What is the difference between a barrister and a solicitor - and which would you rather be?


Who they work with

It is possible to broadly divide solicitors into those who work with commercial clients and those who work with the public. Solicitors with commercial clients work with businesses and organisations of varying sizes and often deal with other solicitors in writing. Non-commercial solicitors will often spend much of their working day dealing with members of the public in a variety of settings, such as offices or courtrooms.

What they do

There are several areas that a solicitor can become an expert in. For example, they could specialise in property law, helping people buy and sell houses or negotiating leases for offices. They could also specialise in criminal issues: helping to advise people in trouble with the police, or protecting a company's copyright. The key task for any solicitor is giving legal advice and taking action to protect their clients.

Where they work

Commercial solicitors are often based in large offices, which are typically located in the business centres of cities. Solicitors working with members of the public are more likely to be based in smaller firms, which are often found on the high street.

Working conditions

Solicitors are known for having to work long hours, particularly at the beginning of a career. However, many firms are now trying to provide a better work-and-life balance for employees. Although a smart appearance is expected when dealing with clients, you won't have to wear a gown or wig when you are in court.


Although qualified solicitors charge clients around £250 per hour, they typically earn between £35,000 and £75,000 per year according to The Law Society (find out more about salaries for solicitors and barristers on page 8).


Who they work with

Barristers work almost exclusively with solicitors. When a solicitor is faced with a complex legal problem they will contract a barrister to help them. Only on very rare occasions will members of the public contract a barrister themselves.

What they do

A barrister will construct a case and present their arguments in court. While a solicitor can take a client's case to the lower courts, a barrister represents cases at the Crown Courts, High Courts, Court of Appeal or House of Lords. As with solicitors, barristers often have very detailed legal knowledge in a particular area, such as commercial or criminal law.

Where they work

Most barristers are self-employed and spend their time in court or in chambers. Chambers provide the equivalent of a company infrastructure for barristers and allow them to share premises and the administrative help of clerks.

Working conditions

Barristers can expect to work long hours; again, this is especially the case early in their careers, including a lot of evening and weekend work preparing for court. Appearance in court is based on traditional dress, including wigs and gowns.


According to the UK Legal 500, qualified barristers earn anywhere from £65,000 to £1m per year, but early in their careers they earn far less and still have to pay the overheads of being a member of chambers.

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