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  • Writer's pictureShaun Pascoe

Differences Between a Criminal Lawyer and Barrister

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Are you confused about the roles of criminal barristers and criminal lawyers in Melbourne?

Whilst both are ‘criminal lawyers’ there are some differences between the two professions that are briefly outlined in this short article.

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Solicitors Working in Criminal Law

In Victoria, a lawyer who has completed their law degree and all practical training requirements is admitted to practice law as either a barrister or solicitor. Each profession (solicitor and barrister) are equally important and perform complementary roles in our criminal justice system.

Further training (theory and practical) is required for a legal practitioner to specialize as a barrister as because barristers are often engaged to run complex trials in the superior courts or are briefed to undertake appellate work where in-depth knowledge of evidence and criminal procedure is important.

Solicitors work in a variety of fields: community legal sector, private practice or the government. The work carried out by solicitors will involve providing advice to their clients, and court representation.

Experienced criminal solicitors may operate as principals of their own firm or may have advanced through the ranks to the position of director or partner of a law firm.

Criminal solicitors operate as employees of a law practice/government organization/community legal service, or they are owners or have equity in a law practice (often designated by the title of Principal, Partner or Director).

Solicitors tend to be an accused person’s first point of contact. Initial instructions are provided by the client to the solicitor for advice and or representation at Court.

In Victoria, solicitors who provide court representation are often referred to as solicitor advocates and it is commonplace to find criminal solicitors appearing for a variety of contested and non-contested criminal cases in the Magistrates’ Court jurisdiction.

That said, solicitors can and often do represent clients in the superior courts also. Where a case is particularly complex and may potentially go to trial, a solicitor will consider briefing a barrister to provide their skill and expertise as a court advocate.

In such circumstances, the defence team for the criminal proceeding will comprise an instructing solicitor and barrister.

Barristers Working in Criminal Law

Barristers are not employees of an existing law firm but operate as independent contractors. The work of a barrister is usually managed by a barrister’s clerk. The role of the clerk is to assign work to a barrister upon a briefing request from a solicitor.

A barrister’s work comes about because of being briefed by a solicitor to appear at Court on behalf of the solicitor’s client. Barristers are typically briefed because of their experience in advocacy and mastery of evidence, particularly in the superior courts (County and Supreme) where complex issues of evidence often arise.

Some barristers have years of experience running trials in a particular area of criminal law (for example historical sex offences or white-collar crime) and are briefed so that the client receives the benefit of their skill and expertise in the barrister’s niche area.

As discussed, above, whereas criminal solicitor advocates operate in the Magistrates’ Court jurisdiction, criminal barristers are frequently briefed by solicitors to appear in contested (trials) and uncontested (pleas of guilty) work in the County and Supreme Court.

Consultation with a Solicitor is the Starting Point

If you are facing a criminal offence and require advice and court representation, the first step is to consult with a criminal lawyer in Melbourne to discuss your options and determine the best course of action for your case.

An experienced criminal law solicitor will advise you if the complexity of your work is such that a barrister should be used. If a particular case is complex and cannot be heard and determined in the Magistrates’ Court a barrister should be briefed, as their advocacy experience in the superior courts will often be critical to achieving a good outcome.

Obviously, whether a barrister is retained, and the seniority of the barrister to be briefed are the subject of discussions, and budgetary constraints.

Final Thoughts on the Differences Between a Criminal Lawyer and Barrister

In summary, solicitors and barristers that practice in our criminal justice system have different but complementary roles. If you're facing criminal charges, you'll need an experienced criminal defence lawyer, preferably an accredited specialist in criminal law.

Pascoe Criminal Law offers a free initial case assessment, and fixed fees for representation at Court. If you intend to secure the best outcome for your situation, simply call our office on (03) 9668 7600 or book an appointment through our website.


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Call us for urgent expert advice (03) 9668 7600

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