Is the Use of the Term “Barrister” in the Philippines a Misnomer?

barrister thumb
(Inset is the author in a British barrister’s wig and gown photoshopped costume)

by Atty. Novo-Mar Ramos

Some weeks from now, the 2015 “barristers” in the Philippines will finally see the results of the Bar Examinations they took during the last four Sundays of November.

The Bar Examinations is the last frontier that a “barrister” has to surmount in order to become a full-fledged lawyer. The oath-taking and signing in the Roll of Attorneys are simply the final acts that seal his niche in the world of the legal profession.

(Maxine Peake takes the character of Martha Costello, a smart and workaholic barrister on the British drama,
(Maxine Peake takes the character of Martha Costello, a smart and workaholic barrister on the British drama, “Silk”)

Barrister: What is in a Word?

My attention was caught by a 2010 post of an online blogger (who identifies himself only as “Jego”) who said that anybody who is not from the Philippines finds the word “barrister” incomprehensible. He (or she) mentioned that he started to notice the word when the media used it to refer to those who were victims of an explosion during a Bar Exams Operations (an annual activity by law students in support of their school’s or organization’s bar examinees).

He went on by stating that, “[a] barrister for instance means a lawyer in the UK and several other mostly British Commonwealth countries, whereas here it is someone who is taking the bar exams.”

(In the Law & Order UK TV series, Bradley Walsh plays as Senior Barrister Ronnie Brooks)

Even a colleague in the legal profession took note of the fact that Philippine law students and lawyers have been using the word but it does not conform with the dictionary meaning.” He told me that I should know better because I live in the United Kingdom where “barrister” is known widely to refer to a lawyer.

Qualifying as a British Solicitor or Barrister

In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK for brevity), lawyers are classified into two kinds: solicitors and barristers.

To qualify as a solicitor, one must undergo three stages: academic, vocational and recognized training.

(Portia-FEU Sorority sisses posed during the send-off for FEU Bar examinees)
(Portia-FEU Sorority sisses posed during the send-off for FEU Bar examinees)

Under the academic stage, one must complete a law degree which takes about one year to finish if full-time and two years if part-time, or through any degree and take the Common Professional Examination/Graduate Diploma in law course, or via apprenticeship (to be introduced this 2016), or through the Qualified Law Transfer Scheme for lawyers from other countries.

On the vocational stage, the Legal Practice Course must be completed. This stage develops the skills needed to work in a solicitors’ firm.

The last qualifying process is the period of recognized training. It involves a trainee solicitor to work in a firm of solicitors or other organizations authorized to take trainees. It is completed in two years or may be less.

Thereafter, one must pass the Professional Skills Course in order to be given the go signal to practice as a solicitor.

(A solicitors' office offering services for different legal subjects)
(A solicitors’ office in London offering services for different legal subjects)

The stages above are followed similarly to become a barrister.

In the academic stage, one must finish an undergraduate degree in law or any undergraduate degree followed by a “conversion course.”

The vocational stage involves one year of full time or two years part time study of the Bar Professional Training Course.

The last stage of training is called Pupillage, where a pupil spends one year in a barristers’ chamber or organisation approved for pupillage training. The pupil is sponsored by a barrister, who he shadows and helps with a particular activity.

Thereafter, to become a full-fledged barrister, one must obtain a tenancy from a panel of senior barristers in one of the barristers’ chambers either as self-employed or go into practice as an employed barrister.

In both classifications, there is no grueling nationwide Bar examinations to be passed. One can choose a career on either type of lawyer.

(A design for the tarpaulin used by the Far Eastern University Law Student Council)
(A design for the tarpaulin used by the Far Eastern University Law Student Council)

Differences Between a British Solicitor and a Barrister

Generally speaking, a solicitor is a general practitioner giving legal services to the public while a barrister is a specialist and an advocate, who spends a lot of time in the courtroom.

A solicitor works directly with and in behalf of clients in giving legal advice, in the preparation of documents, contracts, letters, or negotiation for settlements with corporate entities, or representation in the lower courts called magistrates courts.

On the other hand, a barrister represents a client in the higher civil or criminal courts (called Crown Courts) through a solicitor who hires and instructs him in and out of court for and in behalf of said client.

(Photo grabbed from Ateneo Law Student Council's Facebook account)
(Photo grabbed from Ateneo Law Student Council’s Facebook account)

A solicitor works as an employee or a partner in a firm of solicitors, whereas a barrister is always self-employed or a sole trader although a tenant of one of the Barristers’ Chambers and is not allowed to form or join a partnership.

Solicitors who belong to the same firm support one another in a case and advance the same argument. Each solicitor of the same firm cannot act on both sides of an issue because there would be a conflict of interests.

However, a barrister is independent from other barristers within the same Chamber. Each of them can be an advocate on either side of the opposing parties (for the complainant / prosecution or for the respondent / accused) in the same case.

(Grabbed from their respective Facebook walls)
(Grabbed from their respective Facebook walls)

A solicitor is usually being paid by the hour when giving legal services like preparing documents or representing a client. A barrister is billed by the task or a piece work such as a hearing or for writing a document irrespective of the time it is completed.

