02 September 2015
Confessions of an Office Assistant – What are Barristers?
I think I need some Counselling…
The Summer is nearly over and I’m almost pleased. Something mortifying happened. It’s been a few weeks since and I can only just put pen to paper to share it with you.
Patrick and I were invited to a summer garden party at one of the local barrister’s Chambers. All terribly exciting. I’ve not been to one before and Patrick assured me it would all be very jolly and fun with canapés and plenty of champagne.
Looking back he was right, but I think I had one glass of fizz too many when ‘the incident’ occurred. I told Patrick but he just laughed and said it was what parties were for - what do you think?
I was having a lovely old time when I was suddenly approached by this fabulous pair of people. Think George and Amal Clooney, but even more stunning, if you can believe that. We introduced ourselves - they were members of Chambers, barristers specialising in personal injury work.
We had a nice chat about some of our cases and I let them know all about our latest settlement – the one for the nice Mr Partridge, the architect who you’ll remember slipped over at work.
They both told me about cases they were working on and then I did it…I told them the worst joke in the world…I am SO embarrassed…it was the champagne!
In my most serious voice I said “if you are such excellent baristas can you tell me the difference between a flat white and a latte?”
Before anyone could answer, Patrick had made his way over to us and said he was glad I had already met Michael and Penny…
I was already reeling from what I had just said, but Penny laughed and said that she didn’t think there was any difference between the two except that a flat white was much smaller and overpriced.
Patrick went on to explain that we would soon be sending briefs to Penny and Michael to appear in a preliminary hearing of an application for a new client who had suffered catastrophic injuries in an accident at work. It so happens that Penny is a QC and Michael will be instructed as her ‘Junior.’
Well, thank you Patrick, for not telling me this in advance…
The good news is that Penny is now my new best friend because the application was successful and we celebrated with a coffee afterwards - two skinny lattes.
This is what I have since learned about barristers.
They are sometimes called ‘Counsel.’ The ‘bar' is how you would describe all the barristers in one go. When you become a barrister you are 'called to the bar.'
Barristers are usually, but not always, self-employed but they work together in offices known as Chambers or a ‘set’ of Chambers. These Chambers can be anywhere, but in London, they might be found in one of the four Inns of Court which are like houses at Hogwarts but are known as Grays Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Lincolns Inn. Barristers join an inn when they qualify. They are required to have a set number of formal dinners with other barristers in the inn. It's a way of getting to know each other but, basically, you can't become a barrister without eating lots of dinners!
Barristers advise on specific points and prepare documents as well as represent clients in court. Solicitors can also represent clients in court but barristers are particularly skilled in this and do it most days. The client, usually, but not always, has to instruct a barrister via a solicitor who will do so by sending a set of instructions or a 'brief' to the barrister's clerk. This is a bundle of papers tied up with pink string. Patrick prefers to send an email now but occasionally asks me to prepare the papers in the old fashioned way. The clerks in Chambers organise the barristers' briefs, diaries and fees and (so I was told) in some cases, their entire lives.
Barristers who are particularly good might apply to become a ‘Queen's Counsel’ or ‘QC’ and will then be referred to as a ‘Silk’ because they will wear a silk gown in court. All barristers wear gowns and wigs made of horsehair, but not all of the time. It depends whether or not the court hearing is being held in Chambers. If a court hearing is held in Chambers then the barristers won't bother dressing up and neither will the judge. They are always smart though.
Barristers who are not QCs are known as ‘Juniors’ even if they are older and have been doing the job for years when they’ll be known as ‘senior juniors.’ Barristers who are just qualifying are called ‘pupils.’ Pupils hope that after their six month 'pupillage' their ‘pupil master’ or ‘Head of Chambers’ (the boss, usually a QC), the senior clerk and all the other barristers in Chambers will like them enough to let them stay there and give them a ‘Tenancy.’ That means they get to work there. Unless they are very busy they won't live there (!) but they do pay rent! That's the proportion of their fees they pay to Chambers to pay for the expenses involved in running Chambers.
Patrick says that if he had a pound for every time someone asked him when he was going to become a barrister he would be very rich. But he's not going to become one because he a solicitor. Barristers and solicitors are both types of lawyers who work together doing different jobs for clients. He always tells me that solicitors do one more year of training than a barrister and he is right. I looked it up.
Read more about the difference between a lawyer, a solicitor and a barrister.
John Reeder is a Senior Personal Injury Lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London. For a free consultation about a work accident compensation claim, call our No Win No Fee Personal Injury Lawyers 24 hours 7 days a week on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will get back to you.