The legal profession of England and Wales is divided into two main branches:

  • barristers, and
  • solicitors.

Barristers (who are also known as counsel) present cases to courts and tribunals, draft complex legal instruments and advise on difficult points of law. Until recently they had to practise as sole practitioners though they could share offices known as chambers. Although solicitors can now become judges in the Senior Courts, most High Court judges are still recruited from the Bar.

Solicitors, on the other hand, have always been able to share profits and may practise in firms, as limited companies or, indeed, sole practitioners.  They manage clients’ everyday legal affairs from drawing up wills and conveying property to conducting multi-jurisdictional litigation and preparing syndicated loan documents.

Because barristers develop expertise in advocacy and particular areas of law their relationship with solicitors is often compared to that subsisting between surgeons and general practitioners in medicine. Though not an exact analogy it parallels the respective functions of the two branches of the legal profession.

Some barristers have very broad practices and will accept whatever instructions they can get. Others confine themselves to crime, family or civil.  Many limit themselves to an area of civil such as common law (contracts and tort) or chancery (companies, intellectual property, landlord and tenant, probate, tax and trusts). A few concentrate on one or more fields within those ranges. The members of NIPC Law specialize in intellectual property and closely related areas of law.  Some barristers spend most of their time in court while others work on papers in chambers.

Barristers are called to the Bar (accredited to practise) not by the state or the courts but by ancient unincorporated associations of barristers known as the Inns of Court. There are four Inns: Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn. The Inns have now delegated most of their regulatory functions to the Bar Standards Board.  Each Inn contains office accommodation which houses barristers’ chambers.  Most of the Bar still practises from chambers in those Inns though there are also chambers in towns and cities throughout England and Wales.