This page aims to provide a helpful overview of what a barrister is, what a barrister does, and how much a barrister is likely to earn. Also included is a practical step-by-step guide setting out exactly what you need to do if you decide to pursue a career at the Bar.
A barrister is a qualified legal professional, offering specialist advice whilst representing, advocating and defending its clients in court (in front of a judge, and possibly a jury), or at 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 view of a barrister may conjure up images of individuals wearing white curly wigs and black cloaks prosecuting criminals in oak-panelled court rooms. Think television courtroom drama.
To some extent, this is true. A barrister’s role may well involve working in such a setting in traditional barrister attire. However, this is not always the case in today’s modern world. In addition, the role of a barrister is continuously diversifying with increasingly more work being undertaken 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.
How to Become a Barrister: What does a Barrister Do?
A barrister’s role is diverse, challenging and requires a high level of adaptability. On a daily basis, barristers will generally be required to solve problems and disputes for their clients, which may involve:
Conducting legal research
Negotiating contracts and other business / personal matters
Meeting, consulting with and advising clients
Preparing proceedings and documents for court, including legal arguments
Representing clients at court and tribunal hearings, which may include cross-examining witnesses and presenting complex legal arguments
Mediating and negotiating settlements between disputing parties such as a husband and wife or employer and employee
A barrister’s client base is usually broad, ranging from individuals right through to large commercial conglomerates. A barrister’s role forms a pivotal part of any court case or otherwise. The way they negotiate, argue and advocate their client’s legal position can greatly affect the final outcome.
How to Become a Barrister: How are Barristers Employed?
1. In Chambers
Barristers tend to be self-employed, and affiliated with 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 pupillageapplications, 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 is certainly 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.
How to Become a Barrister: Would I Make a Good Barrister?
Choosing to pursue a career as a barrister is not a decision that should be taken lightly. It is well-known that it is a tough career to penetrate, requiring a high level of communication skills and intellect along with determination to succeed.
If you think you can succeed as a barrister, then the next step is to undertake relevant law work experience. Relevant legal work experience for budding barristers can be gained through the following:
Work experience in a chambers in the form of mini pupillage is an excellent way to experience what life as a barrister will entail.
2. Court Visits
Court visits are an excellent way to experience first-hand what a barrister does and how they represent their clients, as an advocate, in court. Observing hearings in courts of different levels will make for a varied experience, with Magistrates Courts and Crown Courts being a great place 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.
How to Become a Barrister: Career Progession
Once you have completed a year’s pupillage in chambers and have gained a tenancy, you will 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.
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 typical barrister salary can range from £30,000 to £300,000. Top barristers can earn anything from £800,000 to £2 million a year. Commercial barristers tend to easily earn twice that of criminal and family barristers.
The Bar is Open to All
The Bar Council is committed to widening access to the Bar, ensuring that it is open to everyone with the ambition and talent to practise as a barrister, regardless of background. Watch their video on widening access to the Bar below.
Want to read more about the importance of diversity at the Bar? We speak to Mukhtiar Singh, who studied as a mature student at the University of Law, about social mobility and diversity in law.
Step-by-Step Guides on How to Become a Barrister
Step 1 – Complete either a:
Qualifying law degree (with 2:2 (hons) as a minimum); or
Step 9 – Qualify as a barrister and apply for tenancy in chambers
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.
Who Oversees and Regulates the Barrister 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.