A barrister appears in court wearing a black gown and white curly wig while a solicitor does not. A solicitor just sits in the courtroom at the audience area and watches his barrister do examinations of witnesses and tries to persuade the jury on his advocacy.

A barrister who has been noted for his remarkable ability may be awarded a “silk” (such Senior Barrister is colloquially called “Silk”) and as such becomes a Queen’s Counsel. A QC is tasked to take very serious and complex cases. Most senior judges where once QCs. A solicitor may now become a Silk or QC if he has obtained full rights of audience in the higher courts and passed the required trainings and examinations in advocacy.

The regulatory body for solicitors is called the Solicitors Regulation Authority while that of the barristers is called The Bar Council.

(Photo courtesy of Myrna Mago)
(Photo courtesy of Myrna Mago)

The Philippine “Barrister”

In the Philippines, there is no classification of lawyers. Once the qualifications are completed, i.e. any undergraduate degree course with the prerequisite number of units for English and Math, a law degree, passing the Bar examinations, taking the lawyer’s oath and signing in the Roll of Attorneys, one can straight away practice the legal profession by himself, or in partnership with others in a law firm. He can also get employment in private or public offices.

A lawyer uses the appellation, “Attorney” who refers to one who is authorized to uphold, promote and apply the law. It is written shortly as “Atty.” and appended before a lawyer’s name. He gives legal services to clients in or out of the courtroom. He may also apply for a commission to become a notary public. A lawyer can specialize in a certain aspect of the law, say as an Election or Commercial Lawyer, but he can still accept cases that require knowledge for example in Civil, Criminal or Taxation law. He also becomes a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines as compelled by law.

(I recall what an officemate once told me that the head of one office department told her that there are two types of lawyers: one who passed the Bar Exams and one who did not. I found out that said head of office did not pass the Bar exams. At that time, I was in my first year of law studies where I learned that to become lawyer and be entitled to use the prefix “Atty.”, the Bar exams must be passed first.)

Unlike in Great Britain and several of the so-called Commonwealth Countries like Canada, a lawyer in the Philippines is neither called as solicitor nor barrister.

However, the word Solicitor is used by one government agency as a name of an office but not as a classification. This is the Office of the Solicitor General where the Solicitor General is the principal law officer and defender of the government. He is assisted by Assistant Solicitors, Solicitors and trial lawyers under his office.

A barrister, on the other hand, does not refer to a lawyer but to a bar examinee or candidate, that is, one who completed the required academic requirements and was given an approval by the Supreme Court to take the Bar Examinations.

I was not able to come across any book or reading material that traces the etymology or origin of the word “barrister” in the context of its use in the Philippines. As far as I know, it has become a tradition in law schools and by law students to call a bar examinee as “barista” in Filipino (Tagalog). And when translated into English, it becomes “barrister.”

Atty. Andres “Andy” Bautista, who served as a Dean of the Far Eastern University – Institute of Law, President of the Philippine Association of Law Schools (a group of all law school deans), Chairman of the Philippine Commission on Good Government and now the Chairman of the Commission on Elections, mentioned the word “barrister” in his column, “My Four Centavos” in this manner:

Bar hoping:  6,344 “barristers” will be trooping tomorrow to the UST campus to “do battle” in the 2014 bar examinations.  They will be taking a total of eight exams during the four Sundays of October.” (The Philippine Star, October 4, 2014)

It must be emphasized that Dean Andy enclosed the word in quotation marks.

Curiously, this word appears in a Supreme Court Resolution concerning the controversial Commercial Law subject during the 2003 Bar Examinations. I quote:

“Bar Ops are the biggest activity of the fraternity every year. They start as soon as new officers of the fraternity are elected in June, and they continue until the bar examinations are over. The bar operations consist of soliciting funds from alumni brods and friends to be spent in reproducing bar review materials for the use of their barristers (bar candidates) in the various review centers, providing meals for their brod-barristers on examination days; and to rent a bar site or place near De la Salle University where the examinees and the frat members can convene and take their meals during the break time.” (Supreme Court, B.M. No. 1222, February 4, 2004)

(Screenshot from Instagram)
(Screenshot from Instagram)

Interpreting a Word in Proper Context

When we encounter a word that seems to be vague, the usual route is to check its meaning in the dictionary, or in the digital world, Google.

The Blacks’s Law Dictionary defines barrister as “[i]n England or Northern Ireland, a lawyer who is admitted to plead at the bar and who may argue cases in superior courts.”

According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, it means a lawyer in Britain who has the right to argue in higher courts of law” and “a counsel admitted to plead at the bar and undertake the public trial of causes in an English superior court.”

Under, it says, chiefly British, A person called to the bar and entitled to practise as an advocate, particularly in the higher courts.

(This is the answer I got when I asked Siri on my iPhone)
(This is the answer I got when I asked Siri on my iPhone) 

It is readily apparent that the meaning of barrister as being used in the Philippine jurisdiction is not among those stated. A reference to its use in the Philippines does not exist as well.

Will this render such word as a misnomer or improperly used?

