The law can be a confusing thing, so it is lucky that there are so many people who specialise in it to advise us when we need them – but how do you know whom to approach? Do you need to find a solicitor or a barrister ?
To answer those questions it is helpful for you to understand what these two main types of lawyer do and specialise in. Things used to be far more “clean cut” with solicitors traditionally giving the advice to the public and preparing any cases or litigation for criminal trials, where as the barristers main role was primarily the representation of the client in the higher courts.
These days there is less of a line between the roles of a solicitor or barrister as there are an increasing number of barristers who now give legal advice in addition to their traditional role in the high courts, and also a growing number of solicitors who have gained the right to represent their clients in the higher courts.
Even still the most basic difference between them remains that a barrister is a member of a referral profession, who specialises in legal advice and advocacy. They are there mainly for solicitors when they need assistance on a difficult legal point, the solicitor would then go to a barrister for advice on behalf of their client. As has been mentioned there are still many courts (e.g. the High Court) where only barristers have rights of audience so in most cases a solicitor must go to a barrister if they have a case requiring an appearance before any higher court.
As a rule, members of the public cannot go directly to barristers though there are certain situations where they may be able to instruct barristers directly but it is something that doesn’t happen a lot. Barristers charge a lower hourly than that of solicitors, which can make them more attractive, but remember that you loose the backup of a legal firm should you need one if you decide to try and instruct a barrister directly.
This is part of the reason for the lower hourly rate, as the amount a solicitor charges per hour does not go purely to that solicitor alone but has to go towards paying the partners of the firm and the salaries of anyone that employed by the firm who are available to assist with your case. Barristers are self-employed, and work in barristers’ chambers, and so the amount they get paid per hour goes only to them once any overhead costs, like paying rent for a room in chambers has been taken out of it.
One of the easiest ways to find a solicitor or barrister now is online; there are many websites that can help depending on the area of law you are looking for assistance in. Some will specialise in a certain area of the law, and may only cover a set area of the country, others will allow you to search for a solicitor, or find a barrister using either area of law, or location.