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Although the terms 'barrister' and 'solicitor' are meaningful in many countries, the UK is one of the few jurisdictions in which there is a strict legal distinction between the two. Until quite recently, only barristers were granted a 'right of audience', entitling them to speak in court on behalf of a client. Now, however, solicitors may also be accorded this right. Nevertheless, the traditional distinction between barrister and solicitor remains clearly defined (even if it is diminishing all of the time).
Generally speaking, the main points distinguishing a barrister from a solicitor in English law are the following:
- Whereas barristers are trained for, and specialize in, courtroom advocacy, solicitors deal with legal matters outside the courts.
- Barristers are not, on the whole, consulted directly by prospective clients; rather, they are 'instructed' by a client's solicitor. However, many organizations (trades unions, professional bodies, etc.) have working relationships with barristers and consult with them directly on matters requiring expert legal opinion.
- Barristers are nearly always self-employed; they work in 'chambers' and pay fees to maintain their supporting staff. Solicitors are often employed by, or are partners in, a corporate-style law firm. Relatively few solicitors are self-employed.