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A lawyer is a professional with a law degree and licences to provide you with legal services or represent you in court. In New Zealand and the UK, a lawyer is known as a solicitor or a barrister, while in other countries like the US, they are called an attorney. A solicitor will be your first point of contact when you need legal advice on an issue, or help to draft a contract, protect your intellectual property, assist with your business sale amongst other matters. When you have a more complex legal problem, your solicitor might instruct a barrister to appear in court on your behalf. This article explains the differences between each of these terms.

What Is a Lawyer?

A lawyer is a professional who can provide you with legal advice or represent you in court. In doing so, they must protect your rights. 

To practice law, a lawyer has to obtain a legal qualification, generally either a Bachelor of Laws undergraduate degree or Juris Doctor postgraduate degree and apply for admission to the roll of Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court of New Zealand. The legal profession in New Zealand is subject to strict regulations, so a lawyer has to maintain a current practising certificate issued by the New Zealand Law Society. They must also complete many legal training modules throughout their career before they can assist clients without supervision. In New Zealand, a lawyer is generally admitted as a barrister and solicitor, meaning that they can practice as both. 

What Is a Solicitor?

You may know a solicitor (or barrister) as your lawyer. Your solicitor is typically your first point of contact when you are seeking legal advice. They work in a private practice, as a sole practitioner, in a regional firm, or, sometimes, in-house for companies or government. Some of their day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • providing you with legal advice;
  • helping you understand your legal obligations as a business owner;
  • assisting your business with compliance; 
  • drafting your contracts and other legal documents such as wills; and 
  • helping your business with sales and purchases.

Some solicitors can also help you with settling a dispute and appear in court on your behalf. However, they may engage a specialist barrister to assist in matters that go to court. 

What Is a Barrister?

Where a court matter involves a more complex legal problem, your solicitor might request a specialist barrister to appear in court for you. In New Zealand, most solicitors also appear in court as barristers, so they can perform the same duties. However, some lawyers are admitted to the court only as barristers (called a “barrister sole”). These barristers do not perform the duties of a solicitor and are court specialists. Often, these barristers will not accept direct instructions from the public, meaning your solicitor will need to engage one on your behalf. 

A barrister is a law expert with sound knowledge of the rules of evidence and court procedure. You can think of it as a specialist doctor. They provide expert legal advice in specific areas of law. Some of their day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • determining the appropriate strategy and arguments to present in court; and
  • providing advice on matters of law within their expertise, either verbally or in writing.

Barristers operate as independent legal practitioners and may sometimes share chambers with other barristers in the same building. However, barristers must remain independent when providing legal advice and avoid the influence of other loyalties other than their duty to the court. Therefore, they generally do not work for a firm or in partnership with other barristers. 

What Is an Attorney?

In New Zealand, the term ‘attorney’ is typically used in the context of an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA). An EPA gives someone you trust, such as a family member or friend, the power to look after your health and welfare. This is useful if you are unable due to illness, an accident or an age-related disease. 

However, in other countries such as the US, an attorney is a lawyer that can practice law in a particular jurisdiction. In Australia, this term refers to trademark attorneys. For example, a patent attorney is someone who has further qualifications in a field of patentable technology, generally science or engineering.

Key Takeaways 

The word lawyer is a generic term that refers to both a solicitor and a barrister in countries like New Zealand and the UK. Your solicitor is the first person you talk to when you need legal advice. 

A barrister is a specialist lawyer with sound knowledge of the rules of evidence and court procedure. Barristers come into the picture when legal matters go (or might go) to court. In New Zealand, because many lawyers are both solicitors and barristers, your solicitor might conduct all the legal activities in a court case – from advising you to representing you in court. However, if you are involved in litigation, a solicitor might advise you to engage a specialist barrister to represent you in court or provide independent advice on your case. Typically, the solicitor will engage and deal with the barrister on your behalf. 

If you need legal advice on a business issue or need help to deal with a dispute, LegalVision’s business lawyers can help. Call 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the two main types of lawyers?

In New Zealand, most lawyers start practising as a solicitor after admission to practice, but they can also act as a barrister and represent you in court on complex matters that many solicitors do not deal with.

What are small business lawyers and do you need one?

As a small business, you may need a lawyer to help you with your setup business tasks, such as ensuring compliance with local regulations;  incorporating your limited liability company; choosing between business structures or registering a trade mark; and day-to-day legal matters such as drafting contracts or shareholder agreements. They can also help you settle a dispute with an employee or another business.

What is the role of a solicitor?

You may know a solicitor as your lawyer, as they are typically your first point of contact when seeking legal advice. They can provide you with legal advice about your rights and obligations, assist your business with compliance, draft your contracts and other legal documents such as wills or help you complete a business sale or purchase.

Is a barrister the same as a lawyer?

A barrister is a type of lawyer. A barrister is a lawyer with specialist knowledge of the rules of evidence and court procedure. They can provide you with specialist legal advice in specific areas of law and help you run a dispute with another business through court (or settle it). In New Zealand, it is not uncommon for solicitors to perform many of the duties of a barrister, because most lawyers are admitted as barristers and solicitors. There are, however, specialist barristers who are not solicitors. Depending on your issue, your solicitor may recommend engaging one of these specialists in your matter.

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