It seems like the answer is in the positive because we know that the word “bar” itself means “the court”, hence, a “barrister” is one who appears “before the bar or the court.”

The above-stated definitions particularly mention English or British as its point of origin or reference.

In the Philippines, “barrister” gained its own meaning in an annual tradition attributed to law schools and students – the Bar Operations. However, such a definition is not found in any dictionary.

(Even McDonalds is eager to well-wish the examinees)
(Even McDonalds is eager to well-wish the examinees)

One may argue that a word’s meaning should be taken in light of its contextual use having in mind the jurisdiction where it is used, the circumstances of its use and the prevailing concept surrounding it.

For example, the word “football” in the UK is different from “football” in the US – the former is a “soccer” game in the US, and the latter, it is called “rugby” in the UK.

When you go to a building’s first floor in the UK, you have to go one level up from the first level which is the ground floor. In the US and Philippines, the first floor refers to the ground floor and the immediately higher floor is the second floor.

The word “pants” refer to an underwear in the UK but a pair of trousers or jeans in the US.

A “jumper” in the US may jump using a British “jumper” or sweat shirt.

“Bonnet” in the UK refers to a car’s hood. In the US, it is something worn on one’s head.

A “subway” in the UK is an underground pathway for pedestrians. It refers to the underground train network in the US.

When you want to jog, use a pair of “trainers” in the UK but in the US it is how you call somebody giving you training.

Compare these UK to US words: lift – elevator, coach – bus, knickers – panty, mobile – cellphone, top-up – reload, chips – French fries, dummy – baby’s pacifier, fag – cigarette, chemist – pharmacy, surgery – medical or dental clinic, lorry – truck, crisps – potato chips.

And in case you landed in London and want to answer the call of nature, you will not find a comfort room (C.R.) because what you will find is a “toilet” and/or “watering closet” (W.C.).

(See more of these words used differently in British and American English at

How one misconstrued word can cause a lot of havoc is well demonstrated by the term “mokusatsu” used by Japan in response to the Allies’ demand to surrender unconditionally. It can either mean as “we are considering” or “we are ignoring.” The latter was the one perceived by the English-speaking press as the translation. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the result of such blunder.

(A restaurant and a DLSU Law student expressing their support)
(A restaurant and a DLSU Law student expressing their support)

Philippine English in the Oxford Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is considered as the “definitive record of the English language.” The Filipino diaspora rejoiced when 40 unique Filipino jargons were added in the OED when it was updated in June 2015.

UK-based Filipino lexicographer and OED Consultant Editor, Danica Salazar stated that this is the “largest single batch” of Filipino-coined words to be “published at the same time” in the dictionary. These were collectively known as “Philippine English,” the first time it is used in the OED, which refers to “those that, according to [OED’s] evidence, are chiefly or exclusively used by Filipinos or in the Philippines.”

Those that made it therein are words like “high blood,” “presidentiable,’ “salvage,” “gimmick,” “carnap,” “balikbayan,” “barangay,” and “sari-sari store” to name a few.

Salazar said that “kilig” may be included in the next edition.

Who knows that one day, the Philippine “barrister” will land a spot in the dictionary, it being used exclusively in the Philippines.

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(Left: Atty. Enrique
(Left: Atty. Enrique “Buko” Dela Cruz, my professor in college and Juan Ponce Enrile’s counsel in his plunder case. Screenshots of their respective social media posts)

Barrister, Bar Candidate or Bar Examinee?

I take note that some media outfits and fellow students of the law interchange the phrases “bar examinee” and “bar candidate.” The two phrases elicited a conversation with fraternal brods, Arnulfo De Francisca and Ricardo Gacayan, Jr. as to their meaning.

We agreed that a “bar examinee” should refer to one who was given the approval by the Supreme Court to take the Bar Exams, whereas a “bar candidate” is one who, after passing the Bar exams, still needs to take an oath for lawyers and sign in the Roll of Attorneys before practicing the law profession.

However, they are used in a different on the website of the Philippine Supreme Court. Posted in the website are annual “Lists of Admitted Candidates” in the Bar Examinations for a certain year. These “admitted candidates” are those who filed their applications, whose names were published to the public, and approved to take the Bar examinations.

Still on the same website, I observed the use of “bar examinees” on bulletins in the form of memoranda and notices.

Except for Bar Matter 1222, I did not see anything that mentions “barrister” on the website of the highest court of the land.

(Photo downloaded from University of the Philippine's Commission on Bar Operations' Facebook Page)
(Photo downloaded from University of the Philippine’s Commission on Bar Operations’ Facebook Page

Issue: Whether or Not We Stop Using “Barrister”?

As I have laid down above, barrister refers to one who is authorized and recognized by laws and rules to practice as a lawyer in the United Kingdom and some of the Commonwealth Countries as well as Japan.

At one hand, the Philippine English “barrister” points to one who is authorized to take the Bar Examinations and pass it to be admitted to the bar.

Is it high time for Philippine law students, lawyers and law schools to cut the practice or tradition of using “barrister” and instead just use the phrase “bar examinee” or “bar candidate” to be “politically or etymologically correct”?

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