There are all kinds of situations where you may need the help of a barrister. They do a wide range of work and help a wide range of people.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to know whether your situation is actually a legal problem or not and therefore whether it needs a legal solution. So, before you consider whether you need a barrister – or indeed whether you need another type of lawyer, like a solicitor – it is best to start by thinking about whether you think you have a legal problem or not.


Identifying legal problems

Sometimes, it will be obvious that you need legal advice or help - for example, if someone sues you, or if you are arrested or charged with committing a crime. But there are times when it is more difficult to know, because the situation may concern a less well-known area of the law or because it has a non-legal problem linked to it as well – for example, the emotional strain of a separation or the worry of a long-term critical illness.

In other situations, the problem you face may be so complex and overwhelming that it is hard to identify the legal issues. The law governs many aspects of our lives, so it is worth finding out what your rights and protections are.  

Some common situations where you may need legal help or advice include:

  • an accident involving personal injury or property damage;
  • a family problem such as a divorce or child custody dispute;
  • discrimination or harassment at work;
  • a problem with your landlord or tenant, for example around repairs or eviction;
  • starting a new business;
  • the drafting of a will;
  • an arrest or questioning by police; or 
  • an immigration issue.

Sometimes you may not have a problem yet, but if you think a legal problem may arise you can get advice on how to prevent it from occurring.

The Legal Choices website can be a good starting point for trying to work out whether you have a legal problem and there are several sites which can give you further advice such as www.gov.uk, www.citizensadvice.org.uk, www.lawworks.org.uk and www.advicenow.org.uk.

Barristers can help you with many legal problems, for example, by providing advice on your legal rights, drafting legal documents for you and representing you in a court or tribunal. However, before you get in touch with a barrister, you need to know something about the different roles of barristers and solicitors in our legal system.


Whether you need a barrister or a solicitor. Or both!

There are lots of people who can offer you help with a legal problem but only some of them are independently “regulated”. If they are regulated, it means that you can be sure that they are fully qualified and that there will be someone to help you if something goes wrong. Barristers, solicitors and Chartered Legal Executives are all examples of independently regulated advisers but Will Writers and “McKenzie Friends”, for example, are not. A “McKenzie Friend” is someone who can help you if you are representing yourself in court but they do not need to have any legal qualifications and the law says that there are some things that only fully qualified solicitors or barristers can do. For a fuller explanation of all the legal advisers that are available see the Legal Choices website

There are some kinds of legal work (known as “reserved legal activities”) which only a properly regulated adviser can do for you. For a barrister to be able to do these activities they must have a valid practising certificate issued by the Bar Standards Board. If a barrister has a practising certificate, you can be confident that they are fully qualified and they must comply with the BSB Handbook, which sets out the ethical duties of practising barristers. They will also keep their knowledge up to date by doing continuing professional development.

Most people tend to seek legal advice at first from a solicitor. They will work directly with you to help you resolve your legal problems. They will meet you, work out what the case is, sort out the paperwork, and communicate with others involved in your case. If the case needs to go to court, or if more specialist advice is needed, a solicitor will often instruct a barrister to offer expert advice about a specific area of the law, or to go to court and represent you.

But you can also go straight to certain barristers for help provided that they are specially registered by us to work directly for members of the public. These barristers are known as "Public Access" barristers.

See “How to find a barrister” to find out when and why you might want to go directly to a barrister.


Immigration and asylum advice

If your legal problem involves immigration or asylum issues, you could also choose to go to an advisor registered by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) for help.

To help you find the best advice for you in this area we have produced some guidance which explains:

  • the different types of people and organisations that can assist with immigration and asylum issues;
  • how to choose the best provider;
  • what to expect from providers; and
  • what to do if something goes wrong.

The guidance was developed with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC). It is available in a range of different languages.


Legal activities that barristers are allowed to do

There are a number of different activities or types of work a barrister can do for you. Here are some examples:

  • A barrister may represent you in a court or tribunal;
  • A barrister may give you legal advice;
  • A barrister may draft legal documents for you;
  • A barrister may advise you on the formal steps which need to be taken in court proceedings, and draft formal documents for use in those proceedings;
  • A barrister may draft and send letters for you;
  • If a witness statement from you is required in court proceedings, a barrister may prepare that statement from what you tell them; and
  • Barristers can negotiate on your behalf and can attend employment, police or investigative hearings where appropriate.

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


Legal activities that only certain barristers are allowed to do

You might need someone to carry out the formal process of taking your case to court, known as “conducting litigation”. This includes things like filing documents at court and serving documents on others. “Serving documents” on another person means formally handing over those documents to them.

These kinds of tasks are usually done by a solicitor. However, some barristers are also allowed to “conduct litigation”. You can check if your barrister is allowed to do this by searching their record on our Barristers’ Register.

If you are using a “Public Access” barrister you may need to do these things yourself. Your barrister can explain what you need to do and what they can do for you.

See “Guidance on instructing a Public Access barrister” for more information on public access barristers and what they can and cannot do.


Barristers in the Youth Courts

If you, or a child close to you, has to appear in a Youth Court, you might need the services of a barrister.

See “What to expect from your barrister in the Youth Court” for information about the extra requirements we place on barristers working with young people and for a video on what to expect in the Youth Court.