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Understanding Solicitors vs Barristers

Law Training Contract Application Specialists

Understanding Solicitors vs Barristers: Core info for those Considering Training Contracts

In order to understand whether to become a barrister or a solicitor, you will first need to understand the differences in their work.

What is a barrister? What is a solicitor?

A barrister is tasked with representing clients in a court or tribunal. Barristers will typically specialise in a particular area of the law. A barrister will therefore spend much of their time in court, or preparing for court. Barristers, traditionally, were differentiated from solicitors through their ability to appear in court. Nowadays, whilst solicitors can appear in court in some circumstances, barristers are still able to represent clients in higher courts in which solicitors will not be able to.

Solicitors are likely to spend their time advising people, drafting legal documents, or facilitating discussions between parties and helping them to come to an agreement. Whilst they can access courts in some circumstances, this is unlikely to make up part of their time.  

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How do barristers and solicitors train? Do both take Training Contracts?

A barrister will train as follows:
First, complete a law degree or a non-law degree and then a law conversion course.
Then, you need to take a Bar training course, which requires that you be a member of one of the Inns of Court, and that you have passed the Bar Course Aptitude Test.

Then, you need to take on bar training. This is incredibly competitive, and will see you do a pupillage in a particular chambers, where you will shadow a barrister. The pupillage sees you spend a six month period not practising, and then a practising period also of six months. After this, you will be able to start working in the chambers proper.

A solicitor will train as follows:
First, complete a law degree or a non-law degree and then a law conversion course.
Then, you will take a vocational course called the LPC, or Legal Practice Course, then take a two year training contract. You will then need to take the SQE, or Solicitors Qualifying Exam.

What is work like for solicitors and barristers?

Solicitors work as part of a law firm or business. They are therefore employed by that entity, and as such receive a regular salary, sick pay, etc. Crucially, they have job security from the outset. Barristers are typically self-employed and will be part of a Chambers, but not employed by that Chambers. They therefore stand to face much higher risks, notably at the outset of their career, when they are unable to charge high fees. However, as their career continues, this becomes less of an issue. Note that some barristers might be employed by a law firm, in which case these issues are not relevant. This could be seen as a ‘best of both worlds’ for those worried about the idea of being self employed.  

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Why choose being a barrister?

Being a barrister is perfect for those that want to be able to go to trial. Barristers are able to experience the excitement and pressure of representing a client in court; whilst you are part of a team, you will also need to stand alone in court and know that your client’s outcome rests on your shoulders. Having the responsibility of taking work done by others (solicitors, paralegals etc) and then using it in court might be appealing for some, and perhaps too much for others.

What skills do you need to be a barrister? What skills do you need to be a solicitor?

If you want to be a barrister, consider what skills or abilities you have. Barristers need to be highly confident public speakers. You should excel in mooting, and in speaking in front of others in general. You will need to be able to communicate easily and efficiently with a range of people, and be able to pitch an argument in such a way that it can be readily understood. You will also need to be highly self-driven – whilst you will be part of a Chambers, you might find that you are working by yourself without a team around you for much of the time.
Solicitors need excellent analytical skills in order to correctly evaluate and create documents on behalf of their clients. They need strong communication skills to speak to those clients and understand their point of view, or to bring different parties together in discussion. They will need the ability to work in a team, as they will be part of a firm. 

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