One of the biggest questions that you have to ask yourself in Law is whether or not you want to be a solicitor or a barrister?
It’s a similar journey to both (at the moment) in that you need to do a Law degree (or other and GDL) and
The differences lie in the day to day of a solicitor and a barrister. Whereas a solicitor is more of a project management role where you deal with the client on a matter from start to finish, a barrister can have only a few hours’ notice before appearing in court. Barristers are also self employed and work in chambers which they financially support whereas solicitors tend to be employed permanently by either a law firm or internal.
When you begin your career in Law you have to make the decision which route you’d like to go down within your degree. Things such as mooting competitions will help you get an idea for the advocacy side. Although it is possible for solicitors to do their own advocacy (up to a certain level of court) on the more complex cases it is common for a solicitor to call in support from a barrister for their specialised expertise.
We’ve asked Rhys what it was like for him to make the decision…
From a young age, I knew I always wanted to go into the law. In fact, when I was a child, I wanted to become a police officer! However, when I decided to enter the legal profession, I was very torn between whether I should become a barrister or solicitor.
The main draw to the law initially was the advocacy. I wanted to be that guy in the courtroom standing before the judge and opposition arguing my client’s case. However, after completing my law degree and undertaking various work experience placements, including a mini pupillage, I got to understand the true picture of what it meant to be a barrister and realised that it wasn’t for me. One of the big considerations, which I did not know until my mini pupillage – as it is not something that is widely advertised – is that barristers are self-employed. For me, that was an added element of stress and difficulty that I did not want for the next 40 years of my professional life; it just wasn’t for me. Furthermore, you have added expenses such as Chambers’ rent and the additional worry of where the work is going to come from – it is not as easy as working in a firm of solicitors.
The main reason for coming into Practice rather than the Bar was the case management aspect. I really enjoy seeing a case from the beginning all the way through to the outcome. I enjoy getting my teeth stuck into a case and seeing how it progresses – the good and the bad!
Furthermore, through education and speaking with professionals on my work experience placements, I quickly learned that solicitors can undertake their own advocacy – the best of both Worlds!
If you too are torn on which avenue to take, I would highly recommend speaking with professionals in the field – including us trainees – and getting their opinion. I would also highly recommend getting work experience in both fields – for me, this was vital to understanding the role, which is something you cannot learn from a textbook.
We caught up with Rebecca to find out what her thoughts were on the differences and why she became a solicitor instead
The differences are that a solicitor sees a client when they come in on day one, so I see it from day one right the way through to court, mediation or a settlement. As a solicitor I’m dealing with everything, from writing to the court, making applications and issuing proceedings so court claims against the other side. As a solicitor I can still do hearings, like the advocacy , I can stand in front of the judge up to a certain level of court, I will do my own advocacy, not everyone does but I personally like it.
With regards to barristers however, I will instruct a barrister if I need an opinion on a very specialised area of law. I’ll write a brief to counsel setting out the problem, then conference with the client where we all go down to their chambers and the barrister will give an opinion. If I have a big trial, I instruct a barrister who will then bring it to the judge. Barristers dip in and dip out whereas solicitors will be constant throughout. Barristers tend to be very specialised, so although I’m specialised I also do an awful lot of different areas which is different to being a barrister.
Would you say that a solicitor has more link to the client?
Yes – so with regards to the barrister, unless they’re what’s called a direct access barrister, the only link to the client will be through me the solicitor. In effect I am the barrister’s client, whereas for me I am dealing with my clients day in and day out on the phone and having meetings. The barrister will only meet and talk when we have conferences, where we have those meetings where we’re having opinions or talking about tactics going forward, and then at trial. So, I see the client through, the barrister will dip in, so they’re specialists.
So it depends which route you want to go and I think you learn very quickly which one suits you best, for me I like helping people, I like that continuity with the client. I don’t think I’d like to be a barrister where I see a snapshot of that case at that time, advising and then coming out, and you may not know what’s going on until next instructions.