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You say tomayto, I say tomahto … but a solicitor and a barrister really aren’t two words for the same thing. Nevertheless, I find that clients are often confused with the difference between barristers and solicitors and at what point they need the services of each.
In brief, barristers only see clients at court. They are typically the client’s mouthpiece at court, whereas solicitors are often more office-based, and handle the file without speaking on the client’s behalf at court. In broad terms, the solicitor prepares the case and the barrister presents it.
Where necessary, though, we solicitors typically try and represent clients at many court hearings. Not only can this be cheaper than engaging a barrister; it also ensures that a single person – who understands the file, and has had contact with you throughout – continues representing you and promoting your case at the highest level.
In divorce proceedings, we instruct barristers (otherwise known as counsel) for final hearings. Unless the matter was agreed and the parties are simply arguing over one issue, barristers are best placed to argue your case more efficiently at a final hearing: they are in Court every day and know how the particular judges prefer arguments to be phrased – and indeed what the outcome is likely to be. Their specialist advice is invaluable.
We sometimes instruct barristers at other financial hearings if the matter is complex, but ordinarily it is more cost-effective for these to be carried out by solicitors.
Family Proceedings: When Do You Need A Barrister?
I often represent clients at child hearings. This includes the final hearing, especially ones based on submissions only. In other words, where a final hearing only hears lengthy and persuasive arguments from solicitors in order to determine the case, I will represent the client.
If the final hearing is a contested hearing, however, there wil be witnesses to be questioned. In these cases I advise instructing a barrister to question the witnesses as they have more experience in questioning – and in persuading the judge or magistrate to agree with their arguments.
If we deem it best to instruct a barrister to represent you, their fees can vary according to their level of seniority and the length of the hearing. I have contacts with many sets of chambers – the word we use to refer to the offices of barristers – and will guarantee that we instruct a barrister who will fit your budget.
I will represent most of my clients at court if possible and practicable and I pride myself on providing valuable service for clients. It can be cheaper if I represent you throughout, and this also allows for continuity and saves time and expense in briefing the barrister beforehand; but in some cases the barrister’s particular skills are essential.
So – it’s more than tomayto/tomahto. On the other hand, I qualified as a barrister originally – so sometimes it is about using a different word for the same person! The law, as you well know, is a complicated business. So if you require representation for any family matter, or simply need some advice, do feel free to call me on 02476 531532.
Melanie Davis (née Timms)