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Called to the Bar

The call to the bar is a legal term of art in most common law jurisdictions where persons must be qualified to be allowed to argue in court on behalf of another party, and are then said to have been "called to the bar" or to have received a "call to the bar". "The bar" is now used as collective noun for barristers, but literally referred to the wooden barrier in old courtrooms, which separated the often crowded public area at the rear from the space near the judges reserved for those having business with the Court. Barristers would sit or stand immediately behind it, facing the judge, and could use it as a table for their briefs.

Like many other common law terms, the term originated in England in the Middle Ages, and the call to the bar refers to the summons issued to one found fit to speak at the 'bar' of the royal courts. In time, the English judges allowed only legally qualified men to address them on the law, and later delegated the qualification and admission of barristers to the four Inns of Court. Once an Inn calls one of its members to its bar, they are thereafter a barrister with a right of audience before all courts.

England & Wales and some other jurisdictions distinguish two types of lawyers, who are regulated by different bodies, with separate training, examinations, regulation and traditions:

  • Barristers primarily practise in court and generally specialise in advocacy in a particular field of law; they have a right of audience in all courts of England and Wales
  • Solicitors do not necessarily undertake court work, but have a right of audience in the lower courts (Magistrates and County Courts). They are admitted or enrolled as a solicitor, to conduct litigation and practise in law outside court, e.g., providing legal advice to lay clients and acting on their behalf in legal matters. A solicitor must additionally qualify as a Solicitor Advocate in order to acquire the same "higher rights" of audience as a barrister. In other jurisdictions, the terminology and the degree of overlap between the roles of solicitor and barrister varies greatly: in most, the distinction has disappeared entirely.

In England, a call ceremony takes place at the barrister's Inn of Court, before or during the pupillage year. A barrister is called to the utter ("outer") bar or "appointed to the degree of the utter bar". Those appointed as Queen's Counsel are entitled to plead from "within the Bar" in court.

Particular jurisdictions

Common law jurisdictions include Australia, England and Wales, New Zealand, Hong Kong, India, Nigeria, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and most other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Nations, and the United States (the See also section below contains links to articles on the laws of these jurisdictions).

  • Canada: In common law Canadian provinces, despite the unified legal profession (lawyers are qualified as both barristers and solicitors), the certificate issued by the provincial Law Society to the newly-qualified lawyer generally indicates he or she having been called to the Bar and admitted as a solicitor. In the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba, there are in fact two certificates issued by the respective provincial Law Society: one for call to the bar, and the other for admission as a solicitor. In Alberta, the newly qualified lawyer's supervisor, referred to as his or her principal, makes an application to the Provincial Court of Alberta or Court of Queen's Bench to have him or her admitted to the bar. In Quebec, the civil law notary is very similar to the solicitor.
  • New Zealand: As in Canada, the legal profession is fused. A lawyer in New Zealand is admitted as either a "Barrister Sole" or a "Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand".[1] Once admitted, New Zealand "Barrister and Solicitors" are able to practise in either mode provided they hold a practising certificate, while Barristers Sole are entitled only to practice as a Barrister. Admission is overseen by one of the fourteen District Law Societies.
  • Nigeria: As in New Zealand, there is no formal distinction between Barristers and Solicitors. A lawyer in Nigeria is admitted as a "Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria." Once admitted, Nigerian lawyers may argue in any Federal trial or appellate court as well as any of the courts in Nigeria's 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Lawyers are regulated by the Nigerian Bar Association.
  • Sri Lanka: In Sri Lanka, a lawyer must be admitted and enrolled as an Attorney-at-Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. This is referred to as the call to the bar.
  • United States: Generally, a lawyer is said to have been "admitted to the Bar" and become an "attorney at law" (some states still use the older term "attorney and counselor (or even spelled 'counsellor') at law") upon taking his or her oath of office. Historically, the institution of attorney was similar to that of the solicitor, whereas the office of the counselor was almost identical to that of the barrister, but today this distinction has disappeared. The phrase "called to the Bar" is still sometimes used informally by US attorneys to refer to their qualification as a lawyer.

See also


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