The United Kingdom has three distinct legal jurisdictions in England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and, therefore, three distinct legal professions. I practise in England & Wales.
The English legal profession is also split into two branches whose training (after university level), practice and regulation are all separate - solicitors and barristers.
Solicitors are the general practitioners of the English legal system. If you need legal advice, you visit a solicitor first. If you need an advocate in court or the solicitor does not have
sufficient specialist knowledge about the relevant area of law, the solicitor will normally ask a barrister to take on the advocacy or to advise further.
Most solicitors work together in partnerships. Training consists of one year at a law school and two years paid placement in a solicitor's office. (Also see lawconvert.co.uk.)
In England and Wales, solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and represented by The Law Society. (There are separate Law Societies in Scotland and Northern Ireland.) If you want to find a solicitor, you can use each Law Society's own directory or the Government's Legal Adviser Finder.
Barristers are the consultants of the English legal system. They are the only ones allowed to appear in the appeal courts and in most cases in the High Court. Most specialise in particular areas
of the law such as Crime, Family or Personal Injury. If you want advice from a barrister, you must normally go to a solicitor first because direct access to barristers is limited. (I am now able to provide direct access advice but please contact my clerks
at 1 Pump Court if you want to instruct me.)
All barristers are sole practitioners but they gather together to share facilities and expenses. The place where a group of barristers gathers together in this way is known as barristers'
chambers. Training consists of one year at bar school or on another approved course, one year's placement with a barrister (normally split into two separate periods of six months each) and a minimum
amount of continuing professional education each year.
In England and Wales, barristers are regulated by the Bar Standards Board and represented by the Bar Council (Faculty of Advocates in Scotland and the Bar of Northern Ireland). You can look for a barrister in the Bar Directory.