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What are solicitors, barristers, lawyers and paralegals? A guide

Paralegals

Paralegals are the apprentices of the legal system, usually outnumbering lawyers in firms. Some are younger people at the beginning of their legal career planning to develop their profession; others are happy in their clerical role as lifelong paralegals. They have a strict code of ethics and a regulatory body, which is important because they handle many sensitive documents for court proceedings that have strict protocols on their handling and formatting.

Paralegals are not permitted to practice law, but without them, the practice of law would be nigh impossible. You may, however, talk to a paralegal or submit documents to them, and these are often done in early communications with possible clients, recording the outline of their legal situation before they get directed to an appropriate professional. Paralegals would usually work through a more senior staff member.

Lawyer

In the UK, ‘lawyer’ is an umbrella term that covers anybody who practises law. Therefore, all barristers and solicitors Portsmouth would be considered lawyers whilst paralegals, although they do work very closely with lawyers, would not. Lawyers are licensed to practice a very specific area of law. Licensed conveyancers or licensed will-writers would also not be considered as lawyers, even though they cannot operate outside their very small legal area.

Solicitor

These are the mainstay of legal professionals in the UK. They have a strict code of ethics and a regulatory body to enforce it and are also publicly registered so that you can book up a current status as licensed legal professionals.

They cover the wide scope of law that they advise their clients on, but there is a degree of specialisation (usually family, criminal, conveyancing and probate). However, there are some sub-specialists for common offences like defending those who have been accused of drug charges or causing traffic collisions.

When on duty in police stations, they are the first legal representative that will make contact with the accused and have a formative role in any future case and how the situation may play out. When used in a legal advisory role, they operate more as an insurance policy, helping their clients to avoid any future legal issues, and they can be extremely useful when writing complicated wills or managing difficult cases. They help to avoid any dispute of the inheritance and also tax optimise the estate; this often involves using banks based overseas as well as financial instruments that can be difficult to transfer via inheritance.

They can be responsible for collecting and processing evidence as well as conducting investigations and communicating between all parties as part of their remit in an attempt to avoid court or settle outside court. In minor cases, they can represent their clients during court proceedings but it’s far more likely that they would assist the barrister who would carry out court proceedings.

Barrister

A barrister will directly represent you in court; they are further specialised in the areas of law outside of court. Barristers usually communicate via formal letters and will attempt to mitigate court proceedings. They can also be used in tribunals and have the highest fees for their services.