What’s the Difference Between a Lawyer, Solicitor and Barrister in Australia?

What’s the Difference Between a Lawyer, Solicitor and Barrister in Australia?

Author: Ian Aldridge, Progressive Legal

What is the difference between a lawyer, solicitor, and barrister in Australia?

You have probably heard the terms ‘lawyer,’ ‘solicitor,’ and ‘barrister’ thrown around when discussing legal professionals. But do you really know what the difference between solicitor and barrister is? How does the term ‘lawyer’ interplays? What’s the difference between these terms and the commonly heard of ‘attorney’?

Understanding the differences between these professions is crucial when seeking legal assistance or considering a career in law. This article will dive deeper into their distinct identities and the specific responsibilities they entail.    

What is a Lawyer? 

The term ‘lawyer’ is broad and inclusive. A lawyer is a legal professional who has earned a degree in law and obtained the necessary license to practice. This is generally either a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor degree. This provides them with the necessary legal training that permits them to work on legal cases and provide legal advice.  

Think of ‘lawyers’ as the umbrella term that covers all legal practitioners. Lawyers can work in different capacities, including as solicitors or barristers. 

Like other professions, lawyers can choose to specialise in a specific field. For example, criminal lawyers will work on cases involving alleged criminal activities such as theft, assault, murder, or drug related offenses. Commercial lawyers will work on cases involving business transactions, corporate matters, and commercial deals.  

What is a Solicitor? 

A solicitor is a legal professional who primarily provides legal advice, assists with documentation and contracts, and represents clients in legal matters outside of the courtroom.

Solicitors usually work directly with clients and are involved in a wide range of legal areas, such as intellectual property rights, commercial law, and more.  

They usually work in law firms or in-house legal departments of businesses and organisations. They handle legal matters from start to finish, including drafting legal documents, negotiating settlements, and representing clients in tribunals or alternative dispute resolution processes. 

The definition of a solicitor under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW), is a legal practitioner who has completed a law degree and holds a practising certificate. This certificate is attained after undergoing Practical Legal Training (PLT) and being admitted to legal practice. Afterwards, solicitors must complete 18-24 months of supervised practice prior to receiving a practising certificate.  

Solicitors are often the first point of contact for individuals seeking legal assistance. They provide guidance, assess the merits of a case, and determine appropriate legal strategies. Solicitors also collaborate with barristers when necessary, engaging their expertise for courtroom representation. 

A solicitor will have access to a list of barristers that can represent your case in Court. It is important to remember that you should ordinarily first find a solicitor in order to retain a barrister for your case. There are only very limited circumstances where a barrister will feel comfortable receiving a “direct brief” from a client without a solicitor being in between them.  

Roles of a Solicitor

Solicitors play numerous important roles within the legal system. Here are some examples: 

Drafting Legal Documents

Solicitors are responsible for drafting legal documents such as contracts, agreements, wills, powers of attorney, and other legal instruments. Their job is to ensure that the documents are accurate, comply with relevant laws, and protect their clients’ interests. This requires studying laws, legal precedents, and evidence to prepare for cases.  

Case Management

Solicitors handle case management tasks, including conducting legal research, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and preparing witnesses for court appearances. They examine the legal prospects of a case, assess risks, and develop strategies to achieve the best possible outcomes for their clients. 

Interacting with law enforcement agencies 

Solicitors are expected to liaise with law enforcement agencies for several reasons. These include, plea bargaining, issuing subpoenas, applying for court orders, making bail applications, communicating with clients in incarceration, and more.  

Legal Transactions

Solicitors assist clients in legal transactions. These include property transactions, business mergers and acquisitions, commercial leases, and more. They review contracts, negotiate terms, and ensure that the transaction complies with relevant laws and regulations. 

Compliance and Regulatory Matters  

Solicitors advise clients on compliance with laws and regulations specific to their industry or area of law. They assist with regulatory filings, licensing requirements, and ensure their clients’ activities align with legal obligations. 

Dispute Resolution  

Solicitors play a crucial role in alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation and arbitration. They help clients resolve conflicts outside of court, promoting cost-effective and efficient solutions. 

Representing Clients 

Solicitors represent their clients in negotiations, mediations, and settlement discussions. They can also appear on behalf of clients in various legal proceedings such as Court hearings, Tribunals, and administrative hearings. Solicitors will usually, however, collaborate with barristers for representation in higher courts and on more complex issues.  

What is a Barrister? 

This is where we see the difference between solicitor and barrister. A barrister or barrister-at-law is a legal professional who specialises in courtroom advocacy. Barristers are often required in highly complex matters that are heard in higher courts. They mainly represent a client’s case in court before a judge or jury, cross-examine witnesses, and argue legal principles.  

They are usually called upon by solicitors to appear in Court on behalf of a client or provide their expertise on a case. Barristers specialise in specific areas of law for example, constitutional law, commercial law, building and construction, intellectual property disputes, commercial disputes, bankruptcy/insolvency, tax or criminal law to name a few.  

