Back to overview

Beginner's Guide

What are the different types of lawyer?

updated on 20 September 2022

One of the key questions to ask yourself is what type of lawyer you want to be. For many, that will mean deciding between becoming a solicitor or a barrister. For others, the option to ‘earn while you learn’ as a chartered legal executive will appeal.

Simply put, a barrister appears in court, while a solicitor or chartered legal executive works in a law firm. All three are ‘lawyers’. However, there are key differences. The stereotype is that barristers are individualists while solicitors and legal executives are team players. But while it’s true that a barrister is almost always self-employed and a solicitor/legal executive may be in a law firm of thousands of people, the reality is more complicated. Barristers often work with each other and with solicitors, and some solicitors/legal executives spend many hours on their own drafting documents.

Deciding which career path would suit you best could be a challenge – factors to bear in mind include school grades, your key interests and financial circumstances. Over the page is a brief guide with some key facts that may help you to decide.

Solicitors Barristers Chartered legal executives

As of June 2022, there were 156,518 practising solicitors.

In 2021, there were 17,263 practising barristers. Of those, 13,622 were self-employed.

As of March 2022, there were around 20,000 trainee and practising chartered legal executives.

Women make up 52% of all solicitors and partners in law firms. But there are many more men than women at partner level, with women making up 35% of partners.

Women make up around 38% of all practising barristers (ie, 6,624 women compared to 10,437 men).

Women make up around 76% of all CILEX members.

People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds make up 17% of all solicitors, as well as 16% at partner level.

People from ethnic minority backgrounds make up 14% of all practising barristers (ie, 2,506).

People from ethnic minority backgrounds make up around 16% of all CILEX members.

Mostly employed in private law firms, so receive regular monthly salary.

Mostly self-employed, so receive irregular (but often substantial) fees. The early years can be hard.

Mostly employed in private law firms or in-house, so receive regular monthly salary.
Work mainly with individuals, companies and barristers. Work mainly with solicitors and other barristers. Work mainly with solicitors and individuals.

Office-based, although have some rights of audience (ie, can appear in court like barristers). Engage more in ongoing advisory and one-to-one client work. Many firms have introduced ‘hybrid’ working policies.

Chambers and court-based. Engage more in one-off advocacy (ie, court cases). Office-based, although they have some of the same rights of audience as solicitors. Engage more in ongoing advisory and one-to-one client work.
Aspire to become partner – that is, part-ownership of firm and entitlement to a percentage of its profits. Aspire to become KC – a top barrister, normally instructed in very serious and complex cases. Should they choose to do so, legal executives can go on to become coroners, judges or partners.
Trainee salaries vary widely. A small firm could pay first-year trainees £22,000. Trainees at regional firms earn around £27,000 while City firms pay from £35,000 to much, much more.

As of 1 January 2022, all pupil barristers must be paid a minimum of £17,152 (outside London) or £19,144 (in London). Many earn much more – upwards of £50,000 in some cases.

Starting salaries are usually between £15,000 and £28,000 per year while qualifying, while qualified chartered legal executives can expect to earn between £35,000 and £55,000, and can earn much higher.