Becoming a barrister
Following completion of a qualifying law degree, you will need to complete your Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and pupillage. Barristers need to have good powers of persuasion, whether oral or written, and to be able to explain complex issues so that their clients, members of a jury or other non-specialists are able to follow the argument clearly.
How do barristers work?
Most barristers are self-employed, but work in groups in what are known as "sets" of barristers' chambers, sharing premises and support services. These sets will often specialise in just one or two main areas of the law and will look to develop a reputation in that field which will attract further work. Approval by the existing members of a set for another barrister to join them is known as obtaining tenancy.
Tenants in a chambers have to contribute to the cost of running the chambers, from their earnings and they don't receive a monthly salary, or sickness or holiday pay, relying instead on their personal earnings to pay for their upkeep both in chambers and at home. A smaller number of barristers are employed by a company or a law firm - this group is known as the "employed Bar" (as opposed to the "self-employed Bar").
How do I become a barrister?
You will need to complete the BPTC to obtain the required set of legal skills - this can be done either full or part time at The City Law School. At this stage you are also required to join one of the four Inns of Court as a student member and undertake 12 qualifying sessions. Each Inn is able to offer students support through the vocational stage of their training. This usually includes access to a library, mooting societies, educational support and the opportunity to network with other barristers. The Inns also offer scholarships to help pay for the BPTC. The deadline for applications to join an Inn is the end of May in the same year that you begin the BPTC.
The four Inns are:
- Lincoln's Inn
- Inner Temple
- Middle Temple and
- Gray's Inn.
At present, on successful completion of the BPTC and the Inns qualifying requirements, you will be ‘Called’ to the Bar and will be able to describe yourself legitimately as a barrister.
The final stage of qualifying as a barrister is pupillage, undertaken at a set of barristers' chambers or another approved legal environment - this is split into two periods of six months each, known as the "first six" and "second six". Pupillage must be started within five years of passing the BPTC and there is an annual application round for pupillage and members of our Pupillage Advisory Service will help you to identify and apply to sets of chambers suitable to meet your career aspirations. They will also help with obtaining mini-pupillages during your BPTC so that you can obtain some experience of life in chambers.
During the pupillage "first six" you will be assigned a pupil supervisor (one of the barristers) whom you will observe and assist. If you complete this period satisfactorily you will be given a certificate which will allow you to work on your own during the "second six". During that time you will start to take on cases and clients of your own and may represent them in court.
Once you have completed your pupillage you will be eligible for tenancy (a permanent place in a set of chambers). There is no guarantee that you will be taken on in the chambers where you undertook pupillage (this can also sometimes be two different sets for the first and second sixes) but you may also have made other contacts during the pupillage period which will help you to find a permanent place.
You can apply to pupillage opportunities via The Pupillage Gateway - the online application system for pupillage. All vacancies will be advertised on the Pupillage Gateway, and approximately 100 chambers will require you to apply through the system which is operated by the Bar Council.
The City Law School provide students with extra support and guidance via the Pupillage Advisory Service, with events and workshops focused on gaining pupillage. Applicants to the City BPTC can access the Pupillage Advisory Service as soon as they are offered a place on the programme.
The role of the barrister
Barristers perform two key roles: they represent their clients in court and provide specialist legal advice on a particular area of law. The choice of your specialist area will influence how much time is spent in court and how much providing advice. Criminal law, for example, is more likely to involve court cases while chancery law, which covers areas such as business law, trusts and probate and company law, is more likely to require written opinions. The main working activities of a barrister include:
- Understanding and interpreting the law and keeping up to date on changes and developments in the law
- Reading legal briefs (details of a case) and getting to grips with them
- Researching points of law relevant to a case
- Preparing cases for court
- Presenting arguments in court and examining and cross-examining witnesses
- Drafting legal documents
- Negotiating settlements
- Writing opinions and advising solicitors and other professionals.