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Beginner's Guide

What are the different types of lawyer?

updated on 29 May 2020

A key question to ask yourself is what type of lawyer you want to be. For many, that means deciding between becoming a solicitor or a barrister. For others, the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’ as a chartered legal executive is the right choice.

Solicitors, barristers and legal executives are all lawyers, but their roles are different. Solicitors work in law firms, companies and other organisations. Barristers argue cases in court - they are usually self-employed but most choose to work together in chambers. Legal executives work in law firms and companies just like solicitors, but they are usually trained in a single area of law.

Traditionally, barristers have been seen as individualists while solicitors and legal executives are seen as team players. But although 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 much more mixed. 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 mind include school grades, your key interests and financial circumstances. These key facts may help you 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.