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A bar association is a body of lawyers who, in some jurisdictions, are responsible for the regulation of the legal profession. In the law, the bar is also known as the community of persons engaged in the practice of law ("members of the bar").
In the United States, some state bar associations are operated by their respective state governments which make membership in their state's bar association a requirement to practice before that state's courts; such states are said to have a "mandatory" or "integrated bar". Membership in such associations is synonymous to being admitted to the bar or being licensed to practice law in that state or being admitted to practice before the courts of that state. In some places membership in a bar association is voluntary and in addition to any licensing that may be required by the state or the court system. Such associations often advocate for law reform, they may discipline the profession and they may provide information, referral or pro bono services to the general public.
In both types of jurisdictions, in addition to the organizations mentioned above, there are a variety of voluntary national, state, and local bar associations which lawyers may join; such associations, especially at the local level, are often focused on common professional interests or common ethnic heritage.
The largest voluntary bar association in the United States is the American Bar Association, whose membership includes approximately half of all American lawyers. The ABA has successfully fought off all proposals to federalize lawyer regulation which would involve making all American lawyers part of a mandatory federal bar association.
In Canada and other Commonwealth countries one is called to the bar after undertaking a post law school training in a provincial law society program and undergoing an apprenticeship or taking articles as it is called. In these countries legal communities are called provincial law societies, except for Quebec where they are called the Barreau du Quebec.
Judges are not members of the bar. Rather, they sit "on the bench", and the cases which come before them are "at bar" or "at bench". These terms evolved from the English Inns of Court, where a bar separated the seats of the benchers or readers from the body of the hall, which was occupied by students. When one officially becomes a lawyer, he or she crosses this symbolic physical barrier and is "admitted to the bar". In modern courtrooms, a railing may still be in place to enclose the space which is occupied by legal counsel as well as the criminal defendants and civil litigants who have business pending before the court.
- American Bar Association
- British Accreditation Registry
- Canadian Bar Association
- Honorable Society of King's Inns, Ireland
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