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 instruct certain barristers – known as “public access barristers” - directly without the need for a solicitor.
You can also find out more about barristers on the Bar Council’s website.
What barristers do
Barristers can provide a range of legal services.
These services include representing people or businesses in court or in a tribunal or in another formal setting by advising their clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their case and by presenting (advocating) their case for them. In addition, barristers often provide specialist legal advice even if their client’s case is not likely to, or never does, go to court.
They can also start a legal proceeding in a court on behalf of their client providing they are specially authorised by us to do so (in what is known as being “authorised to conduct litigation”).
Our rules stipulate that all barristers must act with integrity, honesty, and independence, provide a competent and professional service and keep their knowledge of their practice area fully up to date.
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.
Most importantly, they have different systems of regulation. Barristers are regulated by us and solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Both barristers and solicitors must abide by similar rules but there are some differences. 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 whom are regulated while others are not. When seeking legal advice you should always check whether the person you are dealing with is properly regulated. All practising barristers are regulated by us. If you use a regulated legal adviser you can rest assured that they are properly qualified and that you will have far better protection if you are not happy with the service you receive or if something goes wrong.
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 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.
More about the term “barrister”
A barrister is someone who has been Called to the Bar of England and Wales, after completing a rigorous process of training involving academic, vocational and work-based components. People who have 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 have to have a practising certificate from the BSB.
If someone is not a practising or unregistered barrister then they may be committing a criminal offence if they describe themselves as a barrister. We can confirm if someone has been awarded the title. 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. Some barristers 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 to everyone
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 the vulnerable to be protected, criminals to be brought to justice so that laws are upheld, and contracts to be enforced so that businesses can flourish. 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 abide by the rules governing their conduct, and that they adhere to 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 found to have broken them.