What does “admitted to the bar” actually mean?
When I was in law school, I knew I that to practice law I had to be admitted to the bar. It wasn’t until about two years into law school that I got a visual demonstration of what that admittance really meant.
In 2008, HBO released the miniseries John Adams. The award-winning seven-episode biopic of our second president and the beginning of our country caught my attention after long days of studying.
Adams practiced as a lawyer before becoming a politician, and in 1770, he represented British soldiers in what came to be known as the Boston Massacre. The miniseries’ staging of the reenactment of the trial clarified the role of the “bar” for me.
The bar is an actual physical partition that separates the courtroom. The public stays behind this railing or some other barrier; the area in front of the partition is restricted to participants in the trial or hearing. To be a lawyer is to be admitted to the non-public side of the partition. Eventually the word for the partition, “bar,” became a shortened way of referring to lawyers as a whole.
I was amazed that the witnesses, defendants, and public spectators were all crowded together. The miniseries did a great job of portraying how easy it must have been to intimidate a witness. In the photo to the right, these men are literally breathing down the poor witness’ neck. In addition, witnesses had to stand so close to the defendants. That would never happen today.
Below are two modern-day probate courts in Dallas County, Texas, showing the partition between the court and the gallery.
Did you know that in some countries, like England, there are two types of attorneys?
- Barristers primarily practice in court and generally specialize in advocacy in a particular field of law. Barristers can pass the partition, or bar!
- Solicitors generally conduct litigation and practice in law outside court, although they can appear in some lower courts.
You may have heard the term “attorney and counselor at law.” At one time in the United States, the institution of attorney was similar to that of the English solicitor, and that of a counselor was almost identical to that of the barrister. Today this distinction has disappeared.