Usually, when we think of a barrister, we think of someone who has undertaken the Bar Professional Training Course, which allows not only students but transferring solicitors, academics, and international lawyers to practice as barristers in England and Wales. This usually means that they join one of the four Inns of Court and train towards securing pupillage. This route contains a few steps that unregistered barristers will not have taken.
As the name indicates, unregistered barristers do not have a practising certificate and are not on the public register of barristers who have practising certificates. In effect, they are practising lawyers and provide legal services. This may not always be the case; they may be retired or may be working in an entirely different field. If they do provide legal services, they must make it very clear to clients that they are unregistered. Moreover, there are certain legal services that they are prohibited from providing advice or guidance on.
The Bar Standards Board is responsible for regulating barristers and sets out standards and expectations for those providing legal services. They may also take action if standards are not being met and have to follow the BSB’s Handbook and take on their advice and guidance. For example, just in December 2019, the BSB had a press release stating that three unregistered barristers were disbarred due to professional misconduct. While they were not disbarred for misrepresentation as to their certification, they were involved in misconduct and found themselves disbarred, highlighting the BSB’s regulatory role of not only practising barristers but those who provide legal services under the title of unregistered barrister.
According to the Bar Standards Board, unregistered barristers cannot participate or provide services for ‘reserved legal activities. However, advocacy is only limited if it involves the exercise of a right of audience. They may be able to practice in a tribunal, for example.
As already noted, unregistered barristers must make it explicitly clear that they do not have a practising certification, therefore, they cannot describe themselves as a barrister in advertisements, to clients, opposing parties, the public and so on. This is a specific rule if providing legal services when providing non-legal services, the Bar Standards Board notes that they may use the title ‘barrister’. They cannot beat around the bush about their title, they must explicitly call themselves unregistered barristers and will be limited in the services they may provide when it is in relation to ‘legal business’. Moreover, unlike practising barristers who are registered, unregistered barristers are not protected by the same safeguards either.
Interestingly, the Bar Standards Board notes that you may have a title as a QC despite not have a practising certificate. QCs are not excluded from the rules, they, like an unregistered barrister must explain this to clients if providing legal services.
The rules for unregistered barristers may also extend to pupils too. Especially when providing unreserved legal services like pro bono advice, you cannot describe yourself as a barrister or pupil barrister, rather you must follow rules and guidance for unregistered barristers. You may only describe yourself as a pupil barrister during practising period when you have a provisional practising certificate.
The process of becoming a barrister includes taking the BPTC, thereafter you may be called to the Bar. Once you are called to the Bar, you become an unregistered barrister – at this stage, you may provide unreserved legal services. You must explicitly state that you are unregistered. That is why, when it says that someone has been called to the Bar, you cannot assume they are certified, they may not have completed pupillage and may not have a practising certificate. In this sense, it could be argued it is much easier to become an unregistered barrister, however, with the limits on what services you could provide, it may not appeal to you. Ultimately, it may depend on the competitive nature of becoming a barrister and being able to obtain pupillage.
Some questions to think about may be:
1. Do you understand the limits that come with being an unregistered barrister and would you be comfortable with this?
This question arises on the basis of the impact it may have on business and the number of legal services you will be able to provide.
2. Could this be a different route if you decide that becoming a barrister is no longer a priority for you?
After all, you may decide to be more involved in academia, for example alongside providing some legal services.
3. Could this be something that you may enjoy and be able to make positive change with?
After all, so long as you explain you are unregistered, you can provide guidance in pro bono circumstances and can also practice in tribunals.
Words: Anjali Narbheram
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