Lawyers, Advocates, Attorneys, and Solicitors etc – Know The Difference

Lawyer, advocate, solicitor, and barrister

Author’s Note

Do you know the exact difference between a lawyer, advocate, barrister, solicitor, and attorney etc?

They are not teaching this in law schools. Learn to use the term correctly with Lawbriefcase.

The post focuses on the difference between lawyer, attorney, advocate, barrister, and solicitor. It defines the terms and also intends to clarify the meanings in different countries. It provides the readers with a clear perspective on the duties of each of the terms mentioned according to its jurisdiction.

Table of Contents

  1. Umbrella Term – Lawyer
  2. Who are Advocates?
  3. Attorney
  4. Barristers irrelevant in India
  5. Solicitors and Articled Clerks

Umbrella Term – Lawyer

The usage of the term lawyer is universal.

A lawyer is defined as “A person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel, or solicitor; a person licensed to practice law”.[1] It basically denotes anybody and everybody who is pursuing or practicing law.

So, even if you have just gained admission into law school or begun studying law, do not hesitate to call yourself a lawyer.

In fact, no Indian statute uses the word “lawyer”.

There are different types of lawyers such as advocates, solicitors, attorneys etc.

Who are Advocates?

An Advocate is defined as “One who assists, defends or pleads for another. One who renders legal advice and aid and pleads the cause of another before a court or a tribunal, a counselor. A person learned in the law, and duly admitted to practice, who assists his client with advice, and pleads for him in open court”. [4]

However, the word Advocate is defined in the Indian law. So, we will stick to the legal definition.

To be an Advocate you must be enrolled in a State Bar Council. The Advocates Act, 1961 talks about enrollment of an Advocate in a State Bar Council under Section 29. It recognizes Advocates as the only class entitled to practice law in India[2].

And Section 33 of Advocates Act, 1961 prohibits everyone who is not enrolled as an Advocate from practicing law in every court in India.

Section 33 states that:

“Except as otherwise provided in this Act or any other law for the time being in force, no person shall, on or after the appointed day, be entitled to practice in any court or before any authority or person unless he is enrolled as an advocate under this Act.”

Attorney

The usage of the word “Attorney” is not very prevalent in India unlike the USA. Attorney is derived from French which means “one appointed or constituted”.

The only times we hear this word in India are when we talk about the Attorney-General of India, Power of Attorney or may be in US based TV series or movies.

But do you ever wonder why advocates in India never address themselves as Attorneys? Or

Why do we have an Attorney-General of India when we already have an Advocate-General to advise the government?

Well the answer to this would be the influence of our British counterpart on our legal and political system. Many refer to the Indian Constitution as a borrowed document with many provisions and principles being borrowed from various nations. In a similar fashion, since there is an Attorney-General in the UK, who is responsible for giving legal advice to the Crown, in India, the same principle was accepted but with certain variations.

Now because the office of legal advisor to the Crown and Parliament is known as the Attorney-General, similarly in India the legal advisor to the President and the Union Government is known as the Attorney-General of India (AGI) mentioned under Article 76 of the Constitution of India.

Now, because we also have Advocate-Generals in India, this concept was derived from the USA. In the USA, the legal advisors of the States are called the Attorney-Generals. It would raised confusion if we use the same term of legal advisors of different states of India.

Therefore, legal advisors for every state in India are called Advocate-General of India mentioned under Article 165 of the Constitution of India.

In the context of the United Nations an Attorney is a lawyer who has passed the bar exam and can practice law in a particular jurisdiction. An Attorney represents another person and acts on their behalf. He is the chief law enforcement officer of the federal government; represents the state in litigation.[5]

An attorney can be defined as “In the most general sense this term denotes an agent or substitute, or one who is appointed and authorized to act in the place or stead of another. An agent, or one acting on behalf of another”. [6]

Barristers irrelevant in India

Any person who has passed his law degree, completed 1 year of his pupillage (fancy word being used in Britain for juniorship) and has completed Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), will be classified as a Barrister the usage of this word is prevalent in England and Wales.

To put it in simpler terms, barrister is the english term used to address Advocates.

Barristers just as their Indian counterpart Advocates, represent their clients in the court of law. The fun fact is, unlike in India, where completing your law degree and clearing the Bar examination gives you all rights for trial works in the court of law, in England and Wales apart from completing the law degree, 1 year of strict pupillage and passing the BPTC can only accept the term “Barrister” but cannot start accepting advocacy works.

