What is a barrister?
There are two main types of lawyers in New South Wales - barristers and solicitors. Barristers are independent, specialist advocates who are trained to appear in a courtroom, in commissions of inquiry and in alternative forms of dispute resolution. Barristers may also provide objective advice on particular legal problems for clients, solicitors, businesses and governments.
Every day, clients make strategic decisions in disruptive and stressful situations with the help of a barrister. That's why outcomes for clients improve significantly when barristers are involved at the earliest possible stage of a dispute.
Briefing a barrister
Barristers receive most of their their work (known as 'briefs') from a solicitor, who might be part of a law firm or working in-house for a company or government department. In some circumstances, barristers can also accept legal work from a person who is not a lawyer. This is known as ‘direct access’. More information about briefing barristers is available here.
Paying a barrister
Barristers charge for their services in different ways, but an itemised bill should specify in detail what you will pay. Learn more here.
What rules must a barrister follow?
A barrister has an overriding duty to the court to act with independence in the interests of the administration of justice. The Barristers Rules set out the important principles of professional conduct, including the duty to act honestly, fairly and bravely for their clients, regardless of personal beliefs.
Barristers are self-employed practitioners, but they are commonly work alongside other barristers in chambers. Most chambers have a day-to-day manager called a clerk, who assists barristers in their relationships with solicitors and manages a their diary. You may contact a chambers clerk to ask if there is a barrister who can help you.
Work for the government
Some barristers work for the government full-time, including Crown prosecutors and public defenders. These barristers have statutory independence which means that parliament has passed a law that enables them to provide their services to the government of the day, no matter which political party is in office.
What is a senior counsel?
Senior counsel are barristers who have demonstrated outstanding skill as advocates and advisers in the administration of justice. Known informally as 'silks', they work on particularly complex or difficult cases. Prior to 1993 in New South Wales such barristers were known as a QC or queen's counsel.
Becoming a barrister
If you have a passion for advocacy and court work, have a sustained ability to work independently to a high standard of excellence with the opportunity to work flexibly alongside likeminded and learned friends, then you should consider becoming a barrister. To be eligible to become a barrister in New South Wales you must:
- be admitted as a lawyer in an Australian jurisdiction. The Legal Profession Admission Board is the admitting authority in NSW;
- sit and pass the Bar Exam to the required standard; and
- complete the reading program which includes registration and satisfactory participation in the Bar Practice Course and one year of readership under the supervision of a tutor.
The Guide to Becoming a Barrister will assist you in finding out whether the bar is a career path for you. For more information, visit the pages on this website under 'Becoming a barrister'.