How to Become a Barrister
Want to find out how to become a barrister? Read about the steps involved, what kinds of skills you need and barrister training you will need to undertake in order to succeed.
What is a Barrister?
A barrister is a qualified legal professional who offers specialist advice whilst representing, advocating and defending its clients in court or at a tribunal. Examples of courts a barrister may work in include:
- The Crown Court
- The High Court
- The Court of Appeal
- The Supreme Court
A traditional image of a barrister may feature white curly wigs and black cloaks in oak-panelled court rooms. To some extent, this is accurate. A barrister’s role may well involve working in such a setting in traditional barrister attire.
However, this is not always the case nowadays. In addition, 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:
- Criminal law
- Property law
- Commercial law
- Company law
- Family law
- Employment law
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.
Want to know the difference between a barrister and solicitor? Read our guide!
How to Become a Barrister: Qualifications
To become a barrister, you have to complete either a:
How to Become a Barrister: Training
Below are the steps to take after completing your law degree or conversion course.
- Apply for and complete mini pupillages
- Apply for the vocational component of barrister training
- Join one of the Inns of Court (which must be done before commencing the vocational component of training)
- Sit the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) during the summer preceding commencement of your vocational training
- Complete the vocational training (click here to see institutions offering this option)
- Apply for pupillages in chambers or in house
- Complete your pupillage
- Qualify as a barrister and apply for tenancy in chambers
What Does a Barrister Do?
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:
- Conduct legal research
- Negotiate contracts and other business / personal matters
- Meet consulting with and advising clients
- Prepare proceedings and documents for court, including legal arguments
- Represent clients at court and tribunal hearings, which may include cross-examining witnesses and
- presenting complex legal arguments
- Mediate and negotiating settlements between disputing parties such as a husband and wife or employer and employee
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. A starter salary at pupillage can range 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.
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 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.
How to Become a Barrister: Work Experience
If you want to become a barrister, it’s vital to undertake relevant law work experience. You can gain this through the following:
Work experience in a chambers in the form of mini pupillage is an excellent way to experience what life at the bar will entail.
2. Court Visits
Court visits allow aspiring barristers to experience first-hand what a barrister does and how they represent their clients in court. Observing hearings in courts of different levels will provide a range of experience. Magistrates Courts and Crown Courts are great places to start.
Contact your local courts to find out what opportunities are available. Many hearings are public proceedings, so it will be free for you to sit in the public gallery and watch. This will give you the chance to see how a barrister addresses legal facts in issue, and how they present their arguments in court.
3. Judge Marshalling
Judge marshalling allows you to shadow a judge in their daily practices. It offers a great opportunity to see how the English Legal System operates on a day-to-day basis.
Sitting on the panel with the judge in court will give you first-hand opportunity to hear exactly how a barrister presents their case, argument or application to a judge. For example, you may be able to hear bail applications and opening or closing statements for a criminal case.
In order to secure a judge marshalling placement, you can apply directly to the Inns of Courts, which often offer formal marshalling schemes. Alternatively, you could try contacting the court manager or listing officer at your local Crown Court or County Court to find out about judge marshalling opportunities.
Mooting involves participating in a mock appeal trial. It provides the opportunity to practice what you will inevitably have to do should you choose to be a barrister.
Experience in mooting will also help you to get to grips with how to research, identify and address legal issues, and how to form and structure a legal argument. You will become more familiar with how barristers are expected to address people in court, whether it be the judge, the jury or opposing counsel.
Most universities have their own mooting societies, allowing you to get involved with practice hearings and debates with your peers. You can apply to be a part of the university mooting team. This is a great way to show future employers that you are committed to law and enthusiastic about being an advocate.
Who Oversees and Regulates the Profession?
The profession of barristers, more commonly referred to as the Bar, is overseen by the Bar Council. The Bar Council is responsible for representing, supporting, advising and offering a variety of services to barristers in England and Wales. To find out more about the work of the Bar Council, why not take a look at our About the Bar Council page.
Bar Standards Board
The Bar Standards Board is responsible for monitoring and regulating both the training and conduct of barristers as well as dealing with conduct-related complaints.
Watch this video from the Bar Councilabout how to become a barrister:
Barrister Case Studies
Get the lowdown on life as a barrister from reading our case studies written by experienced, practising barristers at two top London Chambers, Fulcrum Chambers and Wilberforce Chambers.