wales.

In light of the flexibility CILEX offers it would not be a surprise to see their number continue to increase dramatically over the coming years.

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