Barristers typically work independently and are self-employed, although they often work in chambers. Chambers is a shared workspace with individual rooms where barristers work from. Here, they have shared research resources, meeting rooms, and administrative staff.  

To become a barrister, you must: 

  • Firstly, obtain a law degree like a lawyer does; then 
  • Pass an exam set by the Australian Bar Association; 
  • Complete the Bar Readers’ Course; and finally 
  • Work under the supervision of an approved senior barrister during a readership period of at least 12 months.  

Roles of a Barrister

Barristers play numerous important roles within the legal system. Here are some examples: 

Courtroom Advocacy

The main role of a barrister is to provide courtroom advocacy and advice to clients in relation to prospects of success for a litigation matter. They represent clients in Court proceedings, including trials, hearings, and appeals. Barristers present legal arguments, cross-examine witnesses, and make submissions to judges or juries to advance their client’s case. 

Legal Advice  

Barristers are valued for their depth of expertise and legal knowledge. They provide specialised legal advice to solicitors, organisations, businesses, and individuals on complex legal issues. Barristers assess legal issues, research case law, statutes, and other legal authorities. They offer guidance on the strengths and weaknesses of a case. 

Case Preparation

Barristers engage in extensive case preparation to effectively represent their clients. This involves drafting initiating proceedings such as statements of claims and summons, drafting defences and cross-claims or defences to cross-claims, reviewing evidence, interviewing witnesses, researching legal precedents, drafting legal documents, and formulating legal strategies. Appearing at Court and any pre-trial skirmishes, pre-trial reviews or Court appearances, and at return of subpoena. They work closely with solicitors to gather applicable information and develop the best approach for a case. They drive the case to prepare the matter for ultimate hearing at Court.  

Opinion Writing 

Barristers may be called upon to provide written opinions on legal matters. These opinions examine complex legal issues, assess the strengths and weaknesses of a case, and provide legal guidance to clients and solicitors. These written opinions are important due to their highly valued expertise in specific areas of law.  

Mediation and Arbitration

Barristers may act as mediators or arbitrators, and help parties resolve disputes outside of Court. They facilitate negotiations, encourage settlement discussions, and make impartial decisions in arbitration proceedings. They can draft and advise in relation to offers of settlement or offers of compromise.  

Professional Ethics

Barristers are bound by professional codes of ethics and conduct. They must uphold the highest standards of integrity, confidentiality, and professionalism in their interactions with clients, solicitors, judges, and other legal professionals. Some barristers may be part of ethics committees to provide ethical advice to other lawyers.  

What is an attorney?

In Australia, the term ‘attorney’ is typically reserved for ‘trade mark attorney’, with ‘lawyer’ or ‘solicitor’ being the more common designations. This differs from the U.S., where an attorney is a lawyer who has cleared the bar exam and is authorised to practice law in a specific jurisdiction. It’s important to note that while all attorneys are lawyers, the reverse isn’t necessarily true.

In Australia, a patent attorney is a specialist with extra credentials in a field of technology that can be patented, usually in science or engineering.

Trade mark attorneys in Australia have a unique role in that they don’t represent clients in court, unlike solicitors and barristers. They operate under a separate regulatory and disciplinary framework than lawyers, and adhere to a specific professional code of conduct that details their rigorous responsibilities. However, the confidentiality that exists between a trade mark attorney and their client doesn’t carry over to court proceedings.

Key Takeaways 

In Australia, the terms, ‘lawyer’, ‘solicitor’, and ‘barrister’ are often confused. The term ‘lawyer’ is the overarching term for all legal practitioners in Australia.

A solicitor will usually handle the initial client consultation, provide legal advice, prepare the case, and engage a barrister if the matter proceeds to Court. The difference between solicitor and barrister is that barristers are usually called upon for their expertise in advocacy and courtroom representation. 

All lawyers, solicitors and barristers have the ultimate duty to the Court to facilitate the administration of Justice, over and above their duty to the Client. In this way, they are ultimately officers of the Court.  

If you have further questions or are in need of legal representation, do not hesitate to contact our team at Progressive Legal on 1800 820 083 or fill out the form on this page 

*NB// The contents of this article are information only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Please seek specialist legal advice in relation to your particular situation.

(c) Progressive Legal Pty Ltd – All legal rights reserved (2023)

Contact Us

  • By submitting this form, your information will be dealt with in accordance with our Privacy Policy. You agree to receive emails from us, however you can unsubscribe at any stage.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Tailor Made Legal Documents

We can provide you with tailored Legal Documents in a number of areas including: Intellectual Property Law, Commercial Law, Privacy Law, Workplace Law, Corporate Law, and Litigation / Dispute Resolution.

Click here to request a fixed-price Legal Document and have a look at the range of different documents we can help you with.