So, you need a legal representative for some reason, but you’re not sure who you need? You’ve heard the titles lawyer, solicitor, barrister, and attorney thrown around but never needed to know who they are or what their job title entails. We are here to explore the different titles of lawyer, solicitor, barrister, and attorney and uncover what each do and who you need to talk to!
What is a lawyer?
“Lawyer” is probably the most common legal representative title you have heard. It is a general term used to describe a person who has studied law, completed practical legal training and has been admitted to the Supreme Court. In Australia, any lawyer practicing law or engaging in legal work must have a current practising certificate and must be insured.
Most lawyers will have their practising certificate on display in their office. If you cannot see their certificate and are unsure whether they are qualified to practice law, you can ask to see it.
The role of a lawyer is to listen to your problems, give you legal advice, discuss your options, take instructions on how you want to proceed with a claim and help you to understand how the law applies to your case. When you work with a lawyer, they must:
- Follow instructions you give
- Maintain confidentiality of your case
- Avoid conflicts of interest to your case
- Communicate efficiently and in a timely manner
- Act honestly and in your best interest
- Act with skill and diligence
If your case is taken to court, your lawyer may represent you. In Australia, lawyers can be classified as either a solicitor or a barrister. Depending on your case or legal problem, you may have to deal with a solicitor or barrister, or both.
What is a solicitor?
As mentioned above, “solicitors” are a specialisation of the job title of lawyer. Solicitors only need to be admitted to the Supreme Court of the state or territory they want to practice law in. You can hire a solicitor to assist you with your legal problem and they will take responsibility for the day-to-day management of your case. When you work with a solicitor, you may expect that they can:
- Give you legal advice
- Make telephone calls on your behalf
- Negotiate with other people (or person) involved in your case
- Represent you in court or tribunals
- Prepare documents for your case (such as court forms, wills, contracts)
- Draft letters, emails, and faxes for your case
Solicitors may work in a private law firm, as a sole practice or in a Government or community sector (for example Legal Aid).
What is a barrister?
In contrast to a solicitor, a “barrister” is a lawyer who has been admitted to the Supreme Court of the state they want to practice in and have a practising certificate from the Bar Association in their state. Barristers act as advocates before Courts and Tribunals and work solely in Chambers rather than law firms. When a barrister is admitted to practice, they are sworn in as ‘Officers of the Court,’ in which they play a fundamental role in maintaining the law in Australia’s Government.
Barristers represent people in court and can provide specialist opinions in an area of the law. If you have a complicated legal problem and are required to go to court, your solicitor will refer you to a barrister and instruct them on your case. Your solicitor and barrister may work together to represent you in court and aim to provide you with the best outcome for you.
In the situation where you have a solicitor and barrister working on your case, you may expect to find the solicitor preparing your case for court and your barrister speaking for you at a court hearing. A barrister’s role may include:
- Arguing for your case
- Presenting evidence for your case
- Determining witnesses
- Preparing questions to ask your witness(es)
- Cross-examining the other side’s witness(es)
What is an attorney?
The term ‘Attorney’ is not commonly accepted in Australia. You have probably heard attorney used in American sit-coms but in Australia, if someone mentions an attorney, they are most likely talking about a solicitor or barrister.
You might be asking “is an attorney and a lawyer the same thing?” In the United States, the terms attorney and lawyer are often used interchangeably. To be a lawyer or attorney in the US means that the person has passed the bar exam and has been approved to practice law in their area of jurisdiction.
So, when do I need a Solicitor or Barrister?
The type of lawyer you will need will depend on your legal problem and several other factors. In most cases you will deal with a solicitor first to get legal advice and determine the best course of action for your case. If your case is taken to court, you will engage with a barrister who will legally represent you at court hearings. If you’re unsure where to start, contact Sinnamon Lawyers and we can give you advice on your case and discuss your options with you.