Solicitor or Lawyer – Is there a Difference?

In Australia there are a number of terms used to describe legal practitioners, with the most common being lawyer and solicitor. Most people use the terms ‘Lawyer’ and ‘Solicitor’ interchangeably, but is there any difference between them? At Robert Wood and Associates, we are trusted Melbourne solicitors and have over 39 years’ experience providing personalised and professional legal advice to our clients. Many people don’t understand the difference between a lawyer, a solicitor and even a barrister. Read on for our guide to the common terms used to describe legal professionals in Australia.

What is a Lawyer?

‘Lawyer’ is a general term used to describe all Australian legal professionals, that is any person with a certificate to practice law. This includes solicitors, barristers, judges and corporate counsel.

What is a Solicitor?

A solicitor is a type of lawyer that provides expert legal advice and support to clients. Solicitors are involved in the day to day management of cases. A solicitor will be responsible for receiving instructions, providing advice and drafting letters or any court documents that a case may require.

What Does a Solicitor do?

Solicitors work across the whole legal field, but may specialise in areas such as estate planning, family law, employment law or commercial law. After taking instructions from clients, solicitors will advise on the necessary course of legal action depending on their area of expertise. Although their specific work activities will depend on their area of legal expertise, a solicitor’s role may include:

  • Providing legal advice on a range of matters
  • Preparing documentation for court
  • Creation of contracts
  • Handling negotiations
  • Managing client legal files
  • Gathering evidence
  • Advising and instructing barristers on behalf of their client

While solicitors can legally appear in court on behalf of their client, they typically have barristers handle court appearances, and they advise those barristers on how to proceed while in court. Traditionally, solicitors will only appear in court on behalf of their client for preliminary and interim hearings.

What is a Barrister?

A barrister is a lawyer that has passed the Bar Examination. They typically provide specialist legal advice and represent individual people and organisations in Courts and tribunals and through written legal advice. A barrister has been specifically trained in advocacy, i.e. representing clients in the Courtroom. Generally, a barrister must be retained through a solicitor and once a barrister is retained, although they may meet with a client prior to a Court appearance, they will not communicate with a client directly.

The Role of a Barrister

The primary responsibility of a barrister is to act on behalf of a client during a serious criminal case in front of a jury and a judge, therefore barristers spend most of their time in court and are not involved as much in the daily legal activities of their clients. If a case requires a great deal of time in court, a barrister will be called upon by the solicitor or client, but they are often not needed for cases that don’t go to trial.

Do I Need to Hire a Solicitor or a Barrister?

The confusion between the role of a barrister and a solicitor is very common among many clients involved in legal proceedings. Barristers are vital where a matter is going before the Courts, and solicitors are instrumental in every step before that, however a client cannot retain a barrister without first retaining a solicitor.

If you need legal advice, contact the expert Melbourne solicitors at Robert Wood and Associates. Our experienced solicitors will provide expert guidance and help you weigh up your options. Make an appointment today.

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