Confused about the difference between a notary public and a solicitor, what the two professions are and when do you need which service?
Can all lawyers provide notary services, and can a non-lawyer be a notary public? What about barristers?
Our experts at MSC Notaries and Solicitors answer all these questions and more in this article.
What is the difference between a notary and a solicitor?
Notary services involve certifying or authenticating a UK document for use abroad or overseas.
If you’re wondering whether you need a notary public or a solicitor to notarise your documents, you’re not alone.
Notaries and solicitors can both provide legal services, but notary services are just one specific part of the legal profession. For example, you can have solicitors who also specialise in probate, or writing wills or contracts, as well as being a notary.
In most cases, a notary public is a fully-qualified lawyer, who has had additional qualifications and training in one area.
Some key differences between a notary and a solicitor are:
- Solicitors refer to a large number of people in the legal profession, notaries are much rarer
- Notaries are concerned with the authenticity of documents, rather than representing a client
- Solicitors are able to help with contentious legal matters, while notaries must be impartial
- Notaries have additional training and background checks, and a certificate of good character
A small percentage of lawyers are also a notary public, but it’s quite rare to be a non-lawyer notary public.
Definitions of a notary public and a solicitor
What is a notary public?
By definition, a notary public is a qualified legal professional that has been trained and has a qualification in legalising and authenticating a range of legal documents for use internationally. A notary public in the UK practices the authentication and certification of documents and specifically signatures, to ensure these are legalised for use abroad. They act as an impartial, legal witness to certify the use of documents.
A notary is a specialised legal profession and only those who are qualified and registered are able to claim and use the term ‘notary’. Many notaries are also qualified solicitors and the rules notaries must abide by are similar to those for solicitors, however, this is not a requirement as being a notary is a completely separate profession.
Notaries in England and Wales are appointed by the Court of Faculties of the Archbishop of Canterbury and regulated by the Master of the Faculties. A notary must renew their certification to practise every year and these are only reissued providing the notary has abided by all the regulations in place.
What is a solicitor?
By definition, a solicitor in the UK is a legal practitioner who advises clients on the required plan of legal action in relation to issues presented to them. Unlike a notary who works impartially and independently to their clients, a solicitor works closely with their clients to advise on specific matters and usually specialises in a certain area of law such as family or business. Qualified solicitors can practice privately, commercially, for the government or in court.
Can solicitors provide notary services?
No, unless they are both a solicitor and a notary public and have had the additional training and background checks. For example, you can’t ask a solicitor who specialises in another area of law, such as conveyancing, to notarise documents, unless they are also a notary.
Madhubala Colwill (also known as Madie) and Simon Vargas-Colwill at MSC Notaries are qualified as both solicitors and notaries. Madie qualified as a solicitor in 2001 and as a notary in 2006. This means that she can notarise documents, but also has extensive experience in a range of private client matters. These include writing and drafting wills, probate and lasting powers of attorney. Simon became a notary in 2018 and then qualified as a solicitor in 2019. He can notarise documents but also specialises in non-contentious probate matters.
Private client services, which deal with legal documents such as wills, use some of the skills you need as a notary. You can therefore be sure that your sensitive paperwork will be treated with the utmost respect and confidentiality when working with our team.
When working as solicitors, Madie and Simon represent the interests of their clients.
When providing notary services, their chief concern is the authenticity of documents.
Can barristers notarise documents?
If you’re new to legal services, you may not know that lawyers, solicitors and barristers are three different things.
Barristers and solicitors are both types of lawyers.
Solicitors provide legal advice to clients and deal with the paperwork, but will often instruct a barrister to represent their client in court. Barristers will then go to court as client advocates, fighting the case verbally.
It is possible to be trained as both a notary and a barrister, but this is much rarer than being a solicitor and a notary. There are many different paths to becoming a lawyer, so there can be some crossover between barristers, solicitors and notaries.
Can a non-lawyer become a notary public?
You might be wondering if it’s possible to become a notary public without also being a solicitor or barrister.
This depends on the country you live in. For example, in the U.S. notaries are much more common than in the UK. American notaries are known as a ‘notary public’ and serve a different purpose to American lawyers, as they are not qualified to give legal advice. In the United States, a notary is just a notary – their role is restricted to notarising documents and witnessing signatures etc. American notaries do not have as much expertise as UK notaries and their function is very restricted.
In the UK, there are around 800 practising notaries.
Some of them prefer to work exclusively as notaries, while many combine being a notary with also being a solicitor or barrister. All have had extensive education, legal training, and thorough background checks.
Most people who want to become a notary in the UK are already qualified as a lawyer or plan to be.
However, you can become a notary without being a lawyer first, and with no intention of becoming a lawyer.
There are a small number of non-lawyer notaries in the UK, but they have still had to complete a wide range of academic (studying certain areas covered in a law degree) and professional legal training. They have also:
- Been appointed as an ecclesiastical legal advisor
- Been admitted by the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury
- Taken an oath under the Public Notaries Act of 1843