Solicitors and barristers: The differences

The legal profession in Victoria is divided into two distinct branches: solicitors and barristers.

If you need help with a legal matter, your first point of contact will usually be a solicitor. Barristers usually do most of their work in court. Either a solicitor or a barrister can represent you in court. Usually, a solicitor ‘briefs’ a barrister to appear on your behalf in court. However, a barrister may agree to represent you in court without being briefed by a solicitor for limited types of work (e.g. advice and representation in minor criminal cases).

Before being allowed to practise as a barrister in Victoria, a solicitor must pass an entrance exam. They must then complete a nine-month reading period, which provides an opportunity to develop the skills required for their new role. As part of this, they complete a two-month course, which covers advocacy, communication skills, decision-making, practice development, ethics and professional responsibility. They are supervised by a mentor and a senior mentor during their reading period.

Where the term ‘lawyer’ is used in this chapter, it refers to both barristers and solicitors. Reference to either a ‘barrister’ or a ‘solicitor’ means only that branch of the profession, not all lawyers.

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