Frequently Asked Questions


Frequently asked questions

I am an overseas qualified lawyer and I want to practise law in Australia. What do I need to do?

To practise law in Australia you must first be admitted as an Australian Lawyer. In Victoria the process for admission is conducted by the Victorian Legal Board of Admissions. If you have qualified and/or been admitted in a country other than Australia (in some countries admission is referred to as "being called to the Bar"), the relevant information can be found here.

If, once you have been admitted as an Australian Lawyer or you have a reasonable expectation that you will be admitted, you want to join the Victorian Bar and practise as a barrister, please refer to Becoming a Barrister.

What is the difference between a barrister and a solicitor?

Specialist vs generalist

The most basic difference is that barristers are self-employed and their work involves resolving disputes, often in court; while solicitors are often in partnerships or are employees of a 'firm' and work advising clients on a broad range of issues. This is not unlike a general practitioner doctor (like a solicitor) who sees patients with all sorts of problems and then refers the patient to a specialist for particular treatment or surgery (like a barrister).

Key Differences

Generally speaking, a barrister:

Generally speaking, a solicitor:

is self-employed;

can be a member of a partnership or operate through a company;

cannot be a member of a partnership or operate through a company;

is the first port of call for clients, and, if required, will engage the services of a barrister;

works from a room in 'chambers', a term used to describe a building or floor in a building occupied by barristers;

has a right of audience in courts and tribunals, but generally will engage a barrister to be present and argue cases;

has specialist skills in advocacy and will often specialise in particular areas, somewhat like a physician or surgeon in the medical field who specialises in particular areas;

prepare cases for trial, including locating documents, marshalling witnesses and taking proofs of evidence;

is engaged (or 'briefed') by a solicitor to act for a client, but in some cases is able to accept instructions direct from a client;

provides the barrister with their instructions;

undertakes appearance work (such as presenting a case in court) and advice work (such as advising a client on a particular issue);

is not bound by the 'cab rank principle';

Can everyone get representation?

The 'Cab Rank Principle'

The principle means that if a barrister is requested to act for a client then the barrister must accept the brief and act for the client if the client's problem is within the barrister's area of law, the client is willing to pay the barrister's fee for the work and the barrister has the time to take on the work. It is a bit like hailing a taxi at a taxi stand: all of them will take you where you need to go, no matter who you are. This is why it's called the cab rank principle.

The reason for this principle is that it ensures that even unpopular or disliked clients or causes can have someone to represent them in court. Making sure that every person can have someone to go to court for them is an important part of our legal system. Barristers play a big part in making sure that the courts are fair for everyone and also that 'little' clients, such as individuals, have the same rights in court as the 'big' clients, like the Government or large organisations.

What skills do you need to be a good barrister?

Key Skills

  • You need to like reading
  • You need to be good with people and be quite confident - it's hard to do the job if you're shy
  • You need to be able to analyse complicated facts and put together an argument for your client
  • You have to be good at talking and thinking on your feet (although this is a skill which you will get better at with practice)

Key Steps

  • You need a law degree or juris doctor qualification from university
  • You need to complete practical legal training and then be admitted to 'practise' as a lawyer. This means that you are a qualified legal practitioner and you can choose to work as either a barrister or a solicitor.
  • To become a barrister, you then need to spend 9 months in training, called 'reading'
  • For part of the reading period, you will enrol in the training course for barristers (called 'Bar Readers' Course'). If you pass, you are entitled to work as a barrister (your name and signature will appear on the 'Roll of Counsel' of the Victorian Bar, which means you are a barrister). Then you can accept briefs!
  • For the remainder of the reading period you can work on your own, but you will have another barrister who will help you learn about the job and shares his or her chambers with you until you are ready to go out on your own.
What is the Bar Readers' Course?

The Bar Readers' Course is run by the Victorian Bar. It runs for 8-9 weeks, commencing in March and September of each year. There are around 40 participants in each intake, determined by an entrance exam. A fee is charged for the course. For more details see our Becoming a Barrister page. The course involves a number of lectures, tutorials and practical exercises designed to help equip participants for life at the Bar. The practical exercises include the preparation of court documents and moots, which are video-taped to assist participants review their performances.

What does a barrister's practice involve?

Barristers often work long hours and deal with very serious issues. For example, criminal law barrister might have to argue why a client should not go to jail or why a person is or is not guilty of an offence. A civil law barrister might have to argue why a client should not lose their house because of a debt or a why a client should not have to pay so much tax.

Because of the type of work that barristers do, working life can be demanding and sometimes stressful. But it can also be interesting, well-paid and stimulating.

How does a barrister choose which areas of law to practise in?

This is often determined by the barrister's past legal experience. New barristers often receive briefs in all areas of practice. Over time, they may develop specialities by working on particular types of cases and having success with them. New barristers with particular areas of interest will often deliver seminar papers and write articles to help build their reputations.

What does a barrister's clerk do?

A barrister's clerk performs many administrative functions for a group of barristers (referred to as the clerk's 'list') and will usually employ a number of assistants, including receptionist, accountant and delivery personnel.

Generally speaking, a clerk will:

  • liaise with clients or solicitors as to barristers' availability and professional rates

  • refer solicitor enquiries concerning new work to barristers

  • answer telephone calls and take messages for barristers

  • send barristers' invoices to solicitors

  • send bank payments to barristers and follow up on debtors

A barrister chooses a clerk by applying to the clerk to be accepted on his or her list. Each list will usually have a committee consisting of barristers on that list. The committee will meet to consider applications and make offers to candidates.

Applying to a list is much like applying for a job. An interview is often involved, together with submission of a CV.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a barrister?

Advantages

Being part of a collegiate body of professionals
Being self-employed, yet able to draw on the experience of fellow barristers for advice and support
Working on different cases with different clients - every day is different!
Advising clients on complex legal or factual issues and then having the thrill of appearing in court to argue your client's cause
Not being bound by the strictures of partnership in a law firm
Being able to moderate how hard or how easily you work
Being able to take holidays when you wish


Disadvantages

There is no guarantee of where the work is coming from, or when
When a case is running in court, you often have to work long hours
You must attend to your own accounting, administration and taxation issues
Whilst, generally speaking, you can draw on assistance and support from other members of the Bar, when you are running a case you are 'on your own'