A barrister (also called "counsel") is a type of lawyer who specialises in court advocacy and the giving of legal opinion.
To become a barrister, you must pass the exams set by the Kings Inns. (The Kings Inns is the body which governs entry to the profession of barrister-at-law in Ireland). After you have passed your exams, you must be "called to the Bar" and you must complete a year of "devilling", which is a form of apprenticeship for barristers.
Barristers must wear white collars and a black gown in most courts. They may also wear a wig. In certain courts, such as the family law courts and the children's court, barristers do not wear the wig and gown.
Barristers are not allowed to set up "chambers" or partnerships together. Each barrister is self-employed and works as an individual. In December 2015, the Oireachtas passed the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 which provides for, among other things, new business models for legal practitioners including barrister/barrister and barrister/solicitor partnerships and multi-disciplinary practices.
If you are involved in a court case, you may come across junior and senior counsel.
Functions of a barrister
Barristers have a wide range of different functions:
- Barristers draft legal opinions. For example, a barrister might give you a legal opinion on whether or not you have a good legal case against someone with whom you have had a dispute.
- The barrister will then write the legal documents (writs or pleadings) which must be filed in the case.
- When the case comes to trial, it is the barrister who will represent you in court, speak on your behalf and argue your case before the judge.
- Your barrister may also be the person who negotiates a settlement of your case instead of it going to trial.
Engaging a barrister
Barristers are not contacted directly by the public - they are engaged by solicitors to work on a case. When you contact a solicitor for legal advice, your solicitor may recommend that a barrister be engaged to provide services.
If you and your solicitor decide to involve a barrister in your case, the solicitor will send the barrister a brief containing all the relevant information and documents to assist the barrister in the presentation of the case.
Barristers must act in accordance with the Bar Council Professional Code of Conduct. Barristers are subject to many general rules, such as:
- A barrister may only accept so much work as they can give adequate attention to within a reasonable time
- A barrister must ensure confidentiality concerning client matters
- A barrister has duties towards the courts and they cannot mislead a court in any way
- A barrister may not tout or advertise their services
Barristers' rates and fees vary greatly. You should ask your solicitor how much it will cost to engage a barrister to act on your behalf.
How to apply
To engage a barrister, you must contact a solicitor who will then "brief" the barrister.