Barristers are regulated specialist legal advisers and court room advocates. If you need the services of a barrister, you are likely to be referred to one specialising in your type of case by your solicitor. However, it is possible to use certain barristers – known as “public access barristers” or "direct access barristers" - directly without the need for a solicitor.
What barristers do
Barristers are regulated specialist legal advisers and court room advocates. They can provide a range of services, including:
- representing people or businesses in court or tribunal or another formal setting, making their case for them;
- advising their clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their case; and
- starting a legal proceeding in a court on behalf of their client (providing they are specially authorised by us to do so, known as being “authorised to conduct litigation”).
There are strict rules about what a barrister must do for the court and their client, and the way they must behave. See What to expect from your barrister for more detail. If a barrister breaks these rules, we (as their regulator) can take action against them.
Barristers and solicitors
Barristers are not the same as solicitors. Although they are both types of lawyers and they often undertake similar types of work, barristers and solicitors are two different branches of the legal profession.
They have different rules they must follow. The organisation that ensures they follow these rules is called the regulator. We ensure barristers follow these rules, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority does the same with solicitors. They train and qualify in different ways too.
As well as barristers and solicitors, there are several other types of legal advisers in England and Wales. Some of these are regulated (meaning that there are rules about what they can and cannot do, and a body enforces those rules) while others are not. When seeking legal advice you should understand that there are differences between those who are regulated and those who are not. If you use a barrister or a regulated legal adviser you can rest assured that they are properly qualified, and insured, and that you will have far better protection if you are not happy with the service you receive, or if something goes wrong. If you use an unregulated service, for example services such as some “McKenzie Friends” who can also offer you help in court, they may have no legal training or qualification, they may not be insured, and if something goes wrong there will be nothing you can do about it because they do not have a regulator.
For a barrister to do work for someone, they need to be "instructed" by a client. Although this sounds like you would be telling the barrister what to do, it just means you will be hiring that barrister to help you with your legal problem. If you have a solicitor, they will instruct the barrister for you. However, some barristers – known as “Public Access” or “Direct Access” barristers – can also be instructed directly by members of the public. Public Access Barristers need to have undertaken special training and to be registered by us.
Who can call themselves a “barrister”?
A barrister is someone who has been Called to the Bar of England and Wales, and to become a barrister you have to complete a rigorous process of training involving academic, vocational and work-based components. People who have been called to the Bar having successfully completed the right training can call themselves a barrister, but to be able to practise as a barrister and to provide certain legal services, they also have to complete a further period of training and to have a practising certificate from the BSB.
If someone is a barrister but they do not have a valid practising certificate, they are known as an unregistered barrister. Unregistered barristers are allowed to refer to themselves as “barristers” providing it is not in connection with offering or providing legal services. People who are not barristers may be committing a criminal offence if they describe themselves as a barrister. We may notify the police if we hear someone has been wilfully pretending to be a barrister.
You can check if a barrister is allowed to practise by entering their name on our Barristers' Register.
Barristers’ practice areas
Barristers can specialise in a range of different areas of the law. These are known as “practice areas”. There are many “practice areas” but the most common include:
- Criminal Law - barristers can represent either the defence or prosecution side in criminal trials;
- Family Law - legal matters such as divorce and child welfare issues;
- Commercial Law - legal problems that can occur in the running of businesses and commercial transactions including Employment Law;
- Immigration Law – legal issues involving matters of immigration and asylum.
Most barristers are self-employed. This means they are either “sole practitioners” or they work on a self-employed basis with other barristers in organisations known as “chambers”. Barristers working in chambers share services such as buildings and IT. There are also many barristers who are employed directly by organisations such as large companies or public bodies like the Crown Prosecution Service.
Barristers are individually regulated by us. This means that even though they might belong to a set of chambers or be employed, their professional duties and obligations are theirs alone.
Barristers may also practise in the Youth Courts although they need special registration from us in order to do so. This is because of the specialist skills required to work with young people. See “What to expect from your barrister in the Youth Court”
Why the role of barristers is important
Even if you never have reason to use the legal services provided by a barrister, they have a vital role in the justice system in England and Wales.
The proper administration of justice and the rule of law are essential for everyone. In a civilised society, we expect those in authority to obey the law, the vulnerable to be protected, criminals to be brought to justice, and contracts to be enforced so that businesses can flourish for example. Barristers play an important role in all these things and much more besides.
So, the public need to have confidence that barristers have the necessary skills, knowledge and attributes to represent their clients effectively, that they follow the rules, and maintain the highest standards of professional conduct.
As the regulator of barristers, it is our job to make sure that this is the case. We do this by constantly reviewing the rules for barristers and by taking action against any barristers who are thought to have broken them.
What to expect from barristers
On this website, we have lots of information about what to expect from barristers.
If you are using a barrister – either directly or via your solicitor – visit our What to expect from your barrister page.
If you are representing yourself in court as a Litigant in Person, find out what to expect from the barristers representing the other side, on our Information for people representing themselves in court page.
Finally, if you want to find out how to report concerns about barristers to us, visit our Reporting concerns about barristers page.