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.

Comparison chart

Lawyer versus Solicitor comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartLawyerSolicitor
Practice This comparison does not apply to the United States, where the term "solicitor" is not used. The terms "lawyer" and "attorney" mean the same thing. A Lawyer must graduate from law school and must be licensed to practice law. Must be admitted to the ‘roll’ to be able to practice and registered as a solicitor on the Law Society register of Solicitors.
Regulated by State Bar Association (U.S.) By the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Role Represents individuals or entities in civil or criminal matters including litigation. A solicitor can prosecute and defend litigation in the UK County courts and (with appropriate accreditation) can do this in the High Court too, with or without counsels advice.
Legal status Must be licensed to practice law by the state and/or federal courts. It is an offence to portray yourself as a solicitor if you are not a solicitor, hence the creation of the term 'lawyer'.
Definition One who is licensed to practice law. A solicitor is a qualified person who represents and advises his clients. Can advocate in court (with the due accreditation) and usually specialises in a certain area of law. It is an offence to call yourself a solicitor if you are not one.
Region wise In the US, a ‘lawyer’ is a general term for anyone licensed to practice law. The term Solicitor is mainly used in UK, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and some parts of the US.
Public A Lawyer can give legal advice and can represent individuals or entities in legal matters. A Solicitor deals directly with the public or a corporation and can advise legally.
Qualifications after receiving a bachelor's degree, must attend 3 years of law school, generally must pass a standardized bar exam, and be found fit to practice law by the state and/or federal court in which the lawyer practices 3 year Under-graduate degree, 12 month Legal Practice Course (LPC) and 2 year apprenticeship known as a Training Contract.

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.

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:

Qualifications of a Solicitor vs. a Lawyer

Porträt eines Notars aka Painting of a civil law notary by Quentin Massys
Porträt eines Notars aka Painting of a civil law notary by Quentin Massys

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.

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.

Video Explaining the Differences

For an example of the differences between lawyers, solicitors, and barristers in countries that differentiate between these professions, watch the video below regarding the Australian legal system.


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