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Lawyers, Solicitors, Barristers… What’s the difference?

Having trouble finding the right legal representative to help you in Queensland? You’re not alone. Do you need a lawyer, a barrister, a solicitor? What’s the difference? All this legal terminology can be confusing and even understanding the different types of legal roles can be tough.

There are many differences between the different types of legal roles, and here we explain to help you understand how and why various particular types of legal professionals may be involved in your personal injury claim.

1. Lawyers

Of all the titles, this is the most common term across the globe. In Australia, the term “lawyer” is used to describe a person who completed a legal degree, any associated additional legal training, and has been subsequently admitted as a ‘lawyer’ on the roll of Lawyers via the Legal Practitioners Admissions Board. The term “lawyer” is broad, and covers both Solicitors and Barristers – even if they are no longer practising or registered to practice.

The most common other term for a lawyer is ‘attorney’, however this is what they call lawyers in the United States. In Australia, we do not use the term to identify a lawyer. Any reference to an attorney in Australia is likely to be a reference to a non-legally trained personal representative acting for someone else under a ‘power of attorney’.

In some states, a lawyer may practise as both a solicitor and barrister, while in others, like Queensland, you must choose to be either a Solicitor or Barrister. 

2. Solicitors

In Australia, a genuine practising lawyer will not only have been admitted on the Roll of Lawyers, they will have completed further study or a traineeship, and also hold a current legal practising certificate issued by the law society of the state that they practise law in. This makes them a “solicitor”.  A lawyer is not able to provide legal advice in Australia unless they are registered to practice as a solicitor or barrister. This is primarily because of the benefit that comes with holding a legal practising certificate – insurance. This means that all solicitors are insured for any negligent/poor advice that they may give. Also, solicitors are required to stay up to date with the industry by undertaking regular training every year.

Generally speaking, a solicitor is knowledgeable in the areas of law that they practice in, and are able to take your instructions to evaluate your individual circumstances, give legal advice, draft legal documents, represent you in court, negotiate on your behalf with other parties involved in your case, and more. A good solicitor will be aware of all necessary time limits in your case to ensure your case progresses in a timely fashion. In summary, they are responsible for your case’s overall strategy, and will be driving your case forward towards a resolution. If your case is complex, it is not uncommon to have more than one solicitor collaborate and work on your matter.

If your case involves litigation and court attendances, although not technically required, a solicitor will often provide instructions to a Barrister to assist. These instructions are often referred to as a ‘brief’ and includes an index list of papers that are relevant to your case. This enables the Barrister to:

  • provide a written opinion (called Counsel’s Advice) on your case (or a certain aspect of your case); or
  • represent you in court and talk directly to the Judge on your behalf.

Whilst Solicitors have a right to appear in any Court, they usually represent clients in the Magistrates Court, preferring to brief barristers in the higher courts such as the District Court and Supreme Court.

3. Barristers

A qualifying lawyer who is admitted on the Roll of Lawyers can choose to apply to work solely as either a Barrister or Solicitor. Typically, barristers first start off as solicitors, and after several years working in a particular field of law (such a personal injury law) they choose to take the Queensland bar examinations, barrister practice course, and apply for a barrister’s practising certificate from the State’s Bar Association.

Barristers are sworn as “officers of the court,” tasked to maintain the law. They work alone from shared offices known as ‘chambers’ rather than inside law firms (but usually have an assistant) and generally act as advocates in courts. This means that barristers are the ones speaking out for you in court, arguing for your case, presenting evidence, determining and examining witnesses, preparing questions, and cross-examining the other partner’s witness. 

Think of a Barrister like a Specialist. In Medicine, you see the GP first and if you need to see a Specialist, you are referred by the GP. This is much the same in the legal profession – you see a Solicitor first, and if a Barrister is needed to advise on the circumstances of your case, or to represent you in Court, your Solicitor will prepare a ‘brief’ or list of documents, with written instructions and engage a suitable Barrister who will receive the brief and act according to the instructions in the brief.

For example, the brief may be:

  • A brief to advise on liability (i.e. whether or not you or the other party is liable)
  • A brief to advise on quantum (i.e. the amount of money you might expect to receive from your claim)
  • A brief to advise on evidence (i.e. whether the available evidence supports your case, and what evidence might be required to support your case)
  • A brief to appear (i.e. at a hearing or trial)
  • You do not see the barrister directly, but may have appointments with them in the company of your solicitor, who will work with the barrister work as a team.

Note: Technically, your solicitor engages the barrister and consequently is personally liable to pay the barrister’s fees and this is the reason why your solicitor may ask for money from you ‘up front’ to cover the expense. However, in personal injury law, barristers often work on a ‘no win no fee’ basis much like solicitors.

Barristers are bound by a set of professional standards which dictate that they are not to deal directly with the public, but only through solicitors. Even without such standards, it is simply not practical as they are always in or out of court, and when not in court, they are researching and spending their time contemplating the often complex issues involved in a variety of cases.

In Australia, some other terms for a barrister include:

  • Queens Counsel (QC) or Senior Counsel (SC) – these terms are for the most experienced of Barristers.
  • Silk – a ‘silk’ is a generic or slang term for either a Queens Counsel (QC) or a Senior Counsel (SC) and are the more experienced barristers who have been promoted to this position.

4. Paralegals

A “paralegal” is a position in a law firm similar to that of a solicitor. However, a paralegal does not usually hold a law degree. In many law firms, paralegals are very capable and will take care of your day-to-day management needs for your case.

Paralegals do a hell of a lot of research and due to practical experience working alongside senior solicitors, they often know much more than newly admitted solicitors. However, paralegals are not able to represent clients directly nor give legal advice.

Paralegals are often your point of contact for case updates and can assist in keeping your costs down so that a Solicitor is not required to do 100% of the work, including the many administrative tasks often involved in legal proceedings.

Conclusion

If you are looking for legal representation for a personal injury matter, the solicitors at Roche Legal can help determine your best course of action to initiate a claim. As your case progresses and all the evidence is gathered and analysed, our solicitors will be able to inform you of your legal position and prospects of a successful claim. We will also advise you early on as to whether a barrister ought to be engaged to assist in the negotiation of your claim for an early resolution, or whether it is likely to go to court. 

Rochel Legal’s solicitors are experienced in all types of personal injury claims from car accidents, workplace accidents, to public place accidents and total and permanent disability insurance applications. If you are looking for the best no win no fee compensation lawyers in Brisbane, reach out to us today for a free initial consultation from our Principal Solicitor, Sean Roche.

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About the Author:

This post was authored by one of the Solicitors at ROCHE Legal. Should you have any questions, please contact our office.
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