Understanding the Idiom: "call to the bar" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

The phrase “call to the bar” is a commonly used idiom in legal circles, particularly in countries that follow the British common law system. It refers to the formal admission of a person as a barrister or advocate, allowing them to practice law independently and represent clients in court.

This idiom has its roots in ancient English legal traditions, where aspiring lawyers were required to complete a rigorous apprenticeship under an experienced barrister before being allowed to practice on their own. The term “bar” referred to the physical barrier separating lawyers from judges and other court officials during proceedings.

Today, while many aspects of legal education and training have evolved, the concept of being called to the bar remains an important milestone for aspiring lawyers. It signifies not only their mastery of legal knowledge but also their commitment to upholding ethical standards and serving justice.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “call to the bar”

The phrase “call to the bar” has a long history in English legal terminology. It is an idiom that refers to the formal admission of a person into the legal profession as a barrister. The origins of this phrase can be traced back to medieval times, when lawyers were required to take an oath before being allowed to practice law.

In those days, there were two types of lawyers: solicitors who handled legal matters outside courtrooms and barristers who represented clients in court. To become a barrister, one had to be called to the bar by one of the Inns of Court in London – Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple or Middle Temple.

The term “bar” referred originally to a physical barrier separating judges from advocates and other members of the public in courtrooms. Over time, it became synonymous with the profession itself. Today, we use this expression figuratively when referring to someone becoming qualified as a lawyer.

The historical context surrounding this idiom provides insight into how it came about and what it means today. Understanding its origins can help us appreciate its significance within legal circles and beyond.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “call to the bar”

When it comes to idioms, there are often variations in how they are used depending on the context. The same goes for the idiom “call to the bar”. While its basic meaning is clear – referring to a ceremony where someone becomes a qualified lawyer – there are different ways this phrase can be used and understood.

Variations in Meaning

One way that “call to the bar” can vary in meaning is depending on which country or region you’re in. In some places, it specifically refers to being admitted as a barrister (a type of lawyer who specializes in courtroom advocacy), while in others it may refer more generally to becoming any kind of qualified lawyer. Additionally, some jurisdictions have specific requirements or traditions around what happens during a call ceremony, such as wearing certain robes or reciting particular oaths.

Usage Examples

In everyday conversation, “call to the bar” may be used metaphorically rather than literally. For example, someone might say that they feel like they’ve been called to the bar when they suddenly find themselves having to argue their case or defend their position strongly. Alternatively, someone could use this phrase humorously by saying that they were called to the wrong kind of bar (meaning a drinking establishment) instead of becoming a lawyer.

  • In legal writing: “Upon his call to the Bar last year…”
  • In casual conversation: “I never thought I’d end up practicing law but here I am – called to the bar and all!”
  • In jokes or puns: “I was supposed to become a barrister but I got lost and ended up at an actual bar instead.”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “call to the bar”


There are several synonyms for “call to the bar” that can be used interchangeably in certain contexts. Some of these include: admission to the bar, enrollment at the bar, and being called as an advocate.


On the other hand, there are also antonyms or opposite phrases that convey a different meaning from “call to the bar”. These include: disbarment or being struck off from the roll of advocates which means losing one’s license or right to practice law due to misconduct.

Cultural Insights:

In some countries like Canada and England, becoming a lawyer requires passing exams and completing practical training before being called or admitted into their respective bars. In contrast, in some states in America like California, passing an exam is sufficient enough for admission without any additional training requirements.

The phrase “call to the bar” has been used since medieval times when lawyers were required by law courts to sit at specific bars during proceedings. Today it still holds significance as it represents achieving a significant milestone in one’s legal career.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “call to the bar”

Exercise 1: Conversation Practice

One of the best ways to improve your understanding and use of idioms is through conversation practice. Find a partner or group of friends who are also interested in improving their English skills, and engage in discussions where you intentionally incorporate the phrase “call to the bar”. Start with simple sentences, such as “I heard John was called to the bar last week,” and gradually work up to more complex statements.

Exercise 2: Writing Prompts

Another effective way to reinforce your knowledge of idioms is by writing. Create writing prompts that require you to use “call to the bar” in different ways. For example, write a short story about a lawyer who has just been called to the bar, or compose an email congratulating a friend on their recent achievement of being called to the bar.

  • Create a list of synonyms for “called” that could be used instead when discussing someone being “called”.
  • Write down five professions where people may be “called” or have some other similar term.
  • In groups discuss how else one might use this idiom outside its legal context.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “call to the bar”

When it comes to using idioms, it’s important to understand their meaning and context. The idiom “call to the bar” is no exception. However, even if you know what this phrase means, there are still some common mistakes that people make when using it.

Mistake #1: Using it in the Wrong Context

The phrase “call to the bar” has a specific legal meaning – it refers to the process of admitting someone as a barrister or advocate. Therefore, using this idiom in a non-legal context can be confusing or misleading for your audience.

Mistake #2: Misusing the Phrase

Another mistake people often make is misusing the phrase itself. For example, saying “I was called to the bar last night” doesn’t make sense – unless you’re referring specifically to being admitted as a barrister or advocate! Instead, use this idiom correctly by keeping its legal definition in mind.

Mistake Correction
“I was called to the bar last night.” “I went out with my friends last night.”
“She’s really talented – she should be called to the bar!” “She would make an excellent lawyer.”
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