Attorneys are associated with the word Bar because of the way the courtroom is laid out. A courtroom tends to look a lot like a church. This is because the first courts were in the church. On Sunday, people would go to church to fellowship with each other, then when the judge was in town on his Circuit, they would go to the church to argue with each other in front of the judge.
Courtrooms today still look like a church. Courtrooms still consist of two main sections-the front and the back. A rail separates these two sections. There is a walkway between the two aisles and a gate at the end of the walkway. The judge still sits on a Bench facing everyone. The jury sits off to the side and the prosecution sits closest to the jury. The audience sits behind the rail. Sometimes the witnesses sit in the audience. Most of the time, witnesses are sequestered in a private room away from the proceedings. This is so they cannot hear other testimony.
The rail that separates the litigants from the audience is the Bar. When you pass the Bar, you become part of the proceedings. In order to become an attorney, you must therefore pass the Bar. The Judicial Branch of government is a self-governing body comprised mostly of attorneys. Thus, the governing board for attorneys is the Bar Association. There are several Bar Associations. There is the State Bar Association, which deals mostly with state law and procedures. The American Bar Association deals with mostly federal laws and procedures.
If you want to be an attorney, you must first pass the Bar Exam. The Bar Exam is a test of your knowledge on various statutes and procedural laws. Once you have passed the Bar Exam and paid all of your licensing fees, you have officially passed the Bar. Then you can practice law in the state where you are licensed.
An attorney must pass the Bar Exam for each state in which he or she wants to practice law. An attorney who wants to practice in California must pass the California Bar, regardless of where else he is licensed.
Paralegals do not have to pass the Bar Exam, although there is talk of creating a mini Bar for Paralegals, and there are requirements for a Paralegal who wants to become a Certified Paralegal. None of these is legal requirements as of the time of this writing. A paralegal is not an attorney and cannot give you legal advice. A Paralegal functions under the direct supervision of an attorney. Most paralegals actually work for attorneys, but there is a growing field of independent paralegals. A practicing attorney must supervise even independent paralegals.
If you are considering a career as an attorney, contact the Bar Association for your state and find out what is required.
Disclaimer: Cathy Iles did not read or render an opinion on this article before it was published.