What is Bar Law?

Matt Brady

Bar law refers to organized systems through which the majority of aspiring lawyers must pass before being allowed to practice law. Bar associations are prevalent throughout the world. Typically, bar associations require that a lawyer attend law school, after which a bar exam must be taken before being approved for practice. Lawyers who practice under bar law typically have to take periodic exams in order to continue their practice. Most countries administer uniform bar exams for all regions. Other countries allow bar law qualifications to be decided regionally, as in the United States, where lawyers must take bar exams accepted by the state in which they intend to practice. Most states do, however, opt to use exams tailored for multiple states.

Bar law gets its name from the courtroom.
Bar law gets its name from the courtroom.

Bar law gets its name from the courtroom. In a courtroom, the bar is the barrier which separates parties involved in a particular legal case from the spectators. On the one side of the bar the judge, jury, plaintiffs, defendants and practicing lawyers are allowed, and the other side is allocated for those not participating in a case. At one time, lawyers were commonly referred to as barristers. Eventually, most associations that approved lawyers for practice came to be known as bar associations.

"Bar law" came from the division of the spectators from the participants in a courtroom.
"Bar law" came from the division of the spectators from the participants in a courtroom.

Bar law doesn't only involve regional and national associations, but also includes international law associations. The International Bar Association (IBA), for example, is a consortium of multiple bar associations throughout the world. The IBA helps facilitate progressive thinking in law across the world, and helps provide a free flow of legal information from one bar association to another.

In the U.S., bar associations exist on the state, national and federal levels. Typically, aspiring lawyers have to go through their particular state's association. A state association may, however, belong to and use material from a national association, such as the American Bar Association (ABA). The government has its own association, called the Federal Bar Association (FBA), which it uses to support and train lawyers who represent the U.S. government and work on cases related to departments, agencies and court systems within the federal government.

Bar associations were scarce prior to the 19th century. Certain regions of countries had bar associations, but they were the exception. Back in the 1800s, many lawyers were able to establish a practice with little formal schooling or without having passed any significant law requirements. That had all changed by the 20th century, however, when bar associations grew in prominence, and came to be seen as the accepted standard for authenticating lawyers. Today, bar associations wield great power within the legal world. For instance, they often hold the right to force deviant lawyers out of practice. A lawyer who has had his or her legal privileges revoked is known as having been disbarred.

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