Notes on the barrister profession

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  • Created on: 18-05-12 15:57

What are Barristers?

·         They have existed since the 13th Century

·         They are known as ‘counsel’

·         They wear wigs and gowns when they appear in court.

·         They are regulated by the Bar Standards Board, who in turn is monitored by the Legal Services Board.

·         Barristers’ interests are represented by the Bar Council.


Most barristers are self-employed with ‘tenancies’ within chambers.  Barristers are not allowed to form partnerships like solicitors except with foreign barristers. 

Some barristers are employed by firms of solicitors, banks and corporations as in house legal advisors.

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Statistics on Barristers

As of December 2003, statistics show:

·         There are 13,985 practising solicitors.

·         11,248 of this number are self-employed

·         68% are men

·         32% are women

·         10.67% are barristers of an ethnic minority

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The 4 Inns of Court

Since the 14th Century, the Bar has been organised the 4 Inns of Court:

·         Inner Temple

·         Middle Temple

·         Lincoln’s Inn

·         Gray’s Inn

A student has to join one of these Inns to become a barrister, to be ‘called to the bar’, which is part of procedure of becoming a barrister.

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The Chambers

·         They are run by barristers’ clerks, who act as business managers.

·         The clerks organise fees and allocate the work to the barristers in the chambers.

·         The clerk passes on solicitor brief to the barrister specifically named in the briefs, but if there isn’t one named specifically the clerk will assign it to any barrister.

·         The clerk will also arrange the fee for the work.

·         The clerk controls the amount of work a barrister gets and so plays a powerful and important role.

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What Barristers Do

·         They are specialist legal advisers and courtroom advocates.

·         They are independent, objective and trained to evaluate and advise a client on a case.

·         They have specialist knowledge.

·         They have experience in and out of court.

·         Barristers also have full rights of audience, and so can appear in any court in the jurisdiction.

·         They research law and write legal opinions for solicitors

·         They are paid by the solicitor, not the client.


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What Barristers Do

·         They have little to no direct contact with their ‘lay client’, especially without a solicitor present or the ‘professional client’.

·         All correspondence and enquiries are addressed to the solicitor.

·         A barrister will commonly only receive the brief from the instructing solicitor 1 or 2 days prior to the court hearing.

·         Barristers are usually consulted by solicitors on unusual points of law; they provide the ‘opinion of counsel’.

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Access to Barristers

·         Originally a client had to go to a solicitor first to instruct a barrister.

·         June 1998: The Lord Chancellor published a consultation paper which suggested that the public should have direct access to solicitors.

·         Bar Direct: A system operated by the Bar allowing certain professionals such as accountants and surveyors to brief a barrister without consulting a solicitor first.

·         September 2004: The Bar granted direct access to anyone in relation to civil cases.  Though this can’t be used in criminal cases, immigration cases or family law cases.  Barristers must complete a training course to be eligible for direct access.

·         Direct instruction, however, is still rare: barristers are not equipped to give general advice to the public.  They are too specialist.

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The Cab-Rank Rule: Key to the Exam

This is the rule that taxi drivers can’t refuse passengers just because they don’t like the look of them, though Hackney cabs aren’t governed by this rule.  A taxi driver must take the next person waiting in line at the taxi rank, regardless of who they are.  A similar rule applies to barristers:

Barristers must take a case if it is ‘next in line’, and it is on an area of law they specialise.

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Training to Become a Barrister

·         Academic:

o   Most barristers will have a law degree, though they can have a degree in another subject and take the CPE.

o   Students training to become barristers must join 1 of the 4 inns. Which one they join depends on the area of law they want to specialise in.  The student must eat 12 dinners at the Inn (known as ‘keeping terms’) before being able to proceed to the Bar Professional Training Course, or BPTC

·         Vocational:

o   This where general skills are studied, such case preparation, legal research, written skills, negotiation, advocacy skill and opinion writing

o   Barristers also study civil and criminal litigation, civil and criminal remedies, evidence as well as an optional subject such as Commercial Law.

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Training to Become a Barrister

·         Pupillage:

o   This being ‘called to the bar’, the practical stage of training.

o   The student shadows an experienced barrister for a year.

o   The first 6 months will be non-practising, and then the second 6 months will see the student practising.

o   In 2002, the Bar Council approved changes to the pupillage stage; students at this stage must be paid at least £12’000 plus reasonable travel expenses.

·         Tenancy:

o   Once the pupillage is over the new barrister seeks a place in chambers in order to work.  Though, competition is fierce at this stage.

o   All barristers must have a practising certificate.  A junior barrister pays £53 a year for their certificate, a QC pays £700 a year.

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Queen's Counsel

·         A barrister who is not a QC, also known as ‘silks’, is a ‘junior’ barrister.

·         Only 45 barristers become QCs every year.

·         There are currently just over 1’000 QCs.

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Why Being a QC is so Desirable

·         QCs wear more distinctive dress in court, including a silk gown-hence the name ‘silks’.

·         They sit in the front of the court room and are traditionally invited to speak first.

·         They tend to specialise more than junior barristers and take on more weighty and complex cases.

·         They are usually accompanied by a junior barrister who share and undertakes most of the work on a case.

·         It is a mark of distinction to be appointed a QC.

·         High Court Judges are chosen from the ranks of QCs

·         They charge more than junior barristers.

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Who Appoints QCs?

·         Until 2003, QCs were appointed by the queen on advice of the Lord Chancellor.

·         But the selection process was seen as unfair, as it was too secretive.

·         In April 2005, the selection process was changed; candidates were chosen by the Lord Chancellor based on recommendations of an independent panel selected by both the Law Society and the Bar Council.

·         The candidate must have 10 years’ experience at the Bar and must demonstrate qualities required in a senior advocate.

·         The candidate undergoes a face to face interview.

·         The panel consists of a senior retired judge, 3 lay people, 2 senior solicitors plus 2 senior barristers.

·         When a barrister is appointed as QC they are known as ‘Leader’.  They will then appear in cases with a junior barrister.

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Regulating Barristers

·         Legal Aid: Because the barrister receives their brief from the solicitor, there is no contract between a barrister and their barrister.  The barrister can’t sue if their fees are unpaid, and the client can’t sue for a breach of contract.  However, since Hall v Simon barristers can now be sued for negligence.

·         Legal Ombudsmen (Office for Legal Complaints): Since the 6th Oct 2010 all complaints are handled by the new Legal Ombudsmen, set up by the Legal Services Act 2007

·         Legal Services Ombudsman: NOW CLOSED.  In the past they reviewed cases where the client wasn’t happy with how their complaint was handled by the Legal Ombudsmen.

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