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Beginner's Guide

What are the different types of lawyer?

updated on 29 August 2023

One of the key questions to ask yourself is what type of lawyer you want to be. For many, that’ll mean deciding between becoming a solicitor (private practice or in-house) 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 or business 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 your school grades, key interests and career aspirations. Over the page is a brief guide with some key facts that may help you to decide which branch is best suited to you, including the number of practising lawyers and an overview of some of the profession’s diversity stats and salaries.

For more information on diversity in the legal profession, visit LawCareers.Net’s Diversity hub, sponsored by Gowling WLG (UK) LLP.

Solicitors Barristers Chartered legal executives

As of June 2023, there were 161,623 practising solicitors.

In 2022, there were 17,538 practising barristers. Of those, 13,926 were self-employed.

As of December 2022, there were around 18,000 trainees and practising chartered legal executives.

Just over 60% of solicitors attended a state school with 20% attending selective state schools.

In 2022, 33.5% of barristers attended an independent (private) school in the UK, compared to just 7% of the wider British population.

CILEX reports that 73% of its members attended non-selective state-run or state-funded schools.

People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds make up 18% of all solicitors, and 17% at partner level.

People from ethnic minority backgrounds make up 16.3% of all practising barristers (ie, 2,641).

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

Mostly employed in private law firms or in-house, so receive a regular monthly salary.

Mostly self-employed, so receive irregular (but often substantial) fees.

Mostly employed in private law firms or in-house, so receive a 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.

Chambers and court-based. Engage more in one-off advocacy (ie, court cases).

Office-based, although have some of the same rights of audience as solicitors. Engage more in ongoing advisory and one-to-one client work.

Some solicitors aspire to become partner – that is, part ownership of firm and entitlement to a percentage of its profits.

Aspire to become King's Counsel – a top barrister, normally instructed in 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 around £22,000. Trainees at regional firms earn around £27,000 while City firms pay from £35,000 to as much as £65,000 for second-year trainees.

As of 1 January 2023, all pupil barristers must be paid a minimum of £18,884 (outside London) or £20,703 (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.