Barred

Prof. Bill Poser (Language Log) passes along this quote from a lawyer (emphasis added):

I have checked the military rules as well as the rules of the states where I am barred, and it does not appear that there is any prohibition relating to the comments I made.

I’d never heard of “barred” being used to mean “admitted to the bar”; I checked Black’s Law Dictionary and dictionary.com, and no such meaning is listed.

A quick Google search reveals some other examples of this (e.g., here and here), and a Westlaw search found another example (in a 2002 symposium Introduction to the Margins Law Journal, published at the University of Maryland): “A problem could be posed when trying to enforce this requirement on non-practicing attorneys, or attorneys who are barred in several states” — in context, probably a reference to attorneys who are members of several bars, not to those who have been expelled from several. The Vancouver Sun quote thus isn’t entirely idiosyncratic.

Still, I’d advise people not to use “barred” in this sense. It’s highly unidiomatic. It might well be confusing. And, even if the confusion is dispelled or avoided, the reader or listener might well to remember the usual negative connotation of “barred” even if he realizes a different meaning is intended. Why have the reader contemplate, even if for a moment and even if the contemplation is quickly rejected, the possibility that you have actually been barred from practicing (which is to say disbarred) in some states?

UPDATE: An example that a friend of mine e-mailed in response to this post:

On one of my first appearances in Alaska state court, I made this mistake — told the judge I was barred in NY and DC. He looked at me kinda funny for a few awkward seconds, and then what I actually said hit me — when I corrected myself (“I mean admitted to the bar of NY and DC Your Honor.”), he chuckled and said “whew, I thought we were about to have some problems.”

Thankfully, I won my motion (and the client wasn’t there). But it was rather embarrassing.

UPDATE: Some commenters report that the usage is common, at least in some places (especially back East), though others say that they hadn’t heard it before (as I hadn’t). But I would still recommend against it, for the reasons mentioned above.

Also, as other commenters point out, one can just say “licensed in” or “admitted in” instead of “barred in.” In theory, “bar” might be seen as more narrowly focused on “licensed to practice law” or “admitted to the bar.” But in practice, as I mentioned, it’s likely to be confusing or distracting because of the “prohibit” meaning of “bar,” and “licensed” and “admitted” are likely to be quite clear because in context it’s almost always clear which license or form of admission one is talking about. And if you really feel the need to avoid all possible ambiguity, “admitted to the bar” and “licensed to practice law” aren’t that much longer than the ambiguous or distracting “barred.”