27 January 2009

Professions: The Barrister

By Jennifer Linforth

"You know you're a word slut?"

That was brought to my attention after a speaking engagement I participated in last June. My critique partner, Nina Pierce, whispered them to me as I was conversing with a group regarding the historical use of a colorful word.

I admit it. I can be far too curious for my own good sometimes. So when I innocently inquired of an attorney why they all dream of knighthood with that Esquire-thingy at the end of their names the response was: "I dare you to find out."

I am sure there are dozens of authors reading this blog with raised brows now. One thing you never do is dare an author. Anything you say and do can and will be held against you in one of our novels. Perfect subject for a blog about professions--even if it did stem from a dare.

But first, what the heck is a barrister? The word pops up in historicals all the time. They are legal advisers and court room advocates trained to advise clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their case. They are formally trained experts in their field with knowledge in and out of court that can make or break the outcome of a case. Since the 13th century barristers have been providing expert advice and advocacy on the law. In the past they had a monopoly on representing people in the higher courts.

A barrister is not to be confused with a solicitor! A solicitor has exclusive rights of giving oral or written legal advice. A barrister has the rights of preparing and conducting litigation in the courts.

So now we know what a barrister is and what he does, but that does not satisfy a historical word slut pushed to the bar on a dare.

BAR -- not it is not a place to slug down jello-shots folks! That would make our editors whip out the blue ink of doom and question our historical minded sanity. The famous BAR is named from the two rails in a courtroom, one which separated the judge’s bench from the rest of the court and the other which marked an area for lawyers to engage in their arguments. Speakers or those appearing in court were "called to the bar"--an honor in its day...

Now in historical fiction we use have the word BARRISTER and thus connect it to law: A counselor who is learned in law and admitted to appear at that bar and defend clients. Inner barristers, benchers and readers were admitted to work within the bar as king;s counsel...

The English Crown established in the 1600s a formal registry in London where barristers were ordered to be accredited. The acronym BAR denoted the British Accredited Registry and those members also became members of the IBA (International Bar Association). The first American BAR was created, according to my research, in Boston during the 1700s.

Now there is where I hang Mr. Attorney by his bollocks. Where did the term attorney come from and what are they?

ATTORN: meaning atorner (assign, appoint, etc.) One definition, in law, is to formally transfer one's tenancy, to make legal acknowledgement of tenancy to a landlord. Or if we look historically into feudal law from the Latin ad and torno, it was to transfer homage and service from one lord to another.

Still with me?

ATTORNMENT -- the act where a feudatory, vassal or tenant consents upon the transfer of an estate to receive a new lord or superior, thus transferring homage. Bottom line, through the years attornment means to transfer stuff...much easier just to say that. Write tight you know!

So continuing to beat Mr. Attorney with his gavel we have...

ATTORNEY -- one who transfers or assigns, within the bar, another's rights and property acting on behalf of the ruling crown. Are the readers seeing the pattern there of crown, lords and land? Keep that in mind as we get to those three little letters, ESQ, that made this attorney want to turn me into a whore.

U.S. Attorneys take the post-nominal honorific of Esquire after their names, derived from the British word "squire." Any historical novelist is well aware of the squire, which in Great Britain was the title of a gentleman next in rank to a knight. However, it was also an attendant in court.

The esquire was a young nobleman in training for knighthood and who acted as the shield-bearer and attendant to a knight. Here is where the historical novelist waxes poetic, whether correct or not, on the blatant symbolism in that. Shield = defense. Defense = law.

I so dig it.

An Esquire was also a man of a higher peerage ranking below the knight but also any various officers in service to the king or nobles. Esquires dealt with attornment and transfer of property from the nobleman they served.

Final thoughts?

That tiny mention of Esquire (Esq) at the end of a counselor's name is a reflection of an inner desire to wear tights, follow around their superiors, buy and sell property, and visit history through the imagination of writers of historical fiction.

I don't know why those in the law fascinate me, the just do. Rock on Mr. Attorney. That ESQ is very sexy--but never attempt to dare an author. Our letters are sexy too: ISBN. We will throw the book at you every time.