Technically, ‘criminal lawyer’ is a broad term that covers both criminal solicitors and criminal barristers. However, when most people think of a criminal lawyer, they think about a criminal solicitor, as opposed to a criminal barrister. Criminal solicitors work either as a sole practitioner or as part of a firm. The firms are run by principal criminal lawyers or law partners and they employ other criminal solicitors, alongside support staff, to work for them as part of the criminal law firm. Galbally Parker Lawyers is operated by our Principal Lawyer, Ruth Parker, who has in her employ a number of lawyers, paralegals and support staff. When operating a criminal law firm, the criminal solicitors may work together on the same file, so the client has two criminal lawyers working on their matter in conjunction with each other. If the client has a number of criminal matters, the firm may split the matters between lawyers to monitor work flow and avoid lawyers reaching their capacity.

What is a Criminal Solicitor?

Criminal solicitors work on matters from when they first commence. They give advice to people under arrest, they contact the Police for the Brief of Evidence, they analyse the Brief and give legal advice in relation to the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence, as well as the strategy for the criminal case moving forward. Criminal solicitors also appear in Court in the early stages of the proceedings and, often, at administrative hearings during the course of the trial or plea proceedings. Criminal solicitors build up a rapport and relationship with their clients, who will often return to engage them in the future if they need legal advice.

What is a Criminal Barrister?

Criminal barristers are a different but related kind of criminal lawyer. Criminal barristers have a specialty and focus on appearing as an advocate in Court. They are also known as criminal jurists. Their work includes researching case law, providing expert criminal legal opinion and appearing in Court during the more advanced stages of a criminal matter. Often criminal barristers start out as criminal solicitors before applying (or ‘being called’) to go to ‘the bar’. Criminal barristers act as sole practitioners and are not allowed to hire solicitors to work for them and must remain entirely independent from law firms, except in circumstances where they are briefed to appear for a client by a law firm. Criminal barristers work in chambers surrounded by other criminal barristers, but they are all self-employed and (unless they are both briefed to appear in the same case) will not work together on a matter.

 Criminal barristers are specialist advocates whose focus is exclusively in-court work and providing specialist advice in proceedings before the Courts. Criminal solicitors, on the other hand, split their time between giving advice to people under arrest and pending interview, conferring with clients, analysing evidence, appearing in Court and briefing criminal barristers (who are often referred to as Counsel). Criminal barristers can usually only act on the instructions of a criminal solicitor and cannot usually take instructions directly from a client. Accordingly, in order to brief a barrister, a client will need to hire a criminal solicitor first.

What is the Difference Between a Criminal Solicitor & a Criminal Barrister?

The split between criminal lawyers and criminal barristers is inherited from the common law jurisdictions. In the case of Victoria, we inherited the system from England. Criminal barristers can be distinguished by their robes and wigs, custom inherited from the Courts of 19th century England. Criminal solicitors, when appearing in the higher Courts, are also now allowed to be robed in Victoria and wigs are becoming far less common.

The Benefits to Differentiating Between a Criminal Solicitor & a Criminal Barrister?

There are a number of benefits to splitting criminal barristers and criminal solicitors. Briefing a criminal barrister provides an expert and independent second opinion on a case, where the client is undecided about their options. Criminal barristers are specialist advocates, who are specially trained to try and persuade the Courts and juries of their arguments. Prior to commencing work as a criminal barrister, they must complete the Victorian Bar Reader’s Course, which includes a complex entrance examination, before spending a year training under an experienced criminal barrister. When training under an experienced criminal barrister, the trainee is referred to as a ‘reader’ and the barrister is referred to as their ‘leader’.

The reader will often work on cases where their leader is briefed, do research and start appearing in courts as a trainee criminal barrister, starting with more simple matters before progressing (in due course) through to more complex criminal proceedings, including Plea Hearings, Trial and Coronial Inquests. Even as a trainee criminal barrister, a reader must be instructed by a criminal solicitor. By combining the skill sets of both criminal solicitors and criminal barristers, clients are often assured of the best possible result and get the benefit of being properly represented by an experienced criminal solicitor and a criminal barrister particularly in serious and important criminal cases. 

If you are in need of a criminal lawyer, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Galbally Parker Lawyers. We work across a wide range of legal areas, including assault law, family violence offences, workplace crime, and sex offences. Our clients choose us because a person accused of a criminal offence needs a fearless, professional and experienced criminal defence lawyer to represent their interests, whilst showing them compassion and understanding. This is the level of service we provide at Galbally Parker Lawyers.