updated on 27 September 2019
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 some, 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. The term ‘lawyer’ applies to all three. However, there are key differences. Some say that it comes down to whether you are an individual (barrister) or a team player (solicitor/legal executive). 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, in reality the situation is less black and white. Barristers are often involved in teamwork 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 mid include school grades, your key interests and financial circumstances. Here is a brief guide with some key facts, which may help you to decide.
|Solicitors||Barristers||Chartered legal executives|
|As of May 2019, there were 146,046 practising solicitors. The total number of solicitors on the roll was 195,334.||As of July 2018, there were 16,598 practising barristers. Of those, 13,171 were self-employed (not including those in dual practice, registered European lawyers or second six pupils).||As of May 2019, there were around 20,000 trainee and practising chartered legal executives.|
|Women make up around 48% of the profession. However, many fewer women than men are currently at partner level – an average split in private practice is 67% male partners compared to 33% female.||Women made up around 37% of all practising barristers (ie, 6,158 women compared to 10,348 men).||Women make up around 74% of CILEx members.|
|BAME individuals make up 21% of all solicitors, as well as 20% at partner level.||BAME individuals make up 14% of all practising barristers (ie 2,146).||BAME individuals make up around 13% 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.||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.||Chambers and court-based.||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.||Engage more in one-off advocacy (ie, court cases).||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 September 2019, all pupil barristers must be paid a minimum of £15,728 (outside London) or £18,436 (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 chartered legal executives can expect to earn £35,000 - £55,000, and can earn much higher.|