row of law books in order

Television shows involving lawyers are a significant part of popular culture, especially in Hollywood. There will always be at least one legal drama on the air at any given time, and some shows may even last years and span hundreds of episodes.

Because of this, legal parlance has entered the daily lexicon. One of the most common examples of this is the word “attorney,” which is used so often that many don’t know that this word can mean different things in different countries.

For example, in Australia, the word “attorney” is hardly used, and when it is, it carries a significantly different meaning compared to its usage in America. Hence, it is important to understand the differences in the legal systems in order to ensure that any Australian who is seeking legal representation knows exactly what and whom to look for.

If a person is seeking legal counsel, the one to turn to is a solicitor, one of two forms of lawyers in the Australian legal system. Here is a little bit more about what solicitors are.

What is a solicitor?

In Australia, when someone uses the term “attorney,” that person is referring to a solicitor, a lawyer whose job is to give out legal advice to clients and have any legal matters sorted. This is in contrast to a Barrister, the other group of lawyers whose responsibility is to advocate on behalf of the client in court during the trial.

While Barristers are self-employed, solicitors normally work for law firms, which are responsible for recruiting clients and handing them over to solicitors. Because of this, solicitors have less control over their income stream, given that rates are dictated by the firm. However, solicitors are much easier to come into contact with, as cities all around Australia, such as Townsville, are bound to have a solicitors firm for people to turn to for all of their legal needs.

a solicitor at his desk

How does one become a solicitor?

As with most other professions, becoming a solicitor starts with getting a university degree in the field — in this case, Law. One could choose between a Bachelor of Laws as an undergraduate degree, or a Juris Doctor has a postgraduate degree.

After completion of studies, the next step is to complete a Practical Legal Training course, after which the aspiring lawyer goes through the Legal Practice Experience, which can involve up to 80 days of supervised work. Once this is completed, trainee lawyers are eligible to apply to the state or territory’s Admissions Authority to allow them to obtain formal work experience. After around two years of supervised experience, they are allowed to take the Practising certificate to be certified as a solicitor. Should they choose to become a Barrister, further study is required.

How is a solicitor different from a lawyer?

While many consider “attorneys” and “lawyers” as synonymous with one another, in Australia, this could not be further from the truth. A “lawyer” refers to any individual who is licensed to practice Law and provide legal guidance.

On the other hand, the definition of an “attorney” in the United States refers strictly to someone who is able to prosecute and defend clients in the court of Law. Going by this definition, an attorney in the United States would correspond to a Barrister; however, the term “attorney” is used primarily to refer to solicitors.

As a result, the terms “attorney” and “lawyer” cannot be strictly conflated with each other. In essence, in the Australian legal system, all attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers can be considered attorneys.