Once upon a time, the distinction between a solicitor – the kind of attorney who does routine out-of-court work on behalf of a client, and a barrister – a courtroom attorney, seemed rather clearer. Today, however, solicitors often go to court and many law firms simply refer to individuals who practice law as lawyers or attorneys, without drawing a distinction between courthouse and non-courthouse functions.
How can someone in need of legal representation know what to do?
Briefly, the answer is to hire a lawyer with a strong reputation and specialized expertise in the appropriate area – tax, family law, criminal law or other subject. That expert may describe himself or herself as primarily a solicitor. Then ask your solicitor if it would be worthwhile to hire a barrister for particular aspects of the case.
Beyond the Myth of the Courtroom Clash
Courtroom drama to the contrary, most legal disputes are resolved through negotiation and settlement rather than litigation. It is generally better and cheaper for the client, and it is where solicitors shine. Solicitors typically:
• Manage the overall progress of the legal matter;
• Draft court documents and letters for clients;
• Handle email and telephone communications;
• Conduct out-of-court negotiations; and
• Where necessary, advise and instruct barristers on behalf of the client.
When Might a Barrister be Helpful?
Many solicitors are comfortable and well-prepared to handle litigation within their area of specialty. This is often the case with Family Law matters. However, a solicitor might recommend calling in the services of a barrister where:
• The case deals with a particularly complex area of the law where additional expertise and perspective may be helpful;
• If it will involve a trial; or
• In particularly hotly contested situations.
An attempt to settle the case will generally continue even as trial preparations are underway, and both solicitor and barrister will continue to be involved. It is thus often a collective effort rather than the substitution of a barrister for the original solicitor. As such, it is likely to involve additional cost. Although a solicitor may recommend involving a barrister, the decision about whether or not to retain additional services always rests with the client.
How do I Hire the Right Lawyer?
Ultimately, the question of when and whether to hire a barrister is another variation of the question, “How do I hire a good lawyer?”
The best approach is to rely on personal references, professional reputation, publications and the recommendations of bar associations and legal societies about particular areas of expertise and specialty. You should interview a lawyer or a law firm as you would any other professional you were considering hiring. Ask questions, talk to several, and interview like a boss.
At Owen Hodge Lawyers, we would be happy to meet with you to discuss your legal concerns and the services we can offer. Please call us at 1800 780 770 to schedule a consultation.
At Owen Hodge Lawyers, we always strive to provide you with the best legal advice and guidance – no matter your issue. We specialise in a range of law matters, and have a blog that offers in-depth and comprehensive articles on topics such as the difference between a barrister vs solicitor, the termination of leases, criminal law and much more.