A barrister (also called "counsel") is a type of lawyer who specialises in court advocacy and giving legal opinions.
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. Practising barristers must also be on the Roll of Practising Barristers maintained by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA).
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:
- 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 may then write the legal documents (writs or pleadings) which must be filed in the case.
- If the case comes to trial, the barrister may 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.
Can I hire 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 are not allowed to set up "chambers" or partnerships together. 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. These new business models have not come into operation yet.
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 his/her name, which stand for "Barrister at Law". Junior counsel tend to do most of the paperwork in cases (drafting legal documents) and they represent clients mainly in the lower courts (the District Court and the Circuit Court).
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 his/her 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 now 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, 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.