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What is a Barrister?

A Barrister is a person who has been called to the Bar of England and Wales. A Barrister is entitled to practise as an advocate in all courts but appears in the higher courts in particular. A Barrister is commonly referred to as “Counsel”.

A Barrister offers specialist legal advice representing clients at court. A Barrister will ordinarily specialise in one or two areas of law, providing expert advice for work on matters of a complex nature.

Some of the common practice areas undertaken by Barristers are:

  • Criminal Law (Prosecution or Defence)
  • Family Law
  • Commercial Law
  • Immigration Law

A Barrister is primarily an advocate however in addition to this the day to day activities of a Barrister include drafting of legal documents for use in court proceedings, drafting advice to Solicitors on the viability of a case, researching the law, negotiating with opposing parties, and engaging in conferences with clients and Solicitors.

Where does a Barrister work?

A Solicitor will instruct a Barrister on behalf of their client to provide special advice and/or provide representation at higher courts. In addition, a Barrister may be instructed directly by members of the public. These types of Barristers are known as “Direct Access” or “Public Access” and have embarked on further training and are registered by the Bar Standards Board.

A Barrister is traditionally self-employed. A Barrister can be a sole practitioner or work with other self-employed Barristers within a set of Chambers. Within Chambers, in addition to a number of self-employed Barristers, there are also paid staff who provide administrative support and assist in the management of the diary of each Barrister. These support staff are knowns as clerks. Clerks are the first point of contact for most Solicitors (or in the case of a direct access instruction – the individual client). They will advise on the suitability of each Barrister and their availability and fees. To be part of Chambers, Barristers must pay rent at a set rate per month or as a percentage of earnings.

Alternatively, a Barrister may be employed at a Solicitors firm or other organisations such as large companies or public bodies like the Crown Prosecution Service.

Finally, a Barrister may own/set-up a legal practice with other lawyers and non-lawyers as part of an alternative business structure – allowing Barristers to be directors in a company or partners in a partnership with other lawyers and non-lawyers.

Regardless of the type of employment, Barristers are individually regulated by the Bar Standards Board.

A Barrister may be appointed as Queen’s Counsel (QC) (or King’s Counsel (KC) if the monarch is a King). A Barrister becomes eligible to become a QC after 10 years of practice in law and must be recommended by the Lord Chancellor. The title of QC is awarded to those who have demonstrated particular skill and expertise in the conduct of advocacy. Being appointed as a QC is often referred to as “talking silk” with QC’s being described as “Silks” due to the right to wear a silk gown.

Barristers are eligible to apply for all judicial appointments subject to the years of experience obtained.

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