If you’re currently studying law, and wondering which direction to take your career, then I hope this will prove to be a useful tool in your decision making process. As you come to the conclusion of your undergraduate studies, the legal training for prospective Barristers and Solicitors will begin to separate as each branch follows its own path, something I’ll look at a little further later on within this article.
In very simplistic terms, to lay the groundwork here, Barristers represent and argue for their clients in court, while Solicitors work behind the scenes and will be more responsible for liaising directly with the client and laying the groundwork for the case.
Although both require outstanding knowledge of the law, it’s fair to say that both jobs do require different skill sets: so once you know your strengths as an individual, and as a lawyer, you can choose the career path that’s more suitable for you.
Barristers require an extremely advanced set of language, communication, and negotiation skills. They are, after all, arguing their clients’ case in front of a judge and jury. Solicitors will be more desk-bound over the course of their career, and require high levels of reasoning skills, organisational skills, and of course people skills to liaise with their clients, opposition solicitors, barristers etc.
If you excel at public speaking, like working on your own, and have no problem with the thought of being self-employed, then being a Barrister is likely your better career path. On the other hand, if you prefer to work as part of a team, are good at communicating but maybe not so comfortable speaking in public, or if you prefer to be in an employed position, then a Solicitor is a much better fit for your future.
Most Solicitors are employed as part of a law firm or legal team, while most Barristers do in fact work on a self-employed basis. It’s these small differences that, examined critically early enough in your career, will enable you to make the right career choice for you.
In fact, both types of legal specialism do require the same type of person at its core – after all, the training doesn’t divest until the end of undergraduate level so therefore attracts very similar personality types at the outset – and it’s the case that, certainly over the past few years, both job distinctions have actually blurred a little as barristers and solicitors have worked more closely together on behalf of their clients.
Barristers: The Role Explained
If you decide that being a Barrister is the career path for you, then your training, from the end of your undergraduate law degree, will consist of a one year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), followed by a year’s pupilage with one of the four barrister’s inns where you will shadow a senior barrister.
What are Barristers Inns, I hear you ask? The Inns of Court in London are the professional associations for Barristers in England and Wales. There are four Inns of Court – Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple. All Barristers must belong to one of them, and they have supervisory and disciplinary functions over their members.
Although some Barristers may be employed as specialist in-house advisors by large corporations, banks, solicitor’s firms and even government agencies, most will be working independently within Chambers – which will also house large numbers of rival Barristers.
Barristers would be provided with details of a case by a Solicitor who already represents a client, and so most Barristers and Solicitors form close working relationships to ensure that a steady flow of work is referred on by the Solicitors, who after all are the ones who meet the Clients initially and advise on the choice of Barrister.
Barristers are expected to have specialist knowledge of the law, and are often asked to provide advice and opinions. You will be expected to be an expert in your field of law, and to keep abreast of current legal and regulatory changes that could affect any current or future Client that may appoint you to work for them.
Once a Solicitor has brought a case to the Barrister, and once all parties have agreed to the retention of the Barrister, the job of that Barrister is then to review the case, and the evidence, and prepare for Court, where they will be the ones arguing for the Client in front of the judge. On any TV footage of trials, Barristers are the ones who wear the wigs and gowns while addressing the jury and judge, and who get to cross-examine the client and all the witnesses.
A high degree of confidence, in particular with regards to public speaking, is absolutely vital for undergraduates who wish to choose the career path of a Barrister, as this will be one of the most important aspects of your job.
Solicitors: The Role Explained
Firstly, it’s true that Solicitors can work for a wider range of companies and organisations than any Barrister can. Solicitors may be employed by all types of commercial businesses, charities and other non-commercial organisations, banks, government agencies and, of course, law firms representing clients.
If you’ve decided that the role of a Solicitor is much more suited to your personality type and attributes, then after your Undergraduate law degree has concluded you will complete a one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by a two-year training contract at a law firm, where you are supervised by a senior solicitor who must monitor and certify all your work over that two-year period before you can sit your Solicitor’s Qualifying Exams.
If, as a Solicitor, you take up a role in a law firm – as opposed to being an in-house Solicitor for a bank or charity, for example – then you are highly likely to be the first person to meet a Client on any given legal matter.
Solicitors must be professional and able to take instruction from the Client, as it’s going to be important to your law firm to attract as many Clients as possible in a competitive marketplace – after all, Clients can ‘shop around’ for Solicitors just like they can for any other service these days.
Unlike Barristers, Solicitors frequently take on non-contentious cases and can in fact specialise in those areas of the law that don’t involve litigation. Things like commercial contract drafting, estate planning, and property transactions, are among the widely available practice areas.
However, a lot of Solicitors will involve themselves with litigation/court proceedings. In these matters, Solicitors advise clients privately, often as the first point of contact to the Client explaining the case to someone within the formal legal community. Solicitors will also draft legal documents (including but not limited to court pleadings) and negotiate with opposing parties, among other activities. A Solicitor’s job is primarily a desk job, nevertheless its a rewarding one and a vital part of the legal community.
It can be difficult to see exactly where your career can take you or what your options are. I hope that the above proves to be a useful tool to you in your decision making process.