A barrister is a type of lawyer who specialises in courtroom advocacy and the provision of legal advice. Barristers advocate, represent and defend clients at all levels of Court and tribunals. Barristers work independently and are trained to provide an objective assessment of a case. Their expertise can often be pivotal in case outcomes. Barristers are qualified to represent clients in the following courts:
Most barristers specialise in one specific area of law, but some do have a more general practice covering a variety of different legal areas. Barristers are trained in advocacy, as well as legal research and analysis and are required to undergo a highly rigorous training process, known as a pupillage before they are able to practice independently.
A majority of barristers are self-employed and work within organisations known as “chambers” which consist of groups of barristers who share resources and expenses.
Barristers are usually instructed by solicitors and other professionals on matters that have escalated to a dispute. They are responsible for presenting the cases in court on behalf of their clients.
A client may retain a solicitor to advise on an issue. If this issue can’t be resolved outside of court, a barrister will be brought on to represent the client in the dispute. The barrister may advise on trial strategy and, for instance, witnesses, however their main role is in the courtroom.
A defence barrister represents a person accused of a crime in Court, advocating on behalf of a client and pleading their case. A defence barrister can also give written advice on a legal issue, and advise on the strength of a case if instructed by a solicitor to represent a client in Court. The role of a defence barrister is not to prove a person’s innocence, just that the prosecution’s evidence isn’t strong enough.
A prosecution barrister represents the state or government in Court in cases brought against an accused person. The role of a prosecution barrister is to present the jury with enough evidence to persuade them that a defendant is guilty of the crime for which they are accused.
Barristers have formal advocacy skills, which they can use in any Court in the land. In a courtroom they will present cases, examine and cross examine witnesses and give reasons why the Court should support a case.
A barrister will carefully translate and structure a client’s interpretation of events into legal arguments, communicating clearly, succinctly and persuasively to secure the best possible result for a client when in Court.
As a barrister, you would be responsible for a range of day-to-day tasks and duties, including meeting with clients , researching relevant legal frameworks and cases, reviewing witness statements and reports, preparing legal documents and court briefs, questioning witnesses and presenting cases to judges and juries.
The attire historically worn by barristers in Court is a distinctive black gown, a court coat and waistcoat, plus a wig. The dress robes for Court have evolved over centuries, and are regarded as a symbol of power and respect for the law, while bringing a sense of formality and solemnity to Court proceedings.
The Court attire for barristers is one that represents the rich history of common law. The wearing of black gowns originated from the death of King Charles II in 1685, when the Bar entered a period of mourning. They started to wear black mourning robes, complete with the pleated shoulders and tapered elbows as worn by barristers in Court today.
Learn why barristers wear wigs in our blog.
The type of barrister determines where a barrister works. Most barristers are self-employed and tend to be affiliated with a chambers. Other barristers are employed and work in-house for law firms and large commercial organisations – including the Government Legal Service.
The working environment for barristers can vary depending on the case they are working on. Some barristers will spend a majority of their time in court while others will work primarily in an office or chambers.
A barristers’ chambers is a collective of like-minded individual barristers who all practice from the same address and share the same administrative services. In most barristers’ chambers a head or senior clerk will oversee the administrative duties of the chambers, working with assistants or ‘junior clerks’ and other support staff to manage the professional lives of all barristers in chambers.
There are more than 17,000 practising barristers in England and Wales, according to Bar Standards Board Statistics for 2021. More than 10,000 are male, while more than 6,500 are female. Just over 13,500 of all practising barristers in the UK are self-employed, while approximately 3,000 are employed.
The Bar is actively encouraging women and ethnic minorities to pursue a career in the Bar due to lack of representation across these groups. Of all practising barristers only 2,500 are from ethnic minority backgrounds and just 7% of barristers have a disability
A barrister’s salary level depends on a number of factors, including the area of law in which they practise, whether they are self-employed or employed, and the level at which they work. We go into more detail about how much a barrister earns in this comprehensive salary guide.
There are a number of routes to follow and qualifications which are necessary if you want to become a barrister. Firstly, you’ll need to gain a qualifying law degree such as the LLB, which is an undergraduate degree in law. If you studied a non-qualifying law degree, such as a BA or BSC, you’ll be required to do a law conversion course or PGDL before being able to pursue a career as a barrister.
Once you’ve completed your a qualifying law degree, you’ll then be able to move on to the Bar Practice Course (BPC) which prepares graduates to practice as barristers, with practical training in advocacy, drafting and opinion writing. The BPTC is designed to prepare you for the final stage of your barrister training – the pupillage.
Before qualifying as a barrister, you must complete a period of training known as a pupillage. This is a period of practical training which takes place within a barristers’ chambers. The pupillage is divided into 2 stages: the ‘first six’ is a non-practicing period where you will shadow a senior barrister. During the ‘second six’ you will have the opportunity to take on your own cases under the supervision of a senior barrister.
The key attributes for what makes a good barrister include, but are not limited to:
Now that you have a better understanding about the role and responsibilities of barrister, you may be wondering what the next steps are in pursuing a career as a barrister. Reading case studies written by experienced, practicing barristers can be an excellent way to gain insight into what the job entails. These case studies can help provide a unique perspective on the daily responsibilities and challenges faced by barristers, to help you get a sense of whether this is the right career path for you.
Two top London Chambers, Fulcrum Chambers and Wilberforce Chambers, offer case studies that provide valuable insight into life as a barrister. Gain insight into the challenges and rewards of working as a criminal barrister, family law barrister or a commercial barrister to help you identify areas of practice that may be of particular interest to you.
Loading More Content