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What is the Difference Between a Lawyer, Solicitor, Attorney and Barrister?

What is the Difference Between a Lawyer, Solicitor, Attorney and Barrister?
You have probably heard the terms ‘lawyer’, ‘solicitor’, ‘barrister’ and ‘attorney’ to describe a legal professional. The terms may have come up in a TV show. Or, if you have been involved in legal proceedings, your lawyer might have told you that you will need a barrister. While they all describe a type of legal professional, there are key differences between the four. This article will explore those differences. 

What is a Lawyer?

A lawyer is a person who has had obtained a legal qualification (generally either a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor degree) and has had the requisite legal training to permit them to give legal advice. It is, therefore, a generic term to describe a legal practitioner, and applies to both solicitors and barristers.

What is a Solicitor?

The definition of a solicitor under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW), is a legal practitioner who holds a practising certificate. They may be supervised or unsupervised. A solicitor must complete 24 months of supervised legal practice before they can be unsupervised. The term ‘solicitor’ is not common – most refer to themselves as lawyers. 

A solicitor is a lawyer that provides legal advice to clients in one or more areas of law. They are the first port of call when an individual or a business needs legal advice on an issue, or legal services such as drafting contracts, protecting intellectual property, or assisting with business sales and purchases. They manage the daily legal affairs of their clients.

For solicitors that deal with disputes, most of their time is spent out of court and dealing with preparatory matters for litigation such as preparing claims and evidence or conducting settlement negotiations. However, solicitors will appear in court unless a barrister is required.

What is a Barrister?

Where a court matter involves complex issues, a solicitor might instruct a barrister to appear in court on behalf of their clients. A client cannot retain a barrister directly.

A barrister is an expert advocate. They provide specialist legal advice in specific areas of law. Barristers spend much of their time representing individuals and businesses in court.

The relationship between a solicitor and a barrister is similar to your general medical practitioner (GP) and a specialist they refer you to. Your GP will assess your problem, do some preliminary tests and give you their advice. However, they then may refer you to a specialist to explore that advice and get their expert opinion. Your GP and specialist will often then work together to assist you.

A barrister will assist their instructing solicitor with drafting court documents. They will also focus on giving strategic advice on how the case will run. Barristers may also prepare submissions for when the case proceeds to a hearing. In other words, a solicitor engages a barrister for specific items of work that require their specialist skills and advice, and a client should not be concerned about duplication of work.

What is an Attorney?

In Australia, the ‘attorney’ or ‘attorney-at-law’ term is not common except in the case of ‘trade mark attorney’. Instead, ‘lawyer’ or ‘solicitor’ is more common. For example in the US, an attorney is a lawyer that has passed a bar examination and can practice law in a particular jurisdiction. Attorneys act as lawyers but not all lawyers can perform the work of attorneys.

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