Coming up with a concrete definition for the legal profession is not an easy task. Similarly, it is not easy to make a clear distinction between English legal professionals. The legal work appears to be split into two by a blurry line. The split is between barristers and solicitors. Lawyers are required to hold one of the titles in law practice. This split has been merged in some former British colonies using the English legal system.

In countries such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, a lawyer can be referred to as a barrister or a solicitor. There have been calls to lift the distinction between barristers and solicitors in the English legal system. However, removing the award is yet to be made effective. Therefore, this paper seeks to discuss the differences between barristers and solicitors to establish whether it is easy to distinguish between the two professions.

Differences between Barristers and Solicitors

  • The first difference between barristers and solicitors is the mode of dressing

During court sessions, when a case is being heard, it has been a tradition for the barristers to wear a long black robe and a wig. Solicitors are only required to wear a suit or formal manner. The black robe and a wig are considered important courtroom attire for barristers and judges in England. The main argument is that formal courtroom attire elicits a sense of solemnity and formality during case hearings and determination. Also, wigs are worn by barristers as a way of deterring them from any personal involvement during the proceedings. If a barrister does not wear a robe and a wig, it is considered an insult to the court of law. This tradition has been in existence since the reign of King Edward III (1327-1377)

This distinction does not provide a substantial reason for its existence nor makes it easy to distinguish between barristers and solicitors should be based solely on solid grounds such as training and roles within the legal system. The argument that the dress code deters a barrister from making inappropriate contact with those involved in the case is unjustifiable. This is because the solicitor contacts those interested in a point outside the courtroom and a barrister in the courtroom. Therefore, deterrence lacks meaningand the dress code difference between barristers and solicitors does not matter.

  • The second difference between barristers and solicitors is in the way they work.

Barristers practice law by representing clients in a court of law. Solicitors undertake their legal work in a law firm or office setting. However, with the recent changes, it has become challenging to make clear distinctions between barristers and solicitors based on their work. Today, the difference between the two professions has become more clouded when observed from the advocacy perspective. 

For instance, solicitors can acquire “rights of audience,” which grants them eligibility to represent their clients in a court of law instead of instructing barristers to do so. Representing clients in a court of law allows solicitors to perform most of the functions that, traditionally, have been performed by barristers. However, solicitors can perform these functions up to a certain point. For example, solicitors are not allowed to represent their clients in courts of a higher level, such as the Court of Appeal, where barristers are permitted to work. This role override continues to erode the difference in work between the two professions.

Similarly, the tradition has been that clients who seek legal advice or need to represent in a court of law see a solicitor who prepares paperwork for the case and instructs the barrister to represent the client in court. However, today clients are allowed to access barristers directly through an authorization known as “Public Access.” This means that barristers no longer rely on solicitors to make preliminary preparations for a case for them. Barristers can now take a client’s relevant information, find case evidence, and take witnesses' statements. 

  • Based on the introduction of “Public Access” for barristers 

Solicitors provide an individual with legal advice, act as arbitrators between conflicting parties, and draft and review legal documents. All these duties performed by solicitors can be achieved by barristers and on equal measures. Therefore, the lack of clarity in the distinction between the two professions does not matter since practically the difference between the two professions has ceased to exist.

  • Training is another point of contrast

Upon completing a law degree, students must choose their careers within the legal profession. A student can decide to be a barrister or a solicitor. Conventionally, this is where the split occurs. Students undertake a vocational one or two-year Legal Practice Course (LPC). LPC is specifically designed to train individuals aspiring to become solicitors must become a solicitor in the practice of law. After LPC, students must proceed to the training contract, which takes two years. The training contract aims to provide students with practical legal working experience from a law firm. During the training contract, the student is expected to explore different areas of English law.

On the other hand, students aspiring to become barristers must complete the  Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The student will then proceed to complete a one-year training known as pupillage. The pupillage is undertaken in chambers where barrister trainees shadow barristers before being allowed to engage in practical work of the rooms. It can be noted that other pieces of training after acquiring a law degree that aims to distinguish between barristers and solicitors does a law degree that seeks to provide the difference between barristers and solicitors do not matter.

Suppose there is any real difference between LPC for solicitors and BPTC for barristers. In that case, solicitors could not be granted “rights to the audience,” and the introduction of direct access for barristers could not have been allowed. What seems to matter is the degree of the law that individuals in both professions possess. The distinction terms solicitor and barrister are merely terms that precipitate a lack of difference.

  • Distinction from an employment point of view

 A commercial organization, government, or law firm employs most solicitors. Employed solicitors enjoy the benefits of employment like employees in other professions. For instance, employed solicitors have entitled to a regular income, sick pay, and holiday pay, among other benefits, and above all, they enjoy job security. Most barristers seem to prefer self-employment. However, they remain affiliated with chambers that they share with other barristers who are self-employed and aspiring to become barristers must. These barristers practice law with more significant uncertainty. For instance, if a barrister becomes incapacitated and unable to work due to various circumstances such as sickness, they do not earn.

