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What is a barrister? How do I become a barrister?

What does a barrister do?

There a two types of qualified lawyer in England and Wales, solicitors and barristers. Both types have different roles and carry out different types of work within the practice of law.

Barristers specialise in representing individuals, companies or institutions in court. These are the people you may think of when you think of lawyers, stood in court, addressing a judge in a wig and gown. This view is mainly correct, one of a barrister’s primary roles if that of advocacy, to speak for the client in proceedings before a court or tribunal.

A barrister will most commonly be instructed by a solicitor to act on behalf of their client to advise on specific legal documents, give their opinion on specific matters, advise on tactics or to attend court for their mutual client. Their role can therefore go beyond just advocacy. If the barrister has the expertise being called upon and the time to carry out the work he is obliged to accept the same from the instructing party.

You may have heard the term ‘brief’ before. This is a document traditionally prepared by asolicitor to instruct a barrister to carry out a certain piece of work or represent a client.  Historically it was rare for a barrister to be instructed by a client directly although now this is occurring more frequently, for example in tax matters barristers are commonly instructed directly.

Some barristers can be extremely specialist in certain areas of work and only carry out work in that area of law. However, some barristers have a more wide ranging practice and may take on work from a wide range of disputes. It is possible for a barrister to prosecute in one case and defend in another.

Barristers Chambers

Barristers generally work in what is known as ‘chambers’.  A barrister is usually self employed and works from an office with a group of other barristers, this place is know as the barrister’s chambers. Barristers can also be employed to work in-house in a legal departments by companies, organisations or government departments.  Barristers often have clerks who run their diaries and look after the administrative aspects of the job such as invoicing clients.

Queens Counsel

Barristers are sometimes referred to as ‘counsel’. It is an interchangeable term. A limited number of the more experienced and senior barristers are given the position of Queens Counsel which is a sign of expertise and status. There are only a small number at any given time and many sets of chambers have a Queens Counsel or ‘QC’s’ as their head of chambers, these barristers being the most senior and skilled.

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  • How to become a barrister