What’s the difference between a lawyer and a solicitor?

What's the difference bwteen a lawyer and a solicitor?

Buying, selling or renting out a property comes with a lot of legal considerations. From arranging a mortgage, to navigating the fine print of a contract, there’s a lot to take in. Without professional legal advice and assistance, it can be hard to know where to start or when you’re about to miss something vital. So, what kind of legal professional is right for you? Read on to discover the difference between a lawyer and a solicitor, and find answers to lots of frequently-asked questions around the topic.

What is the difference between a lawyer and a solicitor in the UK?

The term ‘lawyer’ is a generic, catch-all term that simply means someone who is trained and qualified to practise the law. Solicitors and barristers are two different types of lawyer. The UK legal system can be dauntingly complicated, but it turns out this question has a straightforward answer!

What kind of legal problems do solicitors help with?

A solicitor is someone who is qualified to provide you with specialist legal advice and support. Their expertise can help you with a wide range of common legal issues, from making a will, to getting a divorce or starting up a new business. Solicitors tend to specialise in a specific area of the law, such as property conveyancing (more on that later).

What is a barrister?

Like a solicitor, a barrister is also qualified to offer legal advice if you become their client. However, barristers usually only become involved if you need to be represented in a courtroom, for a criminal trial or civil lawsuit, for example.

Conveyancing legal documents. Legal transfer of property.

Do solicitors and barristers have the same qualifications?

Both solicitors and barristers need to gain an undergraduate degree in law, but after that, their paths separate. To be a barrister and represent clients in court, you need to undertake Bar training to prepare you for a courtroom setting. To become a solicitor, after passing your law degree, you’ll need to study towards a qualification such as the Legal Practitioners Course (LPC).

What is a conveyancing solicitor?

Conveyancing is the term used to describe the legal transfer of property ownership between the seller and the buyer. Given that buying and selling property in the UK is a complex process, conveyancing is a popular legal discipline.

What exactly does a solicitor do?

As a client, the solicitor’s first job is to ensure they fully understand what it is you want to do. Usually through a direct conversation, they will let you outline your overall goal (e.g.: buying a house, setting up a will, etc) and will take you through the necessary legal steps to get you there.

After giving this advice and receiving your instructions, the solicitor will then get to work on your behalf. Generally, this means preparing the necessary paperwork and communicating with any relevant third parties. They will keep you informed of how each stage is progressing, and can help with any changes you require.

Can I buy, sell or rent a house without using a solicitor?

You can, but be warned that buying or selling property without any legal representation can be a risky business. If you aren’t trained in property law, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with a lot of legal ground. From preparing the contract of sale, to carrying out various legal property searches and checks (safety checks, planning permissions, etc), it’s a complicated and time-consuming project!

Renting a property in the UK is generally a more straightforward process, one which can be arranged without needing to hire a solicitor. Any reputable estate agency can set up a suitable tenancy agreement for you, or manage your property on your behalf. However, solicitors can still provide useful legal advice about your obligations as a landlord and can help settle any disputes.

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How much does conveyancing cost?

Conveyancing fees are split into two parts: legal fees and disbursements. The legal fees are what the solicitor will charge you for their services; the disbursements are charges from third parties for things like property searches. It’s hard to predict beforehand how much this will cost altogether, as it depends on various factors.

The size, age, condition and location of the property will all play a part. For example, a Grade II listed manor house situated near a river will cost a lot more in conveyancing fees than a new-build terraced house. This is because the manor will have to undergo a lot more checks and searches.

While estimates vary, the UK HomeOwners Alliance advises that conveyancing fees should cost typically between £850-£1,500, plus disbursements. For a more detailed breakdown of what you might reasonably expect conveyancing firms to charge, read the TheAdvisory’s insider guide.

Lawyer's office bookcase. Typical charges for conveyancing fees.

Can conveyancing be done online?

There are a growing number of solicitors offering online conveyancing services. It’s entirely possible to carry out the conveyancing on a property transaction via an online service. Much of the work of a conveyancing solicitor is carried out via email and online services, so opting for an online solicitor over a local law office doesn’t necessarily create any obstacles.

Should I choose a solicitor local to where I’m purchasing a property?

You might prefer to choose a solicitor local to the area you’re purchasing your property, but it’s not essential. By using a solicitor from a different area, you may forego any local market knowledge or relationships that an in-person solicitor may have. However, most, if not all, of the work carried out by a conveyancing solicitor doesn’t require any specialist local knowledge and can be done remotely.

Is hiring a conveyancing solicitor worth it?

Hiring a solicitor in the UK might seem expensive, but weigh it against the costs of going it alone. Researching and double-checking all the legal requirements involved in buying or selling a house is a major undertaking.

It represents a significant investment of your time, and if you miss something important then the consequences could be severe. So, unless you have a measure of experience and a lot of time, hiring a conveyancer might be the most cost-effective solution.

Find out more about the legal and financial considerations of buying a home through our other blog posts. Find out about a Help to Buy deposit: How much do you need? or explore the the realities of Buying a new build: 10 things owners wish they’d known

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HomeViews provides verified resident reviews of the UK’s housing developments. We’re working with developers, landlords and the Government to recognise high performers and help to improve standards in the built environment.

written by

Rory Cramer

Prior to co-founding HomeViews, Rory spent 13 years in the residential develo... Read all

Prior to co-founding HomeViews, Rory ... Read all