A barrister is a legal professional who specialises in advocacy and represents clients in court proceedings. They are typically self-employed and work within the legal system to provide expert advice, prepare legal arguments, and present cases before judges and juries. Barristers play a crucial role in the justice system, offering independent legal representation to individuals and organisations.
Now that you’ve got a good understanding of what a barrister is, let’s consider some of the most important advantages and disadvantages of barristers to help you decide if this career path is right for you!
The path to becoming a barrister is challenging and competitive. It involves rigorous academic qualifications, followed by vocational training and gaining practical experience. Prospective barristers must complete the Bar Practice Course (BPC) – a crucial stage in their journey toward becoming a barrister. Institutions such as the University of Law offer the BPC, providing comprehensive training that equips individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge required for a successful career at the Bar.
Successfully completing the BPC marks a significant milestone for prospective barristers, but it’s followed by the crucial step of securing pupillage, where practical training under the guidance of experienced barristers is gained. This hands-on experience is essential before barristers can practice independently and take on their own cases.
Securing pupillage involves a competitive application process, where individuals seek a one-year placement in barristers’ chambers or other authorized organizations to gain practical experience under the supervision of experienced practitioners. During this period, known as the ‘pupillage,’ individuals are exposed to real cases, court proceedings, and legal work, honing their advocacy skills and applying the theoretical knowledge acquired during the BPC.
Upon completion of pupillage, barristers are then eligible to apply to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) for admission to the Bar and officially qualify as practicing barristers. This admission involves meeting the necessary requirements set by the BSB, including demonstrating competence and integrity in the field of law.
The Bar tends to attract people who are motivated and ambitious, and want a career where they are independent and in charge of their own career progression.
As a barrister, you won’t be dealing with office politics or vying with colleagues with for promotion. Instead, you will rise or fall on the basis of your reputation, and that will be the direct result of what you put into your cases, the relationships you build with solicitors, and the results you get for your clients. It’s pretty exciting stuff.
It’s true that there are an ever-growing number of solicitor advocates, and so being a barrister is no longer the only way to get on your feet and argue your case before a judge.
But it’s also true that for barristers, advocacy is their real area of expertise. If you love standing up and getting your point across, if you enjoy the thrill of trying to win someone over to your point of view, if you get a real buzz from performing – the Bar is a fantastic fit, and there’s nothing else quite like it.
Many barristers will tell you that the Bar is a vocation, not just a job.
Being a barrister can be immensely satisfying in that it offers an opportunity to provide the specialist knowledge that can assist a client in obtaining their desired result, and therefore make a real difference to their lives.
You are offering advice and representation to clients at a very stressful time. These clients often lack the expertise to advocate for themselves.
If you want a career that has meaning, being a barrister will be right up your street.
The cab-rank rule that barristers must abide by means that barristers must accept any case which is offered to them, as long as they are competent. This means that you can’t cherry-pick cases, and so you never really know what might come your way.
Criminal barristers might go from defending someone accused of murder in their trial at the Old Bailey to prosecuting shoplifting in their local magistrates’ court. Barristers who practice in commercial law might be dealing with a case that requires them to know about the international art world one week, and the workings of casinos the next.
No two days will be the same, and you’ll find there’s always a new challenge.
Becoming a barrister in the UK can offer a competitive salary potential, especially as one progresses in their career. While barrister salaries can vary depending on factors such as experience, specialisation, and the number of cases undertaken, successful barristers can command substantial fees for their services. As they build a reputation and establish a strong client base, barristers have the opportunity to increase their earning potential significantly. However, it is important to note that the financial rewards may take time to materialise, particularly in the early stages of a barrister’s career when they are establishing themselves in the field.
Being a barrister is often associated with prestige and recognition within the legal profession. The title of “barrister” carries a certain level of respect and can open doors to networking opportunities and career advancement.
Barristers have the chance to specialise in specific areas of law, allowing them to develop expertise and become sought-after professionals in their chosen field. This specialisation can lead to higher earning potential and a more fulfilling career.
Working as a barrister provides ample opportunities to network and build professional connections. Collaborating with other legal professionals, including solicitors, judges, and fellow barristers, can lead to referrals, valuable mentorship, and potential career growth.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of becoming a barrister is just how hard it is to get started.
The sad reality is that far more people are graduating from the BPTC every year than there are pupillages, and the vast majority of wannabe barristers are going to be left with a lot of debt and no hope of being taken on by a chambers. Even very talented individuals may find themselves disappointed.
It’s important to be realistic about your chances of securing pupillage, and have an idea of what you might do as an alternative if things don’t work out.
We’ve all claimed on our applications and CVs to want a career that’s fast-paced, dynamic and full of variety – but how true is that?
Your workload as a barrister could be extremely unpredictable, with briefs sent to you at the last minute, trials unexpectedly overrunning and sudden developments in your case which mean that you’ll have to redo all of your preparation.
You’d better have understanding friends and family, because particularly when you are starting out, you’re likely to be frequently pulling out of plans at the last minute because ‘something has come up.’ Barristers certainly don’t have a 9-5.
Especially in the early stages of a barrister’s career, financial stability can be a challenge. Building a client base and securing consistent work can take time, and barristers may experience periods of financial uncertainty or irregular income.
The vast majority of practising barristers – around 80%, according to the most recent figures from the Bar Standards Board – are self-employed, and while that might be great if you’re independent and a self-starter, there are drawbacks.
While your employed friends will enjoy all sorts of benefits from paid holiday to health care to subsidised gym membership at the swankiest law firms, as a self-employed barrister, don’t expect anything – and that includes a pension, or even maternity or paternity leave.
As a barrister, you’re going to be responsible for yourself. If you’re not working, you’re not earning. And while earnings may sound impressively high at the Bar, remember to factor in the cost of all of the things that an employer would typically provide.
Overall, there are as many reasons to become a barrister as there are to choose something different. It’s important to go into your career with your eyes open, and even if you do decide that becoming a barrister is what you want to do, knowing the potential pitfalls will help you explain why to pupillage committees.
The demanding nature of a barrister’s work can often result in a compromised work-life balance. Long hours, extensive case preparation, and the need to be available for clients can make it challenging to maintain personal relationships and engage in activities outside of work.
Dealing with clients who are going through stressful legal situations can take an emotional toll on barristers. The responsibility of representing clients during difficult times can be emotionally draining and may require strong coping mechanisms and self-care practices.
Becoming a barrister offers independence, advocacy opportunities, a sense of vocation, variety, and intellectual challenges.
Becoming a barrister also comes with the challenges of intense competition for pupillage, an unpredictable workload, lack of employee benefits, financial uncertainty and emotional demands. Understanding these additional points can provide a more comprehensive view of the realities of a career at the Bar.
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