The Job and What's Involved

Barristers give specialist legal advice and represent individuals or organisations in court. They are independent, objective sources of legal advice who will tell a client about the strengths and weaknesses of their case.

Traditionally, barristers' clients were other members of the legal profession, such as solicitors and legal executives, because until recently it was not normally possible for members of the public to go directly to a barrister.

The time spent in court varies according to the area of law in which the barrister practices:

Chancery mainly deals with trusts and estates and commercial law mainly deals with contract. There is some crossover between chancery and commercial and many cover both. This work requires the barrister to absorb detailed information and understand complex scenarios and involves less time in court than other areas of law as a lot of time is spent drafting cases.

Common law is varied and unpredictable, often with work coming in at the last minute, needing preparation at night for the next day. Common law barristers can expect to be in court perhaps three times a week.

Criminal law involves being in court most days and sometimes different courts in one day. Criminal barristers must be able to think quickly on their feet and be able to summarise cases for the jury.

Employment law is mainly contract and statute based so barristers have to keep up to date with changes in the law. It may involve up to four days a week in court.

Family law can include divorce, child issues and financial disputes. Barristers in this field spend much of their time mediating between the parties in the dispute. The work involves frequent court work and may also involve travel to where the clients live.

Personal injury and clinical negligence includes road traffic accidents and hospital treatment. This work requires some interest in medical matters and involves frequent court work.

Public law covers all areas of public life including planning and housing decisions, asylum cases and education. As it covers such a wide field the time spent in court varies.

Other barristers become specialists in areas such as intellectual property, sports law or construction law.

Whichever type of law they choose a barrister's work is likely to include:

  • Taking instructions from clients and their solicitors.
  • Talking to members of other professions such as accountants, surveyors and architects who consult them on behalf of their clients.
  • Giving written legal opinions on whether a case would be successful if taken to court.
  • Researching similar cases for examples of case law.
  • Reading law reports and witness statements to prepare for court cases.
  • Representing clients in court by presenting the facts of the case to the judge and jury, examining and cross-examining witnesses and summing up.
  • Using a computer for research, report writing and record keeping.

Most barristers are self-employed. Some work in government departments and agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service and the Government Legal Service. Others may work for voluntary organisations or charities.

Barristers generally work long hours including evenings and weekends. They may have to prepare a case or a written opinion at short notice. They may also have to attend evening court sessions.

Most barristers work in offices called chambers. They may have their own office or share one with other barristers. In London, most chambers are in the Inns of Court. In other towns and cities they are near to court buildings.

Occasionally, barristers may work at home or in rented offices. They may spend a lot of time traveling between offices and courts.

For some court cases barristers wear a wig and gown.

The salary during training (pupilage) is at least £10,000 a year. The majority of qualified, self-employed barristers earn between £25,000 and £300,000 a year. However, earnings vary considerably depending on experience and reputation and some may earn significantly more than this.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are more than 12,700 practicing self-employed barristers. Many are based in London but barristers practice in most large towns and cities which have a court, including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.

Around 3,000 barristers work as salaried employees for large organisations such as specialist commercial law firms and investment or finance companies, and around 1,300 work in government bodies including the Crown Prosecution Service and the Government Legal Service.

Becoming a barrister is very competitive. At each stage it is very important that applicants show their commitment to the profession and that they have some knowledge of what the work entails. It can be possible to apply for periods of work experience (known as mini-pupilages) at barristers' chambers. Again this is very competitive.

Vacancies for barristers may be advertised in specialist publications such as The Barrister and The Lawyer. The legal careers website: may advertise some vacancies for trainee barristers and so might the training and recruitment site

Education and Training

The two main stages to qualifying as a barrister are the academic stage and the vocational stage.

At the academic stage, candidates need to obtain a good honours degree which, in practice, usually means at least a 2:1. The degree can be:

An approved law degree, or a non-approved degree followed by a postgraduate law conversion course, known as the Common Professional Examination (CPE), or a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The conversion courses are one year full time or two years part time.

Entry to degree courses is usually with at least two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C). Other qualifications may be accepted for degree entry, either on their own or in combination with A levels.

The vocational stage involves taking the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) which is one year full time or two years part time. The course is mainly practical and includes interviewing, report writing, case preparation and negotiation as well as legal knowledge. There are eight institutions across England and Wales offering the BVC.

In order to study for the BVC a trainee has to become a member of one of the Inns of Court. All four Inns are in London and arrangements are made for those studying in other areas.

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A Few More Exams You Might Need

After the BVC, the final stage of training is pupilage, a year spent working and training with an experienced barrister. Trainees spend time shadowing and observing their pupil supervisor, gradually taking on cases as they gain experience.

Training to become a barrister is a very competitive and often costly process. At each stage there are more applicants than places. Once qualified, it may be hard to secure a permanent place (known as a tenancy) in a set of chambers.

Barristers have to keep up to date by undertaking continuing professional development (CPD) each year.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A barrister should:

  • Have a high level of academic ability.
  • Be an excellent communicator in speech and writing.
  • Be confident.
  • Be able to think logically.
  • Be skilled in dealing effectively with a wide range of people.
  • Have physical and mental stamina.
  • Be discreet in handling confidential information.
  • Be able to avoid becoming emotionally involved in distressing cases.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, a barrister may apply to become a Queen's Counsel (QC) taking on more serious or complex cases. Some may become a High Court judge.

Barristers may also become legal advisers in magistrates' courts. Some barristers move into senior positions in industry or commerce.

Get Further Information

The Advocacy Training Council, The Treasury Office,
Lincoln's Inn, London WC2A 3TL

The Bar Council, 289-293 High Holborn, London WC1V 7HZ
Tel: 020 7242 0082

The Bar Standards Board, 289-293 High Holborn, London WC1V 7HZ
Tel: 020 7611 1444

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS),
50 Ludgate Hill, London EC4M 7EX
Tel: 020 7796 8000

HM Courts & Tribunals Service,

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