Lawyer or solicitor – what’s in a name

Ever wondered what the difference is between a lawyer and a solicitor? Of course you have. (Naaa, probably not… but just in case you’re interested, here it is).

There isn’t a lot of practical difference between lawyers and solicitors. In fact, all solicitors are (or at least should be) lawyers. Not all lawyers are solicitors though.

A lawyer is someone who has joined the roll of Australian Lawyers. This is a roll maintained by the Supreme Court in each State of all the people who have qualified to be lawyers. Traditionally this is called “being admitted”. Once you’re admitted, you’re a lawyer. You can stop being a lawyer by being removed from the roll. This doesn’t happen much and is usually the result of someone doing something particularly bad while practicing law.

Just because you’re a lawyer, doesn’t mean you can actually practice law though. To practice law, you must be an ‘Australian legal practitioner’. This means you hold a current Australian practicing certificate. In New South Wales, there are two main types of practicing certificates you can get. One is a practicing certificate allowing you to practice only as a barrister* (issued by the NSW Bar Association) and one is a practicing certificate allowing you to practice law generally (issued by the Law Society of New South Wales). People with the first type are known as barristers and people with the second type are generally known as solicitors.

So, all solicitors are lawyers but not all lawyers are solicitors and some lawyers can’t actually practice law. We call ourselves lawyers, but to be accurate we should say that we are Australian legal practitioners. It’s a bit of a mouthful, though and a pretty ugly name: “Bower Wood Australian Legal Practitioners”.

(And in America, a lawyer is called an attorney)


All barristers are lawyers too. A barrister is a lawyer who spends their time as an advocate, going to court. In some courts they wear wigs and robes, but not always. Solicitors can go to court, but for serious matters, a barrister is usually briefed to appear.