By Leon Fernando del Canto Gonzalez, Barrister, member of ICAM and the Bar Council.
March 2006 was a special month for me for I finally got qualified as a barrister in the United Kingdom in the Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, and was the first Spanish lawyer to get admitted into the Bar.
The United Kingdom has exactly 160,000 legal professionals in collegiate membership where 143,000 act as solicitors and 15,000 as barristers. Barristers and solicitors have different professional responsibilities and my colleague Rocío Pérez Álvarez explains this difference in a clear manner on her legal advocacy page.
In Spain, barristers are regarded as minor professionals and face certain limitations in their legal practices. Hence, I aspired to become a collegiate solicitor and worked in the highly specialized territory of international taxation in two UK companies- KPMG and Deloitte. The legal tax specialization granted me the knowledge and expertise to get selected into the Bar council along with necessary recommendations.
In England, there are great professional opportunities for Spanish lawyers working as barristers because England shares a special bond with Spain. Spanish lawyers could easily overcome their language differences by understanding the profession’s obligations and specificities. The legal system of United Kingdom is different from Spain or any other country within the continent. Hence, lawyers need to pay special attention to the study of English Legal System and its obligations including Contract, Restitution and Tort; Property Law; and Equity and the Law of Trust.
Barristers have distinctive professional traits that distinguish them from solicitors. Some of these traits include wearing a wig and a different toga in the hearings. The job of barristers is characterized for the specific legal areas and also for having the hearing rights before the superior courts which are generally not granted to the solicitors. However, the legal proceedings is undergoing a changing trend and now a new figure has emerged in the form of solicitor-advocate who gives similar hearing rights to the solicitors before the supreme courts. Hence, the difference between a solicitor and a barrister is that of major legal specialization.
The work of a barrister requires independence and so we work in a solitary manner, grouped in chambers under the administrative direction of a clerk. We cannot share our honours like the lawyers working in a professional firm, and so unless you are authorized under the direct access protocol, we cannot have a direct contractual relationship with any client. Generally, barristers work under the instruction of solicitors and other regulated professionals, who carry the relations with their clients.
After ten years of very specialized practice as a barrister, you can request the inclusion as Queen Counsel (QC), raising the QC badge and participating in large-scale cases. The majority of judges have at some point practised as QC.
In general, the strength of the profession continues to be the exhaustive knowledge of the law in our area of specialization. In my particular case, I have gained an expertise in the fields of Tax Law and contractual structure of digital media. In my daily practices, my focus is on counselling activities. Our profession is regulated by the Bar Council of England and Wales and the barristers must belong to one of the four Inns, or Schools, recognized in London namely Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, and the Inner Temple.
The Bar Standards Board regulates the access to the profession. However, the regulations change quite frequently and therefore, I would advise you to remain updated on the contents of the official website which you can access through this link.