It's not just about what wigs and gowns.
The basic difference
The basic difference between the term 'barrister' and 'solicitor' is that a barrister specialises in particular arears and represents people in court. The solicitor will mainly perform most of the legal work outside court. However, there are exceptions in both cases.
When people talk about going to see their lawyer, it is usually a solicitor. However with the public access rules, some litigants can excuse the services provided by solicitors and consult with the barrister direct.
Many solicitors operate their own offices in locations in towns / cities, can belong to large networks; and are partners servant of the firm they have brought into existence. Whereas most barristers are self-employed, renting offices in chambers where other barristers have tenancies.
Most of the time solicitors advise clients, undertake negotiations and draft legal documents. It is primarily a desk job but does involve travelling to see clients and assisting them in court.
In the past, a solicitor’s advocacy work was restricted to magistrates’ courts (where less serious cases are dealt with) and minor cases in county courts, but now there are a few solicitor advocates who work in higher levels of the court.
Barristers can be visually distinguished from solicitors as they wear a wig and a gown when in court. They mostly work at higher levels of court and advocate in legal hearings. This means they are the ones who stand in court and plead the case before a judge and on your behalf. They also have specialist knowledge of the law and so are often called on to give legal advice.
Barristers do not come into contact with the public as much as solicitors. They are given details of a case by a solicitor (the brief) and then review the evidence and to prepare what they are going to say in court (a pleading).
Most barristers are self-employed and work in chambers with other barristers, so they can share costs of accommodation and administrators. They can also be employed in-house as advisors by banks, corporations, and solicitor’s firms.
A barrister must also take a one-year Bar Professional Training Course in place of the Legal Practice Course, and then they are ‘called to bar’ at one of the four Inns where they do a year’s pupillage shadowing a senior barrister and undertaking some court work.