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In many common law jurisdictions, a barrister is a type of lawyer, particularly one entitled to appear before the superior courts of that jurisdiction. Details vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Barristers in England and Wales

The legal profession in England and Wales is divided between solicitors and barristers. Both are trained in law but serve different functions in the practice of law. Solicitors are regulated by the Law Society, barristers by the General Council of the Bar and the individual Inns of Court. There are four Inns, all situated in the area of London close to the Law Courts in the Strand. Gray's Inn is off Holborn, Lincoln's Inn off Chancery Lane, the Middle and Inner Temples, situated between Fleet Street and the Embankment.

Intending barristers must first complete the academic stage of their legal education by obtaining a qualifying law degree (usually an LL.B, but in some universities B.A or B.C.L - a first degree in the United Kingdom unlike the United States - at a recognised university will normally satisfy this requirement) but some undertake a one year conversion course having initially graduated in a non-law subject. This conversion course is known as a CPE (Common Professional Examination) or Diploma in Law. The student then joins one of the Inns of Court and takes the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) at one of the accredited providers. It is still mandatory to 'keep terms' before the student can be called to the bar. This involves 'eating one's dinners', a quaint custom whereby all students must eat dinner at their Inn for a requisite number of times. It used to be a pre-requisite that twenty-four dinners were eaten before call but the number has since been reduced to twelve. Dining credits are available for participating in specified training events e.g. a weekend at Cumberland Lodge organised by one of the Inns credits attendees with three dinners.

The origins of this date from the time when not merely students but practitioners dined together and students picked up the elements of their education from their fellow diners and from readings given by a senior member of the Inn (Master Reader) after the meal. Even today, at least at Middle Temple, the students are required to be present both at the commencement of the formal meal and at the grace that completes it. Often moots (legal debates arguing for or against a point before a theoretical appellate court) are held in hall afterwards. At the successful completion of their BVC (where continuous assessment as well as examinations are now the rule) and the survival of the requisite number of dining nights, students are entitled to be 'called to the Bar' at a ceremony in their Inn. This is conducted by the Masters of the Bench, or 'Benchers' who are generally senior practising barristers or judges.

Once called to the bar, the new barrister has a choice whether or not to pursue a career in practice. Many barristers nowadays choose to go into commerce or academe and eschew the vagaries of life in the courtroom. Those who select the traditional route and wish to practice at the bar, must seek a 'pupillage'. This is a competitive process which involves some 1500 students applying for some 600 places each year. The online pupillage application system, OLPAS enables applicants to submit their details to up to twelve barristers chambers. However, many chambers do not participate in OLPAS and these must be contacted directly. The OLPAS application rounds take place twice a year in summer and autumn with individual chambers recruiting in one or other of these seasons.

Pupillage consists of a period of twelve months, where the pupil serves an apprenticeship to a barrister of at least five years’ experience. This is usually served in two six-month periods under different pupil-masters, although they may be in the same chambers. Traditionally, the pupil was paid nothing and could earn no fees until he second six month period, when he or she was entitled to undertake work independently. All sets are now required to pay their pupils a minimum of 10,000 per year. Some pay considerably more than that although others have applied for exemption and do not guarantee any income. The Bar is a very varied profession, both in terms of the specialism (or otherwise) of individual sets of chambers, and in the financial rewards available. For sets doing predominantly publicly-funded work, earnings are low for new practitioners, and tend to remain so for many years. In such areas, the Bar remains a career where supportive bank managers (and/or parents) are necessary. In other more specialised areas serving private clients, such as commercial, tax or chancery work, earnings are far higher and at least comparable to those of similarly experienced solicitors in big City firms (perhaps with the exception of the highest-earning partners at such firms). The Bar is perceived as something of an elite profession, both in the social sense and also academically: many barristers are educated in educational systems of the older universities where competition is encouraged.

After pupillage the new barrister must find a seat or 'tenancy' in a set of chambers. Chambers are groups of barristers, and tend to comprise between 20 and 60 barristers. The members of a Chambers share the rent and facilities, such as the service of "clerks" (who are a cross between a salesmen and a PA), secretaries and other support staff. Most chambers offer a system whereby the members contribute to these common expenses by paying a certain percentage of their gross income. However, there is no profit-sharing as in a business partnership, and individual barristers keep the fees they themeselves earn, beyond what they have to pay towards the chambers expenses. The Bar remains a highly individualistic profession. Nonetheless, earnings can be high, with the top Queen's Counsel (QCs or 'silks' as they are known, from their silk gowns) making well in excess of 1 million a year. Although not all barristers now practise from the Inns themselves (for reasons such as the limited amount of space available and the terms upon which Inns premises are habitually leased), the vast majority still practise from chambers. The names placed on boards at the entrances of many of the staircases of the buildings within the Inns are the names of the tenant barristers (and occasionally distinguished members now prominent in judicial or political life) practising out of the chambers in those buildings.

The Inns bear more than a passing resemblance to Oxford and Cambridge colleges, with communal dining halls and libraries as well as living and working rooms: arguably, this facilitates the transition from public school to Oxbridge college to the Bar. Each of these institutions look (and some say is) remarkably similar.

Barristers' work dress is very traditional in that they are required to wear a horsehair wig when they appear as advocates in court, with a black gown and a dark suit and a white shirt with strips of white cotton called 'bands' hanging before a wing collar. This makes them very easy to distinguish, although individuals can be disguised and anonymous, whereas the garments emphasise the dramatic nature of their calling. The question of barristers' and judges' clothing is currently the subject of review, and there is some pressure to adopt a more "modern" style of dress, with European-style gowns worn over lounge suits.

Barristers act primarily as advocates with rights of audience in all courts within the jurisdiction. Some solicitors now have extensive rights as advocates (the lower courts and tribunals as well as preliminary hearingss have long been open to them), but the Bar is uniquely linked with court work and the presentation of the lay client's case before it. However, many barristers hardly ever appear in court; they undertake specialist advice, given to clients in ‘cons’ or conferences, and they prefer to avoid the uncertainties of litigation. They may also give extensive written advice or draft legal documents. In the end, though, most barristers are probably properly equated with US trial lawyers in that they do not deal with the public (or lay clients) directly, but through the intermediary of a solicitor.

There are currently about 10,000 barristers in practice in the UK, of whom about ten percent are QCs. Many barristers are also employed in companies as ‘in-house’ counsel, or by local or national government. Perhaps the cleverest work in academic institutions. In Scotland, members of the equivalent profession are known as ‘Advocates’, and they are regulated by the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh.

Barristers in other common law jurisdictions

Barristers are also found in Northern Ireland, Ireland, Hong Kong (where the Chinese language name 大律師 is also used), and Australia (in the states without a fused profession, namely New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland and Victoria). In Canada the professions of barrister and solicitor are fused and many lawyers refer to themselves with both names, though in Quebec which has substantive law under the civil law tradition the practice is closer to that of the United Kingdom with les avocats practicing before the courts and civil law notaries or les notaires limited to most of the functions of solicitors.

In Western Australia, the professions of barristers and solicitors are fused but nonetheless an independent bar is in existence, regulated by the Western Australian Legal Practice Board.