A lawyer can be a non-practising lawyer, a barrister, or a solicitor. To become a lawyer in Australia, a person must obtain a bachelor’s or post-graduate degree in law and complete a Graduate Diploma of Legal Training. Finally, they must be accepted by the Legal Professional Board and admitted to their state’s Supreme Court.
Solicitors are lawyers who practice law but are not barristers or judges. Most legal matters involve engaging a lawyer to take instructions and provide advice on your case. Solicitors have expertise in drafting documents, conferencing and advising clients and spend most of their time in a law firm or office. Solicitors can also appear in Court; however, this is not their specialisation, and many solicitors do not appear in Court at all.
A barrister is a lawyer who focuses on advocacy, which involves representing clients in specific matters. Barristers specialise in Courtroom advocacy and are experts in presenting legal arguments during a trial. They often do not engage with clients directly and require a solicitor to file documentation.
When legal disputes enter the Court system, barristers are retained by the solicitor in charge of a matter. Barristers are experts in courtroom advocacy and preparing matters for trial, especially in higher levels of Court.
Barristers often dedicate their careers to specialising in specific areas of law. This may include corporate litigation, criminal, administrative, or family law. Therefore a barrister who acts for you in a family law matter may not be the best choice to represent you at a criminal trial.
It is common for solicitors and barristers to have different rates. Due to their specialisation in specific areas of law, barristers often charge higher rates than solicitors. Solicitors may also charge at different rates depending on the experience of the solicitor. Examples of solicitor rates include Partners, Senior Associates, Lawyers and Graduates.
Solicitors are always dressed in suits when appearing before a Court. However, Barristers will also sometimes wear a white wig and black robe when appearing in different Courts such as the District Court, Supreme Court, Family Court or High Court.
Solicitors often work in small practices or law firms. This allows them to delegate work between their staff more efficiently. Barristers work independently as sole practitioners rather than in a law firm. Barristers often work in ‘chambers’ which are shared spaces next to Courts for barristers to discuss complex legal matters.
Solicitors are allowed to hold ‘trust money on behalf of a client. This is money that belongs to a client that has not been billed yet or money that is to be transferred as directed by the client. Barristers are unable to hold trust money and therefore request solicitors to hold legal fees on their behalf before working on a case.
Solicitors often obtain their work through referrals and advertisements; however, barristers are responsible for obtaining their own work and are usually briefed by solicitors. Barristers build their client base by growing their professional relationships with solicitors and law firms. Those who have significant experience and skills can also apply to the NSW Bar Association to become Senior Counsel (SC) or Queen’s Counsel (QC).
Barristers have a duty to accept all briefs, so long as it is in an area of law, they practice. This is referred to as the ‘cab rank rule’ and ensures that everyone that needs representation in Court may get it. However, this rule does not apply to solicitors who can accept work at their discretion.