Lawyer, Solicitor, Barrister, Attorney – What’s the Difference and Which Do I Need?

What is the difference between a lawyer, a solicitor, a barrister and an attorney? Which one of these should you call when you need legal help? We understand these terms may seem confusing to the average person, but fear not! In this article, we'll go over what the difference is and which one you need depending on your situation. We'll also go over what these titles entail in Australia’s common law system and what duties fall underneath each member of the legal profession.

These terms are often used interchangeably, and their meaning varies from one legal to system to the next. However, they all have distinct meanings in the Australian legal system.

What is a lawyer and when do you need one?

'Lawyer' is a broader umbrella term, which can be used to refer to anyone who has been admitted to the legal profession. The term covers solicitors, barristers and legal executives. To be called a lawyer, one needs a bachelor or post-graduate degree in law, as well as a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP), be admitted to the Legal Profession and hold a Practicing Certificate in order to practice as a Lawyer. Lawyers tend to specialise in a specific area of law, such as contract law or property law, although there are some generalist lawyers as well.

What is a solicitor and when do you need one?

A solicitor is someone who has completed a law degree, obtained a practising certificate and been admitted to legal practice. That being the case, most solicitors simply refer to themselves as lawyers.

Solicitors manage day-to-day legal affairs for clients. They are usually the first point of contact when an individual or business needs legal services. For example, they may help with contracts, disputes, business sales or intellectual property issues.

In a criminal case, a solicitor will offer advice and help define the best course of action. They may also draft letters, take care of your initial appointment and gather any court documents or evidence you may need. Solicitors are trained in representing their clients in court and may do so unless a barrister is required. If you wish to have a barrister on your case, you will first need to get a solicitor.

What is a barrister and when do you need one?

A barrister is a type of a lawyer, but not all lawyers are barristers!

Barristers are lawyers whose expertise is advocacy, and they typically only become involved in a legal case when it goes to court. Advocacy stands for representing a client and advocating for their interests in court. Therefore, many advocates you see representing their clients at trial are barristers. To represent a client’s case effectively, a barrister needs to have a strong understanding of court procedures and etiquette.

Generally, barristers are retained with the help of a solicitor. They may meet with you before your court appearance, but will usually not communicate with you directly.

What is an attorney and when do you need one?

The title ‘attorney’ doesn’t have the same meaning in the Australian legal system as it does in the US. In the US, an attorney is a lawyer who has passed a bar examination and can practice law in a specific jurisdiction. In Australia, the term ‘attorney’ or ‘attorney-at-law’ is not commonly used, apart from the case of trademark attorneys. Here, an attorney is a lawyer with further qualifications to deal with intellectual property and patentable technology.

Not sure if a solicitor, barrister or attorney is the best to help you?

If all this seems somewhat confusing, and you’re not sure which of these legal professionals is the best to help you, it may be a good idea to get some advice from a legal expert. At Revolution Law, we offer free over-the-phone advice to get you started on the right path. Call us today for a no-obligation, free legal consultation.