A solicitor is a trained legal practitioner accountable for preparing legal documentation. In addition, they are qualified to represent and defend a client’s legal interests. Clients may be individuals, small and medium-sized businesses, or even large national and international organisations.
Is There A Distinction Between A Solicitor and a Barrister?
Yes, there is a difference between the two, even if both are legal professions. A barrister is someone who offers specialist advice while representing, advocating or defending their clients in court or at a tribunal.
Barristers usually specialise in one area of the law, but some may choose to cover a variety of fields. When they do this, it’s called general practice. In addition, they work at a significantly higher court level than solicitors.
On the other hand, a solicitor is accountable for preparing the legal documentation needed in the run-up to and during a court case. In addition, they can provide a piece of specialist legal advice on contentious and non-contentious work on various areas of law to their clients.
Even if there is a fine line between the two professions, from an advocacy perspective, there are times that this line can become blurred. Why? Because solicitors can obtain ‘rights of audience’, they can represent their clients in court. Thus, they can perform many of the functions of a barrister up to a specific point.
Since many solicitors have rights of audience, they can do behind scenes type of work such as the following:
- Advise clients regarding legal issues
- Hold negotiations and discussions between parties trying to reach a legal agreement
- Draft and review legal documents and contracts
The profession is also regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). They are the ones that set a code of conduct solicitors have to abide by. If solicitors or firms breach any of the principles, the SRA can step in and take action.
What Kind of Work Do Solicitors Do?
Generally, a solicitor’s work will fall into two types: contentious or non-contentious. Let’s check the details of each one below.
Contentious work is also known or referred to as litigious work. Often, this type of work involves resolving disputes between two or more parties in a court or tribunal setting. In addition, a solicitor can also settle clashes between parties through alternative dispute resolutions such as arbitration or mediation.
Non-contentious work, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of contentious work. It’s also often referred to as non-litigious work. This type of work aims to deal with a client’s personal or business needs from a legal standpoint.
Examples of non-contentious legal work include the following:
- Buying and selling commercial and residential properties
- Buying and selling companies
- Dealing with company mergers
- Advising how construction and projects should be designed and built
What Do They Do?
The daily activities of a solicitor will usually include but are not limited to the following:
- Attend meetings with clients
- Draft and negotiate legal documents and contracts
- Provide legal and commercial advice as a specialist on a variety of areas of law
- Interview and advise clients
- Research and interpret complex law to their clients
- Appear and speak on behalf of their clients in court
Where Do You Find Them?
Solicitors are usually employed in two ways, they can either work in a law firm or in-house. Let’s find out the difference between the two below:
Often, most solicitors will start their legal careers in a law firm setting. They get to train and specialise in the many areas of the law, such as the following:
- alternative dispute resolution (ADR)
- banking law
- commercial law
- constitutional law
- construction law
- contract law
- corporate law
- criminal law
- employment law
- environmental law
- equity and trusts
- EU law
- family law
- human rights law
- insurance law
- intellectual property (IP) law
- land law
- media law
- private client law
- property law
- public law
- shipping law
- sports law
- tax law
- tort law
Essentially it means being employed to practice law in a commercial setting. So, for example, large organisations like BBC, Virgin Media and the Government Legal Service (GLS) have their in-house legal department.
Some large companies even offer opportunities for in-house training contracts. However, solicitors usually start their working life in a law firm, and once they have built up some relevant industry-specific experience, they move in-house.