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Barrister: Job description

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Barristers (in England and Wales) are specialists in advocacy and represent individuals or organisations in court. They are independent sources of legal advice and can advise clients on their case. Generally, they are hired by solicitors to represent a case in court and only become involved once advocacy before a court is needed. They plead the case on behalf of the client and the client's solicitor. However, members of the public can go directly to a barrister to ask for advice and representation in court.

Barristers usually specialise in particular areas of law such as criminal law, chancery law (estates and trusts), commercial law, entertainment law, sports law and common law, which includes family, housing and personal injury law.

Most barristers work on a self-employed basis, while others work in government departments or agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service and the Government Legal Service. An increasing number of employed barristers work in private and public organisations, such as charities.

Self-employed barristers work in offices called chambers, and may have their own office or share one with other barristers.

In Scotland, advocates have a comparable role and have rights of audience in all Scottish courts.

Typical work activities

Work activities depend on a range of factors, including the area of practice. However, barristers are generally involved in the following tasks:

  • taking instruction from clients and their solicitors;
  • understanding and interpreting the law; 
  • mastering and managing legal briefs (cases);
  • undertaking legal research into relevant points of law;
  • writing opinions and advising solicitors and other professionals;
  • preparing cases for court, including holding client conferences, preparing legal arguments, etc.;
  • advising clients on matters of law and evidence and the strength of their case;
  • representing clients in court;
  • presenting arguments in court;
  • examining and cross-examining witnesses;
  • summing up the reasons why the court should support the client's case;
  • drafting legal documents;
  • negotiating settlements.

The area of a barrister's practice will largely determine the balance and emphasis of these activities. For example:

  • the work of a criminal barrister is likely to involve a lot of advocacy in court;
  • a family law barrister may be representing clients in court in a contact dispute or divorce case, but may also be involved in mediation as a way of avoiding the need to go to court;
  • barristers practising chancery/commercial law are generally in court far less than those in other practice areas and instead spend more time undertaking drafting and advisory work.

Employed barristers undertake similar activities for one company or client. At more senior levels, they may also become involved with the development of legal policy and strategy.

Barristers also contribute to the collective running and management of chambers, particularly with respect to the recruitment of pupils and other tenants.

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AGCAS
Written by AGCAS editors
Date: 
September 2012
 

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