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Lawyer vs Barrister vs Solicitor: What's the difference in Canada?

Law terms can be confusing. There are so, so many of them, and many mean almost the same thing. That is the case when it comes to Lawyer and Barrister and Solicitor, as well. So, let’s break it down and see if you come out of this less confused (but we're not confident you will).

What is the difference between Lawyer, Barrister, and Solicitor in Canada?

To put it very simply, barristers and solicitors are lawyers. These terms are significant in the UK where practicing lawyers are divided by their training and the type of work that they do. In Canada, though, all lawyers are licensed to be both barristers and solicitors, so there is really no difference. Confusing, right?

So then, why have two terms at all?

In the UK, barristers and solicitors undergo different training. A solicitor is a lawyer that deals most with the public and matters in the lower courts, whereas a barrister is qualified to work in higher levels of court and typically doesn’t communicate with the public. Instead, a barrister gets the details of a case from a solicitor. They’re the ones who wear a wig and a gown in court.

A cartoon horse wears a barrister wig, with the caption: Did you know? Barrister wigs are made from horsehair ow, but "back in the day" people would take hair off of humans corpses to make these wigs!

Since lawyers in Canada can be both barristers and solicitors, most legal professionals who use these titles use both together, “Barrister & Solicitor.” These titles are more commonly used by someone who has a general law practice in which they work in many areas of law. However, there are still some legal professionals who define themselves only as one or the other.

Then what do these terms mean in Canada?

Barrister

A barrister focuses on matters that could end up in a court room. They represent clients in court, arbitration, or mediation, as well as do all of the related out of court work.

A British cartoon judge in robe and wig stands holding a gavel, with the caption: Fun Fact: A judge's full length wig can cost more than $3000, while the shorter ones worn by barristers cost more than $500.

Solicitor

A solicitor focuses on matters outside of the court room, like assisting with transactions or drafting contracts or wills.

Think of it like this: a solicitor does the legal work to facilitate transactions or prevent legal issues from happening, and a barrister helps when you are involved in a legal issue that could foreseeably end up in court but will still hopefully prevent it from ending up in court.

So, since some lawyers focus their practice only on areas of law that stay out of court, like the signing of Wills, they may choose to use the title Solicitor alone. Others, who focus mainly on work inside the courtroom, could choose to use the term Barrister alone, but more commonly call themselves Litigators. Makes sense?

A young person looks confused while a chat bubble floats above him with the comment "No, I am still confused."

If you’re now wondering about the term Attorney and why it’s been left out of this post, it is because Attorney, which is just yet another word for lawyer, is not used in Canada except for in the case of a specific title, like Attorney General.

Long Story Short…

The terms Barrister and Solicitor have stuck around from when we were part of the British Commonwealth. Nowadays, instead of distinguishing themselves by “in court” or “out of court”, it is more common for lawyers to specialize in an area of the law, like personal injury law or family law, and do both litigation and solicitor work within their specialization. Instead of using either the title of Barrister or Solicitor or Barrister & Solicitor, most lawyers now just use the term lawyer.

One More Fun Fact!

A barrister wearing an old-looking wig can be seen holding a smelly sock.

Barristers will do crazy things to make their wigs look fashionably old – so washing them? OUT of the question!  They stamp them, kick them in the dirt and even let good ol’ Rover use as a chew toy in order to “wear it in”.  Basically, the grubbier it is, the more experienced you appear.

If you need a lawyer (or a barrister or solicitor), try our search!

Author
Lawggle Admin

Lawggle Admin is a regular contributor to Lawggle.