What different types of lawyer are there?
You’ve probably heard lots of different names for lawyers – solicitors, barristers, partners, legal executives, etc. So what’s the difference and which one do you want?
The term ‘lawyer’ just means someone who studies or works in the field of law. For example, a law student could call themself a lawyer, but you wouldn’t necessarily want them drafting your Will!
With the field of law, some lawyers have particular qualifications and are trained and licensed to practice specialist areas of law. Here’s a few of the ones you’re most likely to come across:
Solicitors and legal executives
Solicitors and legal executives are generally the public’s first port of call for legal advice. You’ll typically find them working in an office – although the office can be anywhere from your local high-street to a skyscraper in Canary Wharf.
Solicitors are qualified to advise on all areas of law. However, they tend to specialise in certain areas. Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and must undertake rigorous academic and vocational training to qualify. This vocational training is often known as a training contract (hence someone doing it is known as a ‘trainee solicitor’) and is generally a two year period of working in a number of different areas (‘seats’).
Legal executives (or Chartered Legal Executives as they are formally known) are only qualified to practice certain areas of law (e.g. family or employment). Chartered Legal Executives are governed by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and also undergo rigorous academic and vocational training in order to qualify. Legal executives who have not yet completed their vocational/academic training are known as trainee legal executives.
Barristers are slightly different to solicitors and legal executives. You won’t generally hire a barrister personally; a solicitor would usually do that for you. Barristers are self-employed and generally join what are called chambers (a group of barristers who join forces to share costs and expenses).
Barristers have what are called ‘rights of audience’ which allow them to represent their clients in the higher courts in the UK. Barristers also often advise solicitors on the trickier points of law. There are far fewer barristers in the UK than there are solicitors or legal executives. Barristers are regulated by the Bar Standards Board and they too have to undergo rigorous specialist training before getting a pupillage (their version of vocational training) and obtaining ‘tenancy’ (a permanent position at a chambers).
Licensed conveyancers, paralegals, legal assistants, etc.
There are plenty of other titles given to lawyers which you may come across.
Some, like licensed conveyancers, require training and a qualification. Others, such as paralegals and legal assistants, are used more generally to describe those working in the legal area, but who have no specific legal qualification.
Although they may not have a specific legal qualification, many paralegals and legal assistants have a wealth of experience and knowledge which rivals that of qualified solicitors and legal executives.