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A barrister is a member of one of the two classes of lawyer found in many common law jurisdictions with split legal professions. Barristers specialise in courtroom advocacy, drafting legal pleadings and giving expert legal opinions. They can be contrasted with solicitors — the other class of lawyer in split professions — who have more direct access with clients and who are in general office based. Barristers are rarely if ever hired by clients directly but instead are retained (or instructed) by solicitors to act on behalf of clients.

The historical difference between the two professions—and the only essential difference in England and Wales today—is that a solicitor is an attorney, which means they can act in the place of their client for legal purposes (as in signing contracts) and may conduct litigation on their behalf by making applications to the court, writing letters in litigation to the client's opponent and so on. A barrister is not an attorney and is usually forbidden, either by law or professional rules or both, from "conducting" litigation. This means that while the barrister speaks on the client's behalf in court, he or she can only do so when instructed by a solicitor.

Many countries with common law legal systems, such as the United States, do not observe a distinction between barristers and solicitors. In countries with civil law or other kinds of legal systems the legal profession is often separated into divisions but these divisions would rarely shadow those of barristers and solicitors.


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