A barrister, sometimes referred to as a barrister-at-law, is a type of lawyer who has been called to the Bar. Barristers are qualified to advise clients on legal matters and plead on behalf of people in all levels of Court and tribunals. Barristers can advocate, represent and defend clients in the following Courts:
The key attributes for what makes a good barrister include, but are not limited to:
Most barristers specialise in one specific area of law, but some do have a more general practice covering a variety of different legal areas.
What a barrister does is determined by the area of law in which they work. For example, a criminal barrister will carry out much of their practice in Court, acting for the prosecution or defending a client.
A company or commercial barrister will carry out much of their practice outside the courtroom. They will take on more of an advisory role, which could involve negotiating contracts and other business-related matters.
A defence barrister represents a person accused of a crime in Court, advocating on behalf of a client and pleading their case. A defence barrister can also give written advice on a legal issue, and advise on the strength of a case if instructed by a solicitor to represent a client in Court. The role of a defence barrister is not to prove a person’s innocence, just that the prosecution’s evidence isn’t strong enough.
A prosecution barrister represents the state or government in Court in cases brought against an accused person. The role of a prosecution barrister is to present the jury with enough evidence to persuade them that a defendant is guilty of the crime for which they are accused.
Barristers have formal advocacy skills, which they can use in any Court in the land. In a courtroom they will present cases, examine and cross examine witnesses and give reasons why the Court should support a case.
A barrister will carefully translate and structure a client’s interpretation of events into legal arguments, communicating clearly, succinctly and persuasively to secure the best possible result for a client when in Court.
Barristers can also negotiate settlements with opposing counsel.
The attire historically worn by barristers in Court is a distinctive black gown, a court coat and waistcoat, plus a wig. The dress robes for Court have evolved over centuries, and are regarded as a symbol of power and respect for the law, while bringing a sense of formality and solemnity to Court proceedings.
The Court attire for barristers is one that represents the rich history of common law. The wearing of black gowns originated from the death of King Charles II in 1685, when the Bar entered a period of mourning. They started to wear black mourning robes, complete with the pleated shoulders and tapered elbows as worn by barristers in Court today.
Learn why barristers wear wigs in our blog.
The type of barrister determines where a barrister works. Most barristers are self-employed and tend to be affiliated with a chambers. Other barristers are employed and work in-house for law firms and large commercial organisations – including the Government Legal Service.
A barristers’ chambers is a collective of like-minded individual barristers who all practice from the same address and share the same administrative services. In most barristers’ chambers a head or senior clerk will oversee the administrative duties of the chambers, working with assistants or ‘junior clerks’ and other support staff to manage the professional lives of all barristers in chambers.
There are more than 17,000 practising barristers in England and Wales, according to Bar Standards Board Statistics for 2021. More than 10,000 are male, while more than 6,500 are female. Just over 13,500 of all practising barristers in the UK are self-employed, while approximately 3,000 are employed.
The Bar is actively encouraging women and ethnic minorities to pursue a career in the Bar due to lack of representation across these groups. Of all practising barristers only 2,500 are from ethnic minority backgrounds and just 7% of barristers have a disability.
A barrister’s salary level depends on a number of factors, including the area of law in which they practise, whether they are self-employed or employed, and the level at which they work. We go into more detail about how much a barrister earns in this comprehensive salary guide.
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