the bar

the bar

bar, the, originally, the rail that enclosed the judge in a court; hence, a court or a system of courts. The persons qualified and authorized to conduct the trial of cases are also known collectively as "the bar." From late medieval times in England the Inns of Court acted as training schools for men who were to plead causes in the courts, and when a student was judged to be trained in competence, he was "called to the bar" of the Inn; automatically he was then judged competent to plead at the bar of the courts. Modern bar associations, through which the legal profession regulates itself, derive from the Inns of Court. Attorneys must be admitted to the bar before they can practice law in the United States. The requirements for admission vary among the states, but generally an applicant must be of good moral character, have completed a stated course of study at a law school, and have passed a bar examination. The last two requirements were once satisfied by clerking and "reading law" with a practicing attorney. A lawyer can be prohibited from practicing law (disbarred) for conduct impeding justice, criminal acts involving moral turpitude, or unethical professional conduct. The first state to allow women admission to the bar was Iowa (1869), and Great Britain admitted women to law practice in 1919. There are 180 American Bar Association-approved law schools in the United States, the oldest being Harvard Law School, founded in 1817.
The Call to the Bar is a legal term of art in most common law jurisdictions. Common law jurisdictions were all at one time part of the British Empire. Being called to the Bar has its origin in the royal summons that was issued to one seen fit to serve in the royal court at the monarch's pleasure. Such jurisdictions distinguish two types of lawyers:

  • Barristers have a right of audience in the higher courts (the House of Lords, Court of Appeal, High Court, Crown Court and County Courts);
  • All Solicitors have a right of audience in the lower courts (High Court and County Courts when sitting "in chambers" (i.e., not in a public hearing) and are permitted 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. Solicitors with "higher rights" have the same rights of audience as barristers. In practice, most solicitors practising in contentious areas acquire higher rights within two years of qualification as a matter of course.

Those who are not solicitors, but have been licensed to argue in court, are said to have been "called to the Bar" or to have received a "call to the Bar". In the legal system of England and Wales, a lawyer is not permitted to be both a solicitor and a barrister. In other jurisdictions, the precise terminology and the degree of overlap between the two roles varies greatly: in most, the formal distinction has disappeared entirely.

A call ceremony takes place at the barrister's Inn of Court, usually in the lawyer's pupillage year. A barrister is initially called to the utter ("outer") Bar. This is in contrast to "inner barristers" - an old-fashioned name for student barristers because they formally sat on the "inner" tables at Hall, during dinners, debates and moots. "Utter" barristers - both junior Counsel and Queen's Counsel - would sit on the outermost tables, and Benchers of the Inn (rather like Fellows of other institutions) would sit at High Table. Confusingly, in Court the "Utter Bar" only refers to junior barristers and "the inner Bar" are those who have taken silk, and are allowed to plead from "inside the Bar" in Court.

For solicitors, the equivalent is to be "admitted as a solicitor", "enrolled as a solicitor" or "admitted and enrolled as a solicitor".

Particular jurisdictions

Common law jurisdictions include Australia, England and Wales, New Zealand, Hong Kong, India, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and most other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Nations, and the United States.

  • 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 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 a "Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand". Once admitted, New Zealand lawyers are able to practise in either mode provided they hold a practicing certificate. Admission is overseen by one of the fourteen District Law Societies.
  • United States: Generally, lawyers are said to have been "admitted to the Bar" and become "attorney and counselor at law" upon taking their 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.

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