Abarrister ( barrister-at-law or Bar-at-law) is a type of lawyer in common law jurisdictions with a split legal profession. In England and other Common law countries with split legal profession, a barristers does not take client's direct instruction, he is instructed by a solicitor with a brief and supporting documents to appear before the courts on behalf of his client. A barrister is therefore a lawyer specialized in court room litigation. By contrast, in Bangladesh, the roles of solicitor and barrister are fused and we have only one type of lawyer referred to as 'Advocates'. A barrister is therefore a professional qualification and should be distinguished from an academic degree. A person is 'called to the bar' by any of the four Inns (Lincoln's, Gray's, Inner Temple and Middle Temple) and upon becoming a member of any particular inn, he becomes a barrister.
To qualify as a barrister the most common route is to have a LLB degree (from a University recognised by the Bar Standards Board) and thereafter successfully complete a one year vocation training called 'Bar Professional Training Course' (BPTC). Most people in Bangladesh prefer to do their LLB here under international programme/external system and then go to UK to do the BPTC as it significantly reduces cost. Therefore before one engages in such a costly education one needs to understand the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing this education track which I discussed below.
First, it is an expensive education track, even though the skills learnt thought the BPTC course is useful, on a balance it does not justify the cost. Our Bar Council can easily follow the English model and start a one year vocational training like the BPTC, so that a law graduate can learn these skills locally without going to the UK. Also it should be noted that not all the skills learnt cannot actually be applied here due to differences in our 'litigation culture' .Second, it gives no benefit in terms of enrollment as an advocate, whereas in Pakistan and Malaysia a barrister gets exemption to practice in the courts without sitting for further professional exams. Under Bangladeshi regulations, a barrister will have to go through the same process as a local LLB graduate to qualify as an advocate. Third, in the beginning of practice a young barrister is not familiar with laws of Bangladesh. It should be noted that for practical purposes, law in practice is very different from law as studied in law text books, ultimately both foreign graduates and local graduates learn from experience and practice in the courts.
Now considering the other side of the motion; the BPTC course develops practical skills such as advocacy, drafting, legal research, client conference, legal ethics etc. A local candidate after studying LLB is directly pushed into professional arena with little professional training. A barrister having these skills finds himself at a competitive advantage over the local candidates. Second, at the LLB stage (under English law curriculum), students are forced to apply their mind and think about the law; they are taught to analyse and interpret law. By contrast the local syllabus tends at making students memorize a lot of law without developing a sharp legal mind. Thirdly, barristers have knowledge about a developed legal system. Therefore, if he wants to engage himself in the process of legal reform he is more likely to think out of the box and propose solutions to remedy the loopholes in our existing legal system, which is backdated and needs major reform. Fourth, if one practices at the Supreme Court, barristers find it much easier to deal with some area of law like Constitutional, admiralty, company law etc, as they are familiar with the English principles which are often applied by our Supreme Court. Finally, clients sometimes prefer barristers over advocates. This is non-sense of course; an advocate can be equally good or better than a barrister if he understands the law and procedure and knows the art of advocacy. But it is a left-over of our colonial legacy and not surprisingly many practicing advocates want to become a barrister to get that professional edge.
Ultimately, it's a personal choice. The seats in public universities are limited and the private law schools have a lot to be desired. While I do not personally see any harm in pursuing foreign legal education one should be mindful of the fact that, our own law schools and the Bangladesh Bar Council must work together to modernise the syllabus and provide practical education to new graduates so that their entry into the legal profession is not met with hurdles and frustrations.
The Author is Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh