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What is the difference between solicitor and barrister?

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As an American English speaker, this has me curious too. Not familiar with the intricacies of English (as in England) legal system. –  Brett Allen Feb 20 '11 at 20:42
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I've flagged this question as off-topic because, as far as I can tell, this is really a legal question, not an English question. –  waiwai933 Feb 20 '11 at 21:00
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This seems like a fine word choice question to me. –  mmyers Feb 23 '11 at 17:41

3 Answers 3

Solicitor and barrister have a different meaning, in American and British English.

In British English, they mean:

  • Solicitor: a member of the legal profession qualified to deal with conveyancing, the drawing up of wills, and other legal matters.
  • Barrister: a lawyer entitled to practice as an advocate, particularly in the higher courts.

In American English, they mean:

  • Solicitor: a person who tries to obtain business orders, advertising, etc.; a canvasser; the chief law officer of a city, town, or government department.

Barrister is not used, in American English.

[Reference: the New Oxford American Dictionary.]

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Until very recently, a barrister was not entitled to deal directly with clients; a client would deal with a solicitor, who would prepare the case and file it with the court. If the case actually goes to court, a barrister (or a solicitor advocate after 1990) would be referred by the solicitor and would advocate for the client in court. –  Richard Gadsden Feb 20 '11 at 22:29

They are both lawyers, but a barrister has passed the Bar.

The Bar is an examination (from Wikipedia):

A bar examination is an examination conducted at regular intervals to determine whether a candidate is qualified to practice law in a given jurisdiction.

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So someone can practice law without having passed a Bar Exam in England, or is it that a solicitor is similar to a paralegal in the US? They can do most of the legal research/document writing, but must be supervised by a lawyer who has passed the bar. –  Brett Allen Feb 20 '11 at 20:46
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Solicitors offer legal advice. Solicitors will normally engage the services of a Barrister if their client has to go to court, but if they are sufficiently qualified (in England and Wales at least) they don't have to. Wikipedia has good articles on both: Barrister, Solicitor –  Matt Эллен Feb 20 '11 at 21:03
    
It might be worth saying a few words about "the bar" in this context. –  dmckee Feb 20 '11 at 21:24
    
Fair point. Done. –  Matt Эллен Feb 20 '11 at 21:29
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that bears no resemblance to the English definition of the Bar. A Solicitor is a lawyer of the Supreme Court and is qualified to practice law. –  Richard Gadsden Feb 20 '11 at 22:28

This depends on the country.

In Australia most lawyers are solicitors. You cannot call yourself a lawyer until you have been admitted by the court, and when you are you become a solicitor. Anyone wanting any legal services will go to a solicitor.

Barristers usually don't deal directly with clients but instead are employed by other legal firms. They are hired by law firms on behalf of their clients to represent them in court. Barristers will need a great knowledge of the law, and will help their clients (the solicitors) decide what type of argument to present. They will usually not research the evidence for the case which must be provided by the law firm. And lastly most barristers are self-employed, whereas most solicitors work in law firms.

A humorous example of the difference between solicitors and barristers is in the movie The Castle when a local solicitor is hired to take a case to the High Court of Australia and is completely out of his depth! Luckily a retired Queen's Counsel (and barrister) helps them with their case.

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