Self-employed barristers do not enjoy job security. Also, senior self-employed barristers attract higher fees than junior barristers who struggle to make a niche for themselves. However, some barristers prefer formal employment. Barristers who wish to be employed can always find employment opportunities at law firms, the federal government, and commercial organizations, just like solicitors. 

This cushions them from uncertainties surrounding self-employment. Similarly, not all solicitors prefer formal employment. Some solicitors have law firms where they practice law, and they can work hand in hand with barristers since all of them are eligible to represent their clients in a court of law; whether employed or self-employed, lack of a clear distinction does not matter. A solicitor can work without a barrister and vice versa. There is no difference in their preferred mode of operation.

  • Time spent at work

Another distinction is the working environment and the time barristers and solicitors spend in their respective domains. Barristers spend most of their time in law libraries and the courtroom, representing clients. They might represent their direct clients or execute solicitors’ instructions to describe a particular client.

On the other hand, Solicitors spend most of their time in law firms, most of which are in high-end street offices. Their primary role in law firms is directly offering legal services to lay clients. Their client base comprises individuals, corporates, or any other bodies seeking legal counsel. The solicitor guides clients as they take steps towards legal redress concerning a more comprehensive range of legal issues, such as murder cases and property buying. The solicitor may take the case to court, even up to completion. However, due to the case's complexity, the solicitor brings in a barrister whenever specialist advocacy is needed.

The striking difference here is that solicitors act as case managers compared to barristers. Even if there is a difference, a case’s success depends on the seamless cooperation between the two professions. Therefore, the difference does matter to individuals seeking legal redress. A solicitor and a barrister at an equal level run a better law firm.

  • The types of cases that barristers and solicitors represent in a court of law

Apart from negotiating with their clients and opposing parties to agree on an impending legal tussle, gathering evidence, overseeing the implementation of agreements, calculating damage claims, and coordinating the work of parties involved in litigation, solicitors have specialized much in cases that require family law, children law, criminal law, divorce, wills probate, and commercial law. In these cases, solicitors can represent their clients in court. They will contact barristers only if the matter gets complex. But in most instances, solicitors seem to attempt to bring disputing parties to agree instead of proceeding to court. If the case goes to court, solicitors will likely instruct barristers to represent their clients.

On the other hand, barristers are free to specialize in any law of their interest based on the type of cases. In some instances, they are hired by solicitors to represent clients in court. The barristers’ significant role here is to translate and structure client evidence that the solicitor has gathered into a logical and persuasive argument. Like solicitors, barristers also specialize in certain areas of the law, such as criminal law, commercial law, entertainment law, common law, and chancery law, among other specializations.

Any attempts to distinguish between barristers and solicitors based on the type of cases they represent will be difficult because they do not have any restrictions on what field of law to specialize in. What matters is the interest of the lawyer as an individual. Any attempt to limit specialization will hinder seamless coordination between solicitors and barristers who needs to work together. For instance, in 2014, Lee Adams, a solicitor, arguing alongside Alexander Cameron, a barrister was able to win a fraud case. All solicitors and barristers can represent their clients in a court of law about any claim.

Solicitors have also excelled in other areas of law specialization, such as commercial law, which seemed reserved for barristers. This is evident in a case presented by a solicitor named Anis Waiz concerning commercial issues. Similarly, family and children law has been an area of specialization for solicitors. However, barristers are making inroads into this field of law as well. For example, in 2015, John Vater QC, a barrister, won a case involving child abuse in Darlington.

  • Differences in the work environment

The offices in which barristers work are known as chambers, while solicitors work from their law firm’s offices. Barristers within sections are independent of each other and can work on either side of the same legal dispute. However, solicitors in the same law firm are only allowed to work on one side of the conflicting party to prevent a conflict of interests.

Also, unlike solicitors who can work on any case of their choice or decline to work on one, the Cab Rank Rule prohibits barristers from rejecting to work on an issue even if they find out that the case is objectionable, the client’s conduct is unacceptable to only a particular segment of the population within a social system, beliefs, or even a source of funding. Barristers are obligated to represent anyone who seeks their services. However, this difference is too small and lacks enough clarity to the extent that it does not matter nor make any significant difference.


Barristers and solicitors within the English legal system are both considered lawyers. The argument that they are different types of lawyers is challenging to discern. Referring to one legal professional, a barrister or, a solicitor, does not make the professional better than the other. Their primary legal training is similar, only their tertiary training and expertise differ slightly due to the type of their daily legal work. The England “split” system that categorizes lawyers into two brings in the division of labor among lawyers. A solicitor does a case's background and preliminary preparation and instructs the barrister, who conducts further research before proceeding to the courtroom. 

Barristers and solicitors are both self-employed.  The only difference is the number of those employed. More barristers are self-employed compared to solicitors.

Both barristers and solicitors specialize in a particular area of law of their interest without restrictions. More solicitors are litigators compared to barristers. The distinction between the two types of lawyers contradicts itself in most instances due to a lack of clarity of roles. However, it does not make any difference or matter.