Family Court Information » I need a lawyer

I need a lawyer

Pic courtesy of Duke University Archives on Flickr - thanks :-)

Types of lawyers

There are various types of qualified lawyers. The ones you are mostly likely to encounter are:

  • solicitors
  • barristers
  • Legal Executives
  • Paralegals

Solicitors can handle your case from start to finish, including sorting out legal aid and dealing with paperwork, and some may carry out the advocacy (speaking for you in court) themselves. If you are instructing a solicitor in a family law matter it is a good idea to see if you can find one who is a member of Resolution and who is Accredited as a specialist by either Resolution or the Law Society. Resolution members must agree to stick to their code of practice, which says they will deal with disputes in a non-confrontational and constructive way and encourage agreements.

Legal Executives are qualified lawyers who have followed one of the routes to qualification established by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. Legal executives usually specialise in an area of law as do solicitors, which means the everyday work of a Legal executive is very similar to that of a solicitor. Many are additionally qualified and skilled as advocates. Nowadays Legal executives may be partners in their law firms.

Barristers are primarily advocates. They are usually instructed by a solicitor on behalf of someone involved in a court case to deal with the hearings, and sometimes to advise on how strong your case is or what steps should be taken. Barristers can sometimes be instructed directly without you paying for a solicitor too, and this is called public access. If you instruct a barrister this way you generally need to be able to deal with all the paperwork and correspondence that a solicitor would normally do. You cannot instruct a barrister through public access if you have legal aid, but your legal aid solicitor can instruct a barrister for you if appropriate.

Paralegals are qualified by experience and training to provide support and assistance in law firms but who have not qualified as barristers, solicitors or legal executives.

People are often confused about the difference between barristers and other sorts of lawyers. Although there is quite a lot of overlap between their role and those of other sorts of lawyer, they do carry out different tasks. For more detail on this see our F.A.Q. on the topic.

Legal executives, solicitors and barristers are increasingly able to offer “ad hoc” advice and representation here and there, and will agree to work at fixed or capped fees – so you can control how much you spend.

If you think that you need a lawyer there are several places you can go to find one local to you, who has the right expertise and offers the services you need. We don’t recommend individual lawyers or firms on this website, but we can point you in the direction of directories or listings of lawyers so you can choose for yourself.


Free legal services and legal aid are unfortunately very limited. Bristol CAB provide a free email only advice service run by law students, and Advocate (formerly the Bar Pro Bono Unit) provide free representation. However each have a turnaround time of several weeks. See also services at court in this area. Some solicitors offer initial free half hour appointments. Many law firms and barristers are able to offer fixed or capped fees, and in some instances reduced hourly rates. Alternatively, some lawyers are happy to be instructed just for some key stages or steps in your case, rather than the whole way through. You should shop around and ask what fee arrangements each lawyer / firm can offer you to best suit your budget.

Finding a lawyer

To find a solicitor to instruct search the Law Society database here.

To find a solicitor who is a member of Resolution (an association of Family Lawyers) search their database here.

If you need a solicitor who undertakes legal aid you can search the database on the Justice website here, or you may find that your local court will be able to give you a list of all the local firms that do legal aid work. If you are not sure whether or not you qualify for legal aid read “Can I get legal aid?” here.

To find a legal executive you can search the database here.

To find a barrister to instruct directly through Public Access (without a solicitor) you can search on the Bar Council website here.

To find a barrister or barristers’ chambers (to instruct directly or through a solicitor) search the Bar Directory here.

You can also find a list of local Barrister’s chambers on the Western Circuit website here.

To check a solicitor’s disciplinary record check the Solicitors Regulation Authority here.

To check a barrister’s disciplinary record check the Bar Standards Board here.

Pic courtesy of Duke University Archives on Flickr – thanks :-)