Call 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, 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. They may not, however, practise as a barrister until they have completed (or been exempted from) a pupillage. After completing pupillage, they are considered to be a practising barrister with a right of audience before all courts.

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

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 or at Temple Church for the Inner Temple, 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.

The better explanation is that, in the Middle Ages, there was an inner and outer (or utter) bar at Westminster Hall in London, miles away from the Inns of Court. Pupil barristers, bar and law students used to engage within the 'Inner Bar', as a kind of ritual 'trial-advocacy boxing-ring', in a practice series of debates, moots and mock trials judged by qualified barristers and judges acting as referees and standing all the while outside of the Bar, thus the Outer or Utter Bar to which the trainees or apprentices were then called, if successful.[1]

Particular jurisdictions

Common law jurisdictions include Australia, England and Wales, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Nigeria, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and most 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).


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 his or her 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, one issued by the respective provincial Law Society for call to the bar and the other by the Superior Court (Ontario) or Court of Queen's Bench (Manitoba) for admission as a solicitor. In Ontario being called to the bar required students to article (apprentice) with a law firm for ten months, but since many students, especially minorities or those older than 40, were not able to get an articling position, a pilot alternative program available through the University of Ottawa and Ryerson was established. The Law Practice Program requires the articling students to spend four months in a virtual law office and to spend another four months in a work placement (usually unpaid). [2] Alberta is the only common law jurisdiction with individual, rather than group, calls. The student's supervisor, referred to as his or her principal, makes an oral application to the Provincial Court of Alberta or Court of Queen's Bench to have the student called to the bar. Gowns are worn and the ceremony is public, with the presiding judge (or judges) welcoming the new member with a speech written specifically for that call. In Quebec, a civil law notary is very similar to a 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".[3] Once admitted, New Zealand's "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.


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 thirty six 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 U.S. attorneys to refer to their qualification as a lawyer.

See also


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