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Barrister or solicitor – What’s the difference?

Barristers and solicitors often work closely together, however there are several distinct differences between the two roles. Understanding the work each role involves is the first step to deciding which career might be best for you. We’ve put together some information on the roles to help you decide which would suit you. Read on to find out more.

By Grant Longstaff. Published 7 October 2022. Updated 24 October 2023.

What are the main differences between a barrister and a solicitor?

A solicitor provides specialist legal advice to their clients, which could range from an individual to an organisation, and are often the first point of contact. They will most likely be employed by a law firm or a private organisation, or work within government or the court service. Their work can cover a range of legal practice areas, from criminal or family law to corporate and commercial law. The majority of a solicitor’s work will take place outside of court, although there may be times when they are required to attend.

A barrister will represent their clients in court and are often called upon to provide specialist advice in the legal practice area they specialise in. Unlike solicitors, most barristers will be self employed and work in chambers, and competition for a place can be fierce. However, some barristers may work for government agencies or private organisations. A barrister often uses the legal work carried out by a solicitor to prepare ahead of a trial or hearing. Another important difference is their appearance in court. Barristers will wear gowns and wigs, whereas solicitors will usually only need business attire.

There can be some crossover between the roles. For example, solicitors may be able to represent their clients in court if they are granted ‘rights of audience’. However, barristers can work at much higher levels of court than solicitors.

The training you need to undertake depends on which career you wish to pursue, though both roles will require you to have completed an undergraduate degree. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD). If you have a degree in another subject, or you’re looking to change careers, you could consider a conversion course such as our Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL).

How do I become a barrister?

After completing an undergraduate law degree, or a law conversion course, you will need to complete the Bar Practice Course (BPC). This is often referred to as the vocational stage of your training. Once you have completed the BPC you will need to undertake work-based training known as a pupillage. A pupillage is split into two six-month periods, often known as ‘sixes’. For the first six months you will shadow a barrister, and in the second six you may begin to take on your own work. Once completed you can qualify for the Bar.

How do I become a solicitor?

You will need complete your LLB or if you do not have a qualifying law degree, go on to study and complete a conversion course before your professional study begins.

For your professional study, you can take one of two routes. The first route is to study for the Solicitors Qualifying Examinations (SQE), which consists of two centralised exams, known as SQE1 and SQE2. Along with the SQE you will also need a minimum of two years work experience. Once you have completed both the SQE and work experience you can apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for admission as a solicitor.

Or, if you meet certain eligibility requirements, you could study the tried and tested Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is a prescribed and regulated programme of training with assessments in core practice areas, legal skills and elective subjects. Either during or after the LPC, you’ll need to complete a training contract before applying to the SRA.

Which is paid more, a solicitor or barrister?

It can be difficult to say whether barristers or solicitors earn more, as there are several factors which can have an impact on a salary. These can include the size and location of a firm, your experience and ability, and the area of law you have chosen to practise.

As a guide, a newly qualified solicitor in a small firm could earn between £25,000 and £60,000 a year, but this can increase significantly over time as you gain more experience.

There is a minimum salary for those undertaking a pupillage set by the Bar Standards Board (BSB). The average salary of a barrister, with five years’ experience and based in London, is between £50,000 to £200,000. Again, this can be hugely affected by the factors outlined above.

It’s also worth noting that up to 80% of barristers are self-employed, whereas most solicitors will be in employment. There is a level of financial stability with becoming a solicitor which may not exist in a career as a barrister.

Who are the most famous solicitors in the UK?

Law and politics often go hand in hand and some of ULaw’s very own alumni worked as solicitors before they made a move into politics. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was a solicitor for 10 years before entering politics. Moreover, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim to serve in a British cabinet, also started her career as a solicitor after studying her LPC with us.

Who are the most famous barristers in the UK?

Baroness Shami Chakrabarti was called to the Bar in 1994 and started as a barrister for the Home Office in 1996. Also an Alumna of ULaw, she is now a member of the House of Lords. Additionally, Cherie Blair is also a barrister working in employment and public law.


If you need help deciding the right legal career path for you, join us at our London Moorgate campus for our ‘Solicitor vs Barrister: Choosing the Career for You’ event. On Tuesday 28 November, a fantastic panel of solicitors and barristers will share their experiences and answer your questions, along with a chance to network with professionals after the event. Book your place now.