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A barrister (also known as barrister-at-law or Bar-at-law) is a member of one of the two classes of lawyer found in many common law jurisdictions with split legal professions. Barristers specialize 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 to clients, and may do transactional-type legal work. Barristers are rarely hired by clients directly but instead are retained (or instructed) by solicitors to act on behalf of clients. In some legal systems, including those of Scotland, Belgium, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Scandinavian jurisdictions, Israel, Brazil, and the British Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, a professional with similar responsibilities is called an advocate.

The historical difference between the two professions – and the only essential difference in England and Wales today – is that solicitors are attorneys, which means that 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 do so only when instructed by a solicitor or certain other qualified professional clients, such as patent agents.

Many countries with common law legal systems, including the United States of America, have abandoned the separate systems of legal representation, and an attorney (United States terminology) or lawyer can perform all the functions of each. Some other jurisdictions have a «partially fused» profession: for example, in New Zealand and some States of Australia, all solicitors are also qualified to practise as barristers, but there is still a separate system of qualification as barristers only.

Many countries with common law legal systems, including the United States of America, have abandoned the separate systems of legal representation, and an attorney (United States terminology) or lawyer can perform all the functions of each. Some other jurisdictions have a «partially fused» profession: for example, in New Zealand and some States ofAustralia, all solicitors are also qualified to practise as barristers, but there is still a separate system of qualification as barristers only.

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