There are subtle differences in many jurisdictions between a solicitor and a lawyer. The epithet "lawyer" can be used more loosely by practitioners than the title of solicitor.
edit Definition of Lawyer and Solicitor
The word ‘lawyer’ is a generic term for a member of the legal profession. In England and Wales lawyers are either solicitors or barristers. Generally speaking the lawyer one sees for any personal legal matter (a will, a divorce, to make a claim against an employer, to set up a company etc) is a solicitor. A barrister comes into play if a case needs to go to the higher courts. In America and many other countries the legal profession is not split into two. Thus, the same lawyer performs all the legal tasks. In the US, he is mostly known as the Attorney.
edit Role of a Lawyer vs. Solicitor
In the English legal system, solicitors have traditionally dealt with any legal matter apart from conducting proceedings in courts, except for some minor cases. The other branch of the English legal profession, a barrister, has traditionally carried out the advocacy functions. This has now altered, as ‘solicitor advocates’ may act at certain higher levels of court which were previously barred to them. Several countries that originally had two or more legal professions have now fused or united their professions into a single type of lawyer. A lawyer is usually permitted to carry out all or nearly all responsibilities listed below:
- Oral argument in the courts – Traditionally it is the responsibility of a barrister to argue a client's case before a judge or jury in a court of law in England. However, the boundary between barristers and solicitors has evolved. Today the barrister covers only appellate courts, and he may contest directly with solicitors in many trial courts. In countries that have a fused legal profession, like the United States, there are trial lawyers who specialize in trying cases in court, but trial lawyers do not have a monopoly like barristers.
- Research and drafting of court papers – Mostly, before the proceedings of the case start, a lawyer is expected to brief the court in writing on the issues in a case. For oral argument they may have to perform extensive research into relevant facts and law. In England, solicitor gets the facts of the case from the client and briefs a barrister in writing. It is the latter who then researches, drafts, and files the necessary court pleadings, and orally argues the case.
- Advocacy (written and oral) in administrative hearings - In most developed countries, the legislature has granted original jurisdiction over highly technical matters to executive branch administrative agencies which oversee such things. As a result, some lawyers have become specialists in administrative law. In the United States, lawyers have been effectively barred by statute from certain types of administrative hearings in order to preserve their informality.
- Client intake and counseling (with regard to pending litigation) - In England, only solicitors were traditionally in direct contact with the client. A lawyer may or may not have direct contact with the client.
- Legal advice (with regard to all legal matters) - Legal advice is the application of abstract principles of law to the concrete facts of the client's case in order to advise the client about what they should do next. In many countries, only a licensed lawyer is allowed to provide legal advice to clients. In some other places, jurists who hold law degrees are allowed to provide legal advice to individuals or to corporations, and holding a license isn’t a pre condition.
- Protecting intellectual property - In almost all countries, patents, trademarks, industrial designs and other forms of intellectual property must be formally registered with a government agency in order to receive maximum protection under the law. The division of such work among lawyers, licensed non-lawyer jurists/agents or solicitors varies greatly from one country to the next.
- Negotiating and drafting contracts - In some countries, the negotiating and drafting of contracts is considered to be similar to the provision of legal advice, so that it is subject to the licensing requirement explained above.
- Conveyancing - Conveyancing is the drafting of the documents necessary for the transfer of real property, such as deeds and mortgages. In some jurisdictions, all real estate transactions must be carried out by a lawyer or a solicitor where that distinction still exists.
- Carrying out the intent of the deceased - In many countries, only lawyers have the legal authority to do drafting of wills, trusts, and any other documents that ensure the efficient disposition of a person's property after death. In the United States, the estates of the deceased must be administered by a court through probate.
- Prosecution and defense of criminal suspects - In many civil law countries, prosecutors are law-trained jurists, i.e. they’re trained in various aspects of the judiciary. In common law countries, prosecutors are lawyers who may be working for the government offices that files cases against suspects. Criminal defense lawyers specialize in the defense of those charged with any crimes.
edit Qualifications of a Solicitor vs. a Lawyer
The most common qualification to be a solicitor is a normal undergraduate law degree, after that solicitors study a one year course called the Legal Practice Course and then must undertake two years apprenticeship with a solicitor, called the training contract (but still widely referred to as articles). Once that is complete, the student becomes a solicitor and is admitted to the roll. The 'roll' is a list of people qualified to be a solicitor and is kept on behalf of the 'Master of the Rolls', who is also the head of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.
The educational prerequisites to becoming a lawyer vary greatly from country to country. In some countries, law is taught by a faculty of law, which is a department of a university's general undergraduate college. Law students in those countries pursue a Master or Bachelor of Lawsdegree which is often followed by a series of advanced examinations, apprenticeships, and additional coursework at special government institutes. In the US, law is primarily taught at law schools which award graduating students a J.D. (Juris Doctor/Doctor of Jurisprudence).
For admission into a law school a bachelor's degree is a prerequisite. Some jurisdictions grant a "diploma privilege" to certain institutions, so that merely earning a degree or credential from those institutions is the primary qualification for practicing law. However, in a large number of countries, a law student must pass a bar examination (or a series of such examinations) before receiving a license to practice. Some countries also require a formal apprenticeship with an experienced practitioner.
edit Regulation for solicitors and lawyers
Solicitors in England and Wales are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, an independently administered branch of the Law Society of England and Wales. Solicitors must also pay the Law Society of England and Wales a practising fee each year in order to keep practising. If they do not do this they are 'non-practising' and may not give legal advice to the public although they can start practising again at will, unlike those who have been struck off the roll. In common law countries with divided legal professions, barristers traditionally belong to the bar council (or an Inn of Court) and solicitors belong to the law society.
In the English-speaking world, the largest mandatory professional association of lawyers is the State Bar of California, with 200,000 members. Regulation of both barristers and solicitors is now being reviewed by the Ministry of Justice. In the case of a lawyer, some jurisdictions, either the judiciary or the Ministry of Justice directly supervises the admission, licensing, and regulation of lawyers while some others have granted such powers to a professional association which all lawyers must belong to. In the US, such associations are known as mandatory, integrated or unified bar associations. Generally, a non member caught practicing law may be liable for the crime of unauthorized practice of law.
Some countries admit and regulate lawyers at the national level, so that a lawyer, once licensed, can argue cases in any court in the land for example New Zealand, Japan, and Belgium. Others, especially those with federal governments, tend to regulate lawyers at the state or provincial level; this is the case in the United States, Canada, Australia and Switzerland to name a few. Some countries grant licenses to non-resident lawyers, who may then appear regularly on behalf of foreign clients. Others require all lawyers to live in the jurisdiction or to even hold national citizenship as a prerequisite for receiving a license to practice.