A barrister is a qualified legal professional who offers specialist advice whilst representing, advocating and defending clients in court or at a tribunal. Examples of courts a barrister may work in include:
While you’ll more often see barristers in court than in the boardroom, the role of a barrister is continuously changing and increasingly more work happens outside the courtroom.
Many barristers specialise in one area of the law, although some may have a more general practice covering a variety of areas. Examples of such areas of law include:
The area of law a barrister practices in will dictate to a certain extent the type of work they undertake and the amount of time they spend in court. Criminal barristers, for example, will carry out much of their practice in court acting for the prosecution or defending a client.
However, company and commercial barristers will carry out much of their practice outside the courtroom. They take on more of an advisory role which may involve negotiating contracts and other business matters.
Knowing about the job role is crucial for those curious about how to become a barrister. It is a diverse and highly challenging career that requires a high level of adaptability. On a daily basis, barristers will generally be required to do the following:
Barristers tend to be self-employed and work within offices known as ‘chambers.’ Chambers usually specialise in certain areas of the law. As such, when carrying out your research into chambers for pupillage and mini pupillage applications, it is important to check their specific practice areas to ensure that these tie in with your particular interests.
In chambers, barristers work alongside other self-employed barristers, sharing the administration and day-to-day costs of running the chambers. It’s a flexible way of working, however, it’s important to note that with this comes limited access to benefits such as sick and holiday pay.
Barristers are also sometimes employed ‘in-house’ by large organisations such as banks, firms of solicitors and even the Government, as part of the Government Legal Service.
A barrister’s salary can vary greatly, depending on the practice area, chambers, location and, of course, level of experience. During pupillage you could earn from around £12,000 to £60,000.
As you continue from pupillage to tenancy, and become more experienced, a barrister’s salary can range from £30,000 to £300,000. Top barristers can earn anything from £800,000 to £2m per year. Commercial barristers tend to earn more than criminal and family barristers.
*It’s important to note that barristers working from chambers are self-employed, making them responsible for their own income. The figures mentioned above are estimates on what you could be earning.*
Once you have completed a year’s pupillage in chambers and have gained a tenancy, you’ll then be considered junior counsel. Junior counsel participate mainly in assisting senior counsel in their chambers, and attending hearings in the lower courts.
When you have practised as a successful barrister for around 15 years and have built a strong reputation and client base, you can progress onto the next level in chambers. You can then apply to become a Queen’s Counsel (a ‘QC’). This process is commonly known as ‘taking silk’ because once you become a QC you are entitled to wear a silk robe in court. QCs are known for working on high profile cases and trials in the High Court and Supreme Court.
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