What is a Barrister? (2022 Update)

Feb 19, 2020
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Written by Adam Lewis

If you’re party to a Court case, your lawyer may have mentioned hiring a barrister. Barristers are a type of lawyer that specialise not only in particular areas, but in presenting your case in Court. In this article, we’ll explain what a barrister does and how to know if you’re in need of one.

Barrister or lawyer?

A barrister falls under the umbrella term ‘lawyer’. Whilst lawyers come in many different forms, a barrister is a lawyer who specialises in advocating for clients during a trial or general litigation. They will be the lawyer who appears in the courtroom to argue your case, and they will also assist in drafting and reviewing your Court documents. Barristers also undertake extensive training. Most barristers are former solicitors, and most Judges are former barristers. Along with completing a law degree and being admitted as a lawyer, barristers need to pass a series of exams to undertake the bar practice course. Once this course is complete, a barrister needs to study under an experienced barrister for 12 months. A barristers main task after this is to build up a network of lawyers who will hire them.

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Hiring a barrister

Barristers operate differently to solicitors. They are not lawyers who work for a firm, they work independently in rooms known as barristers chambers. If you need legal representation, a barrister should not be your first point of contact. In most cases, solicitors hire barristers on behalf of a client.

Barristers tend to charge higher fees than solicitors, for services such as appearing in Court or reviewing documents. Fees are usually included on the bill issued by the solicitor, with the solicitor paying the barrister’s fees.

Another notable difference is that barristers are bound by the ‘cab rank rule’. This rule basically prevents barristers from refusing briefs offered to them. This rule forces a barrister to undertake a case unless they have a legitimate reason to refuse.

When do I need a Barrister?

A barrister will only be retained where a legal matter has proceeded to litigation (or is likely to). Most solicitors have strong relationships with barristers, and know which barrister to brief in particular situations. In some circumstances, barristers have direct input into alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes.

When do I need a Lawyer?

Because of the nature of the work barristers undertake, in almost all circumstances it is still more effective and efficient to see a solicitor for your legal needs. A main reason to find a lawyer is that they often have the resources and knowledge of a particular area of law and therefore know the intricacies regarding your legal issue. Different lawyers specialise in areas such as business, crime, family matters and equity.

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