In the England and Wales, a 'lawyer' could mean either a barrister, solicitor or legal executive.
Traditionally, the profession of a barrister and solicitor have been distinctly seperate: a barrister has had sole rights of audience in all courts, including those deemed superior, i.e. the Crown Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, while the solicitor has traditionally had rights of audience in the inferior courts, like the County Court and the Magistrates' Court. Nowadays, however, this division is less clear: solicitors can undertake exams to enable them to have rights of audience in the superior courts, too, thus in theory meaning they're on the same level as barristers. This process is aptly known as fusion. If a solicitor does undertake the relevant exams and subsequently acquires the right of audience in higher courts, he or she will wear a gown but not a wig, unlike a barrister, who will wear both.
In terms of work, barristers and solicitors have, traditionally, undertaken seperate types: barristers have traditionally done the most court work while solicitors have done most desk-based work, like probate, conveyancing, etc. But it's not quite as simple as that: solicitors have traditionally been able to appear in the lower courts and barristers also prepare very thoroughly for cases beforehand and draft answers to legal questions and so forth. It's also slightly misleading to say that barristers do "most court work" as it varies depending on the type of law they specialise in: a criminal barrister, for instance, will be in court considerably more than a barrister specialising in, say, petroleum law. In addition, fusion has further blurred the picture: more and more solicitors are undertaking court work.
Banco said: ‘A barrister is the one who will be your advocate in a crown court case. The solicitor will tend to do the legwork.’
A solicitor briefs a barrister – or, more accurately, his or her clerk, who then finds a barrister within the set of chambers who is free to accept the case. Barristers cannot be approached for work directly from members of public, although professionals, like accountants, can occasionally go straight to a barrister and not via a solicitor.
It’s unfair to say that a solicitor ‘tends to do the legwork’: cross-examining and arguing in court can be very tiring and demanding, not to mention the very thorough preparation in advance (it’s not unusual for a senior barrister, who has a substantial practice, to work 10-12 hours per day, 6 days a week). Indeed, it could be justly argued that it’s the other way around: the barrister does the legwork.
There you have it, in a nutshell. It's quite an interesting topic, really. I am two years' away from (hopefully) qualifying as a barrister, so I am especially keen on such threads.
[Edited 2004-06-29 00:43:22]
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