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What’s the Difference between a Lawyer, Solicitor, Barrister and Attorney?

by adminMarch 5, 2019

For most people, whenever they think of any of a lawyer, solicitor, barrister or attorney they automatically imagine two smartly dressed people with American accents battling it out in a courtroom. If you don’t, just watch an episode Suits, and you’ll see what I mean.

However, jokes aside, there are some important differences and in this article, we are going to cover them for you.

So first of all,

What is a Lawyer?

The word lawyer is a blanket term that generally describes the whole of the legal profession. But that doesn’t mean that anyone who is employed in the legal sector can call themselves a lawyer. To own such title, you must first obtain a legal qualification such as a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor degree.

In Australia, the legal profession is divided into solicitors and barristers.

We conducted an online study based on google searches to find out which countries generalise legal professionals as lawyers the most

United States 23,000 49%
India 3,200 7%
United Kingdom 2,800 6%
Canada 2,600 6%
Australia 2,500 5%

While there were over 23000 searches for lawyers in the United States once we took the individual countries population numbers into consideration, we found that Australia used the generic term ‘lawyers’ the most followed by Canada.

In the United States the preferred term for a lawyer is Attorney, and in the United Kingdom, the most common search term was solicitors.

What is a Solicitor?

In Australia, a solicitor is a legal practitioner who holds a legally-defined qualification and admitted to a supreme court of one of the countries seven jurisdictions. They undertake the general aspects of giving legal advice and conducting legal proceedings mostly out of court.

Solicitors can represent businesses and individuals work on the defending or prosecuting side.

Some of the most common areas of law they work in include:

Personal injury
Family law
Corporate law

Although Solicitors spend most of their time out of court, it is becoming more common, especially in some areas that they conduct more courtroom representation, which is traditionally carried out by barristers which is common practice in the United States where an Attorney at law generally takes on both roles.

What is a Barrister?

Barristers (often referred to as counsel) are independent specialist advocates and advisors in law who spend most of their time in court.

At one time barristers had sole rights to appear in the High Court, but this monopoly is now disappearing.

To become a barrister, a practising solicitor with the relevant experience must pass the Bar Readers Course before they can be invited to sign the Roll of Counsel.

This is what’s known as stepping up to the Bar.

Barristers in all jurisdictions throughout Australia, when required to do so, wear court dress (robes and wigs) similar to the attire worn in the United Kingdom.

Unlike solicitors working for at the same law firm, Barristers within a Chambers are independent. Because of this, it’s not uncommon that two Barristers from the same chambers can be working against each other on the same case. Barristers are also prohibited from picking and choosing their cases or who they would or wouldn’t like to represent by what is known as the Cab Rank Rule.

Barristers are usually instructed by solicitors rather than directly by the client to provide specialist legal advice and representation in Courts and Tribunals.

At one time barristers had sole rights to appear in the High Court but this monopoly is now disappearing as more and more Australian solicitors adopt the American Attorney approach

What is an Attorney?

The term Attorney comes from the verb ‘to attorn’, which means to transfer one’s rights and obligations to another.

An Attorney or Attorney at law is a term most commonly used in the United States and South Africa. However, in these two countries, the word ‘Attorney’ does not mean the same thing. In South Africa, they have Attorneys (solicitors) and Advocates (barristers) No dual practice is permitted. The Key difference is that In the United States, there is no distinction between lawyers who represent individuals or businesses in or out of court.

In the United States, there are no court dress requirements like there is in other common law countries.