Barristers are specially trained to advise clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their case and to advocate on behalf of their clients.
They are controlled by the General Council of the Bar and must be a member of one of the four Inns of Court.
They receive their work from their 'chamber' if they are self-employed. The work that comes into each chamber will be managed by a Practice Administrator who will negotiate the fee that is to be paid to the barrister who is given the work.
They usually work on instruction from a solicitor but there is direct access in civil cases where anyone can contact a barrister directly without having to invlove anyone else.
Some barristers operate under the 'cab-rank rule', whereby they must accept any work assigned to them if it is in their area of law (NA in direct access cases).
After 10 years practising as a barrister, it is possible to become a member of the Queen's Counsel and 'take silk'.
The quickest route to becoming a barrister is to complete a Bar Standards Board-approved law degree. This degree with cover the core topics of legal research, obligations, public and criminal law. There are also optional modules such as environmental law, intellectual property and consumer law.
If a person has a degree in other subject they can take an additional training course, this being either the Common Professional Examination or the Graduate Diploma in Law. This course covers the foundation topics of the full degree.
Membership of an Inn of Court
Before the student can move on to training, membership of one of the four Inns of Court is required. The four inns are: Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. A student is expected to attend 12 qualifying sessions at their chosen inn or attend residential training courses during the BPTC.
This is the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and can be taken over one year full time or two years part time. It develops the skills needed to be a barrister and is practically based, covering areas such as advocacy, case preparation, drafting legal documents, opinion writing and interpersonal skills. The cost of this course varies between £9,500 and £15,750.
Admission to the Bar and Pupillage
Admission to the Bar
Once they have completed the BPTC, a student is eligible to be 'Called to the Bar'. This is a graduation ceremony and is held at the student's Inn of Court. They must, however, complete the next stage of training before they can practise as a barrister.
The final stage of the process is a one-year pupillage, similar to an apprenticeship. The trainee becomes the pupil of a qualified barrister and this is usually undertaken at a set of chambers. Pupillage is divided into two 'sixes'. The first six is non-practical and entails shadowing the senior barrister. The second six allows trainee to undertake supervised work of their own. During this time the student will be paid a minimum of £12,000 for the year.
Approximately 80% of barristers are self-employed and the majority concentrate on advocacy, although some barristers specialise in areas which rarely require attendance at court, such as tax law. The remaining percentage are employed by central or local government and industry and advise the organisation for which they work.
A barrister's range of work may include:
- Legal Research
- Holding case conferences with clients and advising them on the law and the strength of their legal case
- Writing 'an opinion' for the client
- Negotiating settlements with the other side
- There is no contract between the client and the barrister except in situations of direct access. Therefore the client cannot sue for breach of contract and can only sue for negligence regarding written advice or negligent advocacy in court. See Saif Ali v Sydney Mitchell and Co 1980 and Hall v Simmons 2000.
- An unsatisfied client must first use the barrister's chamber's own complaints procedure. If the outcome is unsatisfactory, the complaint will be dealt with by the Office for Legal Complaints set up by the Legal Services Act 2007, who refer all complaints to the Legal Ombudsman. LO has the power to ask the barrister to apologise to the client, give back any documents the client may need, carry out more work if it may solve the issue, refund or reduce legal fees, or pay compensation up to £30,000.
- The Bar Standards Board will investigate any alleged breach of the Code of Conduct. They can discipline any barrister who has breached the CoC, and if the matter is serious, it will be referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal of the Council of the Inns of Court.