What is a barrister?

A barrister is an independent lawyer with specialist skills in dispute resolution, litigation strategy and advice, and in advocacy before the court.


In Victoria, an Australian lawyer who wishes to practise as a barrister will generally become a member of the Victorian Bar. Prospective barristers who are either admitted to the Australian legal profession, or reasonably expect to be admitted by the time they sign the Roll of Counsel, are required to undertake the Bar's entrance examination and the Bar Readers' Course - a 9-10 week full-time course in advocacy, barristers' practice and skills, ethics, and rules - as well as serve pupillage or "Read" for 9 months with a barrister of at least 10 years' standing.

Most importantly, for this relates to their independence and specialisation, members of the Victorian Bar undertake not to practise otherwise than exclusively as a barrister, and undertake to comply with the Constitution, practice rules and regulations. These rules and regulations are designed, amongst other things, to maintain the highest standards of professionalism and integrity amongst members of the Bar.

Many barristers specialise in particular jurisdictions and areas of law. Our Bar Associations further and support that specialisation in particular areas of practice. Full details of the Bar Associations are available here.

Independence and the "cab rank" rule

Each barrister practises alone as an individual. A barrister is not permitted to practise in partnership or as an employee, and is not permitted to practise as the employer of any legal practitioner in active practice. 

 A barrister is bound by the “cab-rank” principle. This 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.