What do barristers do?

Barristers provide specialist legal advice and represent their clients in court and through written legal advice. The role of a barrister is to translate and structure their client's view of events into legal arguments and to make persuasive representations which obtain the best possible result for their client.

Each barrister has an overriding duty to the court and to assist in the administration of justice. Along with the 'cab rank rule', which requires barristers to act for anyone on whose behalf they are instructed (subject to a limited range of narrow exceptions), this forms the core of a barrister's ethical responsibility, and ensures that the profession maintains its reputation for excellence and independence. 

Barristers' work varies considerably depending on the area of law in which they practise and their level of expertise. Typically, barristers carry out the following tasks:

  • Advising clients on the law and the strength of their legal case, which often requires considerable amounts of legal research, followed by a written advice or 'opinion' for the client

  • Holding conferences with clients to discuss the client's situation and problems, and to provide legal advice

  • Representing clients in court: this is likely to include presenting the case, examining and cross-examining witnesses, summing up all relevant material and giving reasons why the court should support the case, and

  • Negotiating settlements with the other side.

About 80% of barristers are self-employed. The rest are employed in industry, commerce or central or local government. The work of an employed barrister can vary greatly. The majority work in specialist legal departments, advising only the organisation for which they work, whilst others work in solicitors firms, advising clients directly.

Self-employed barristers work in offices called 'chambers', which they may share with other barristers. On completion of their training, barristers apply for a permanent position known as 'tenancy' in a set of chambers.