Legal Myths

Admitted to the Bar

Myth #7 - Being "Admitted to the Bar" isn't when you reach 21, or join a secret society. Today it just means being permitted to practice law for others. What is meant by the "Bar" you ask? It is not a saloon or public house (Pub, you know). It is more interesting than that.

Our law is based upon the English system of "Common Law", but that is another story for later. The courts system has taken the language English law and adopted it to our law and courts. We depart from England in many ways, but in one respect we maintain a parallel - you must be admitted to the Bar to practice law.

Judges appointed by the King would travel to towns around England on a "circuit." There were no fine courthouses, no great buildings dedicated to justice. The towns were in a primitive land. The towns all had a central square, sometimes called the market or town square. This pattern is present throughout the old towns and villages of Europe, not just England. We have cycled England and other European countries, and can tell you that the farming villages are a short distance from one another - five to 7 miles, no more. The market towns are in the center of a hub of such villages, all for the commerce in food, animals and other agricultural products.

Some of the "roadies" for the judge would ride ahead to the next town as the final cases were being heard in the last one. They would announce that the judge would soon arrival so that litigants could be summoned (think of "Summonses" today), and would prepare the town square for the next court session. We take our notion of circuit riding judges from this process.

In each town square were vertical posts buried in the ground at numerous points, and projecting above ground to about waist high. These were used for market day, for fairs and for court. A "bar" was horizontally secured on the vertical post to enclose an area for the court. The party asking the court to hear a problem and the person accused of being responsible were not allowed inside. Only persons whom the judge had recognized as having sufficient knowledge of the law were "admitted to the bar" - allowed inside the area set aside for the court - to make arguments for their clients. Witnesses were allowed in to testify, and a prosecutor for the Crown in criminal cases. From this elementary beginning our legal system of advanced education and testing for, even today, admission to the Bar, has emerged.