DiCindio Law LLC | August 2, 2023 | Pennsylvania Law
Few terms evoke as much curiosity as the word “Bar” when used to refer to “Bar exams” or “Bar Associations.” People often wonder what “Bar” means in these contexts. Is it an acronym, or does it have a different connotation?
The history behind this three-letter word is a bit more complex and has its origins in English legal tradition. The term’s use today is significant in the American legal community.
Historical Use of “Bar”
First, “Bar” in “Bar exam” or “Bar Association” is not an acronym or shorthand phrase. Instead, the term was woven into the fabric of American legal practice centuries ago. The American legal system was modeled after the courts of England, and the earliest uses of “bar” can be found in English jurisprudence.
In England, the term referred to the bar or railing that separated the public from the parties in court. Attorneys, known as English barristers, would pass the divide to argue cases to the Court. These barristers were “admitted to the Bar.”
Professional associations of barristers also formed during this period. For example, The Inns of Court, the oldest association of barristers in England and Wales, welcomed new members to their professional association by having them symbolically walk past the barrier. The practice began in the 12th and early 13th centuries.
Modern Meaning of “Bar”
The term has adopted a slightly different meaning today. Most American courts still have physical bars or railings that separate parties from the public. However, the word “bar” is also now commonly used in the terms “Bar Associations” and “Bar exams.” These uses have important significance within the legal community.
Meaning of “Bar” Association
A Bar Association is a professional body of lawyers. These associations exist at the national, state, and local levels. Each group regulates the legal profession, offers education and professional development courses, and advocates for the rule of law. One example is The American Bar Association, the world’s largest national voluntary association of lawyers.
Joining bar associations offers many benefits to attorneys.
First, associations provide a platform for networking with other attorneys and developing relationships. They also host workshops, seminars, and programs that inform attorneys about developments in the law. This enhances their professional skills and keeps them knowledgeable in their practice areas.
Second, associations offer public service opportunities through committee work and pro bono programs. These service opportunities are increasingly important in the local community. Participating attorneys can reach beyond the “Bar” and provide legal representation to members of the public. Often free, these individuals benefit from legal counsel when they otherwise would likely be unable to afford it.
Pennsylvania Bar Associations
In Pennsylvania, attorneys can also join state and local bar organizations where they practice law. The Pennsylvania Bar Association is the statewide group of lawyers practicing in Pennsylvania.
The Chester County Bar Association, meanwhile, is for lawyers practicing in Chester County, PA. The Chester County Bar Association has a rich origin dating back to the 1680s, or 90 years before the Revolutionary War.
Meaning of “Bar” Exam
To be licensed to practice law or to join a bar association, prospective attorneys must pass the bar exam. The bar exam is administered by a subset of each state’s Bar Association or Supreme Court.
Requirements for passing vary, but most exams use multiple-choice and essay questions to test legal knowledge. Because passage is required to practice law, the term “Bar” has a double connotation that is significant in the American legal community.
First, it represents the symbolic threshold that lawyers must cross to enter the profession. Second, it represents the association of lawyers waiting to welcome them to the profession should they be admitted.
Attorney Michael DiCindio, founder of DiCindio Law, LLC, is licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and Chester County Bar Association. As a member of these associations, he practices criminal defense law in the West Chester area.
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