A barrister (also called "counsel") is a type of lawyer who specialises in court advocacy and giving legal opinions. There are two levels of barrister – junior and senior counsel.
Barristers generally 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.
What does a barrister do?
Barristers have a wide range of different functions, including:
- Providing legal advice and opinions in contentious matters (where there is a dispute ultimately being determined by someone like a judge) and non-contentious matters. In non-contentious matters, some barristers may be able to provide advice directly to a client.
- Writing legal documents, such as writs or pleadings, that must be filed in a case.
- Representing you in court and arguing your case before a judge, if your case goes to trial.
- Negotiating a settlement of your case instead of it going to trial.
- Acting as mediators or arbitrators in alternative dispute resolution, where you and the other party want resolve a dispute outside of court
Can I hire a barrister?
Barristers are not typically “hired” directly by a member of the public – they are generally engaged by solicitors to work on a case and always when a matter is contentious. However, some non-contentious matters can be dealt with by certain barristers hired by a member of the public. If you contact a solicitor for legal advice, your solicitor may recommend that a barrister be engaged to provide services.
Barristers operate on a ‘taxi-system’ and must be available to take work from any solicitor who engages them, regardless of the size and resources of the solicitor’s firm.
If you and your solicitor decide to engage a barrister, 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 operate as sole traders and are currently not allowed to set up "chambers" or partnerships with solicitors or other barristers. However, it is not uncommon for two or more barristers to work together on a case. Groups of barristers can also come together to tender for government work.
The Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 provides for new business models for legal practitioners, including:
- Solicitor-barrister partnerships
- Barrister-barrister partnerships
- Multi-disciplinary practices
These new business models have not come into operation yet.
How to become a barrister
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.
If you are a qualified lawyer from outside of Ireland and wish to practice as a barrister in Ireland, you must apply to be admitted to the Bar of Ireland. You can read more about becoming a barrister on the Bar of Ireland website.
Junior and Senior Counsel
If you are involved in a court case, you may come across Junior and Senior Counsel.
When barristers are first "called to the Bar", they act as Junior Counsel. A Junior Counsel may have the letters BL after their name, which stand for "Barrister at Law".
After about 10 to 15 years of practising as a Junior Counsel, a barrister may apply to become a Senior Counsel. This is sometimes called "taking silk" because the Senior Counsel's gown was traditionally made of silk. A Senior Counsel may have the letters SC after their name.
Senior Counsel are very experienced advocates who represent clients in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Usually, if a Senior Counsel is involved in a case, there will also be a Junior Counsel to assist.
Experienced and/or specialist solicitors can also apply to become a Senior Counsel and use the letters SC after their name. Solicitors appointed Senior Counsel remain solicitors.
Code of conduct
Barristers, who are members of the Law Library, must act in accordance with the Bar Council Professional Code of Conduct (pdf). Barristers are subject to many general rules outlined in the code of conduct.
- May only accept so much work as they can give adequate attention to within a reasonable time
- Must ensure confidentiality concerning client matters
- Has duties towards the courts and they cannot mislead a court in any way
How do I complain about abarrister?
Before 7 October 2019, complaints about barristers were made to The Bar of Ireland through the Barristers Professional Conduct Tribunal.
Since 7 October 2019, if you have a complaint about inadequate services, excessive costs or alleged misconduct against barristers, you can make a complaint to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA).