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Beginner's Guide

What are the different types of lawyer?

updated on 28 January 2021

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 is 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 together in teams and with solicitors, and some solicitors/legal executives spend many hours on their own in a room 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, which may help you to decide.


Solicitors Barristers Chartered legal executives
As of March 2020, there were 148,284 practising solicitors. The total number of solicitors on the roll was 201,186. In 2019 there were 16,982 practising barristers. Of those, 13,434 were self-employed (not including those in dual practice, registered European lawyers or second six pupils). As of May 2020, there were around 20,000 trainee and practising chartered legal executives.
Women make up 49% of all solicitors in law firms. But there are many more men than women at partner level – on average a large firm has 65-70% male partners and only 30-35% women. Women make up around 37% of all practising barristers (ie, 6,389 women compared to 10,465 men). Women make up around 74% of all CILEx members.
People from BAME backgrounds make up 21% of all solicitors, as well as 20% at partner level. BAME individuals make up 14% of all practising barristers (ie, 2,289). BAME individuals make up around 13% of all CILEx members and more than a third of new student 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. Engage more in ongoing advisory and one-to-one client work. 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 Queen’s Counsel (QC) – that is, 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 £20,000. Trainees at regional firms earn around £27,000 while City firms pay much more - from £35,000 upwards. As of 1 January 2020, all pupil barristers must be paid a minimum of £16,322 (outside London) or £18,866 (in London). Many earn much more - upwards of £50,000 in some cases. Starting salaries are usually £15,000 - £28,000 per year while qualifying, while qualified chartered legal executives can expect to earn £35,000 - £55,000, and can earn much higher.