To be able to accept clients and start representing them in courts, one has to be a member of one of the four inns of court namely Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn, and Gray’s Inn and attend a certain number of dinners at one of these inns.

Now, because the UK has two kinds of lawyers practising in the legal field, it becomes necessary to address the elephant in the room, and that elephant here would be solicitors. Solicitors generally are the artists that work backstage, prepare the cases, do all the hefty works related to filing, drafting and advising clients.

Barristers are engaged when one needs to represent their cause in the court of law. But recently, solicitors have also given certain rights which entitle them to represent their clients at lower courts and it remains this way, unless the need arises to go to a high court barristers would be your guiding angel.

Solicitors and Articled Clerks

Under the English law, the chief law officer of a city, town, or government department but does not act as an advocate in court.[10]

In India, Bombay is the only state where solicitors can get themselves registered with Bombay Incorporated Law Society.

The concept of solicitors is not as prevalent in India as it is in the United Kingdom.

Clause 36, Section IV, Chapter II of the Bar Council of India rules prohibits any advocate from soliciting or advertising his work and himself however it does not mean that it would be illegal if one tries hard to be a solicitor.

Now you might be wondering if there is any procedure or tests that one might take up to be a solicitor.

Because anybody reading this who is from Mumbai and is familiar with the concept of solicitors in Mumbai would want to know why this concept is only accepted and practiced in Mumbai but nowhere else in India.

In India, Bombay is the only state where solicitors can get themselves registered through Bombay Incorporated Law Society. To become eligible to be registered as a solicitor one has to complete either his law degree or must have completed the first year of a 3-years LLB course or the third year of any 5-years law degree course.

It is supposed to be a very tough exam to pass. That’s why the people of Bombay/Maharashtra tend to reach out to solicitors rather than advocates.

So, according to the Bar Council of India Rules, no advocate can solicit or advertise his work or himself but that will not stand in the way of one trying to be a solicitor through Bombay Incorporated Law Society.

Conclusively, soliciting clients or trying to make business out of it will undoubtedly be considered an unfair practice but if somebody tries to reach a solicitor in hope of having a solution to it cannot be challenged in any way.

Solicitors are competent enough to give out legitimate solutions to their clients, are experts at drafting and dealing with all out of court works and wherever the need for appearing before the court arises, they help their clients in contacting the suitable advocate.

Also, if you successfully get yourself registered as a solicitor through BILS, you then would be called an Articled Clerk.

BILS was incorporated on 15 January, 1895 as a society to help train lawyers before being admitted as advocates. It is a non-government company, registered at Registrar of Companies in Mumbai. As per Rule 22 of BILS, 2016, every member of this society can style themselves as advocates and solicitors.

Now, not everybody can accept and hire Articled Clerks. One needs certain qualifications.

Not just you, your employee needs to be smart enough to have you hired. Only members of BILS who have at least 5 years standing as Advocates or Solicitors can appoint Articled Clerks. Under special circumstances with permission of the President of the society a member of BILS having 10-years of standing as an advocate and solicitor may accept three persons as Articled Clerks.

[1] Black’s Law Dictionary 9th edition.

[2]Advocates Act, 1961, section 29. http://www.barcouncilofindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Advocates-Act1961.pdf

[3]Bonnie-Anne Talese, What is the difference between Lawyer, Solicitor, Attorney, and Barrister?, Legalvision. (07 March 2020, 6:30 PM). https://legalvision.com.au/difference-lawyer-solicitor-barrister/

[4] Black’s Law Dictionary 9th edition.

[5] Legal information institute, Attorney General, Cornell Law School (07 March 8:00 PM). https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/attorney_general

[6] Black’s Law Dictionary 9th edition.

[7] Black’s Law Dictionary 9th edition.

[8]Indian Constitution, Article 76.

[9] Black’s Law Dictionary 9th edition.

[10] Amit Laufer, what’s the difference between A Lawyer, Solicitor, Advocate, Barrister, Counsellor, and an Attorney? Articlecity (07 March 2020, 9 PM) https://www.articlecity.com/articles/legal/article_527.shtml

[11] Black’s Law Dictionary 9th edition.

[12] Black’s Law Dictionary 9th edition.

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Comments (7)

Thanks for sharing the knowledge, a professionally written article.

So brilliantly simplify all the terms. Good going!

Thank you for encouraging us, Anjali.

Thank you for appreciating, Himanshi.

Very nicely written.

Thank you, Divesh. We’d love to hear your feedback on our other posts as well.

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