What’s The Difference Between A Lawyer And A Barrister? (Australia)

What’s The Difference Between A Lawyer And A Barrister?In Victoria, as well as Australia as a whole the legal profession boasts a wide array of roles, some of which are just different names for the same thing, while others are completely distinct.

There are two main types of lawyers in Australia: Solicitors and Barristers.

The main difference between a solicitor and a barrister is that barristers specialize in representing clients in higher courts, and are often consulted by solicitors who need specialized advice on complex cases. Solicitors do a wide variety of tasks, they are also highly trained lawyers and form the frontlines of the legal profession in Victora. They’re usually specialized in a particular area such as criminal defence lawyers, family lawyers, and commercial lawyers.

The Different Types Of Lawyers Demystified

Lawyer: This is a general term encapsulating those qualified and admitted to practice law. This broad category includes both solicitors and barristers.

Attorney: This essentially means the same thing as “lawyer”, but it’s the US version of the word which is still quite popular in Australia.

Solicitor: A solicitor is a legal professional who spends most of their time assisting clients in their everyday legal matters and affairs. They are responsible for an array of legal obligations and duties and can provide clients with advice or a plan for handling virtually any legal issue. They can even represent a client in court.

Barrister: Specialized lawyers focusing primarily on courtroom advocacy, barristers provide expert advice, represent clients in higher courts, and are often the choice for solicitors requiring representation for a client in court.

The Differences In Education And Experience

Becoming a solicitor in Victoria requires rigorous academic training, culminating in a law degree. Post-graduation, potential lawyers must acquire practical experience, typically through internships or clerkships. The journey to becoming a barrister, however, involves a few more steps: You must pass the Victorian Bar examination, undergo a readership program, and gain firsthand experience under established barristers. It’s something that only a small portion of lawyers do, and usually much later in their careers once they’ve had many years of experience serving clients.

Different Roles and Responsibilities

Here’s a very clear explanation of the differences from the Queensland Law Society:

Solicitors are highly trained lawyers who look after your interests and can guide you through difficult circumstances. They understand the complexities and consequences of the law and can often find alternatives to your issue that you may not have considered. They have a right of appearance in Court but usually represent clients in the Magistrates Court, briefing barristers in the higher courts.

Barristers are lawyers who specialise in court advocacy, including the preparation of pleadings for those court cases, and the preparation of specialist legal opinions. They don’t prepare wills and contracts, though they do advise on them, nor do they undertake conveyancing.

Barristers Represent Clients In High Courts

Barristers specialize in representing clients in Victoria's higher courts. Solicitors also frequently represent clients in court, but only in the lower courts, they often turn to barristers when faced with complicated court proceedings and when a case goes beyond the lower courts.

Solicitors in Victoria

Solicitors form the frontlines of the legal profession in Victoria. They are the first port of call for individuals and businesses seeking legal counsel. When cases escalate or require specific expertise, solicitors join forces with barristers, ensuring their clients get the best representation possible.

Barristers in Victoria

Barristers are the courtroom maestros of Victoria's legal scene. Unlike solicitors, they operate independently, not tied to any firm, often working within professional spaces known as 'chambers'. Their expertise doesn't come cheap, with their fees typically higher than that of solicitors. In Victoria, the upper echelons of barristers include the Queen’s Counsel (QC), a title reserved for those who have showcased exemplary skills and experience.

Barristers And The ‘Cab Rank Rule’

unlike solicitors who can refuse a client based on ethical or moral reasons, barristers in Victoria are bound by the 'cab rank rule', which obligates them to accept most cases, even those that may be morally or ethically challenging. This rule is a cornerstone of their professional duty, ensuring everyone has access to legal representation.

The Victorian Context

Victoria's legal landscape is a bit different from other Australian states. The state has distinct professional entities, like the Victorian Bar for barristers and the Law Institute of Victoria for solicitors. Victoria maintains a clearer distinction between solicitors and barristers than some other states in Australia, although there's still some overlap in roles.


At Josh Smith Legal, we have both solicitors and barristers on our team. For most clients cases barristers aren’t needed and a solicitor can completely handle most criminal and traffic law matters. However, when a barrister is needed, we can bring in the right one who has the necessary experience, knowledge and insight to assist our clients in getting the best outcome for their case.

If you have a criminal defence or traffic law matter, then contact us on 03 9733 2344 today for a free case evaluation. We’re available 24/7 to assist you with any legal issues you may have.

Resources & Further Reading:

  1. https://www.qls.com.au/For-the-community/You-and-your-solicitor/How-solicitors-and-barristers-differ
  2. https://www.vicbar.com.au/public/about/becoming-barrister/victorian-bar-entrance-exam

Staff Writer

Emma is a staff writer at Josh Smith Legal with a law and arts double degree. She expertly bridges the gap between legal intricacies and clear communication.

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