When you have decided that your problem is one that needs the help of a barrister, the next step is to find one who is right for the work that you need to be done.

Some barristers will only work through a solicitor while others will work directly with you to help resolve your problem. The information below covers how to choose and find a barrister. If you want to learn how to hire a barrister to work for you, once you have found one, visit our “How to instruct a barrister” page.

How to choose a barrister

If you start by employing a solicitor and they decide that you will need a barrister, they will usually choose your barrister for you. Solicitors will usually have barristers they work with regularly and will know who to ask.

If you want to hire a barrister directly yourself there are two key things to find out first:

  • Are they a “Public Access” barrister?

Only barristers authorised by us to be Public Access barristers are allowed to offer their services directly to the public. This is because it requires extra training. You can search for Public Access barristers on the Bar Council’s Direct Access Portal.

If you hire a Public Access barrister, you will not be able to apply for legal aid - financial help to meet the costs of going to court.

  • Are they registered to practise in England and Wales?

Our Barristers’ Register is the only online database containing details of all barristers who are authorised to practise in England and Wales and who have a current practising certificate. It includes Public Access barristers and non-Public Access barristers. It will tell you what work a specific barrister is authorised to do, including whether they can do Public Access work, and whether they have been the subject of any recent disciplinary findings.

Only barristers who hold a valid practising certificate issued by us are allowed to offer or provide legal services. These barristers are known as “practising barristers” and they must renew their practising certificates with us every year.

You can use the Register to search for a practising barrister’s name or the place where they work. If you are thinking about employing a barrister, you may be asked to pay fees in advance. If this happens, we recommend that you ask what safeguards there are for your money to ensure that it is not at risk.

What else you need to know to help you choose

If you are planning to instruct a barrister, you will want to know that they have expertise in your legal issue, what they can do for you, and an idea of how much it will cost. Our rules state that all barristers must make sure that they publish information about:

  • the areas of law in which they specialise;
  • the legal services that they provide;
  • guidance as to what those services may cost; and
  • what your rights are if something goes wrong with the way they provide the services to you.

Public Access barristers must provide more detailed information than non-Public Access barristers.

This information is designed to help you or your solicitor make an informed decision when choosing a barrister.

If a barrister has a website, the information listed above should be available online. If they do not have a website or you cannot find it on their website, you should ask to be provided with the information in a hard copy format.

As cost can be an important factor when finding and selecting a barrister, we have got more useful information in our separate section on barristers and their fees.

Check that your barrister has a practising certificate

When choosing a barrister, it is useful to understand a little bit more about who can call themselves a “barrister”.

Only barristers with a valid practising certificate (called “practising barristers”) are allowed to provide “reserved legal activities” and (with some exceptions) you must have a practising certificate to use the title “barrister” if you are providing legal services. The six “reserved legal activities” are: the exercise of a right of audience, the conduct of litigation, reserved instrument activities, probate activities, notarial activities and the administration of oaths. This is a very technical area of law and, if you need to know whether or not the legal work you require involves a “reserved legal activity”, you should ask your legal adviser.

“Unregistered barristers” are those barristers who do not hold valid practising certificates. “Unregistered barristers” may not have completed the work based element of training (which is usually known as “pupillage”) or may simply no longer be practising. Although they can provide unreserved legal services, they are not subject to the same level of regulation as barristers with practising certificates so they are not allowed to use the title “barrister” when doing legal work (although they will still be required to comply with some of the Core Duties and can still be disciplined by us.) They can use the title “barrister” in other areas of their life or while doing non-legal work.

You can check that your barrister has a practising certificate by looking at our Barristers’ Register.   

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.

See “General information about barristers” for more about the work undertaken by barristers.