The freight forwarder is a critical service provider in world trade and transport. As the ‘architect of transport’, the freight forwarder offers transport and logistics solutions characterised by efficiency, value and flexibility. The freight forwarder performs a variety of service roles, depending on the specific needs of the client shipper. As almost a corollary to the flexibility of these service roles, the legal roles that may be occupied by the freight forwarder are varied. This article provides an overview of the various legal roles of the freight forwarder with respect to its client shipper. The two primary classifications of legal roles identified are that of agent (for the shipper) and principal. The sub-classification of those two primary roles reveals further complexity, particularly in the role of principal (for example, performing carrier, contractual carrier or pure principal). Beyond the base of contractual roles and responsibilities, the law of bailment provides additional legal obligations. Case law and legal commentators provide examples illustrating the confusion and complexity in defining the true legal role of the freight forwarder. A taxonomy of legal roles is identified. As a conclusion, it is recommended that care be taken in drafting freight forwarders’ terms of engagement and associated contracts of carriage to clearly specify the role, responsibilities and obligations of the freight forwarder in an entire freight movement.