6 Things You Didn’t Know About Becoming a Barrister
Ask most people – and even a lot of law students – about becoming a barrister, and it’s likely you’ll hear confused rumours about special dinners, dressing up in gowns and addressing everyone as ‘my learned friend.’
It’s true that the Bar is an archaic and often very odd place – so here are 6 things you might not know about becoming a barrister.
It’s not the only way to become an advocate
If it’s always been your ambition to get up in front of a judge and plead your case, the first thing to know is that becoming a barrister is not the only way to make this dream a reality. There are an increasing number of people qualifying as solicitor-advocates, which means that they can acquire the same rights of audience that barristers have traditionally had to themselves.
Similarly, it’s possible to represent clients at tribunals, such as those for employment or social security, without any professional qualifications, for example by working for a trade union or an advice centre.
If the promise of advocacy is what really attracts you to the Bar, consider if a different route would suit you better.
You’ll have to join an ‘Honourable Society’
Anyone wishing to become a barrister must join one of the four Inns of Court. These ‘Honourable Societies’ – Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple – have existed since the 14th century, and play an important role in your education and training.
As well as being the body that will ultimately call you to the Bar, your inn offers fantastic opportunities to get to know barristers of all levels of seniority, in addition to beautiful surroundings in which to work and impressive libraries.
Membership is for life, and you can only join one Inn, so do your research as to which one would suit you best.
It’s not only for the rich
The Bar has certainly struggled over the years to shake off its image as a profession that is only suited to the very rich. Sky-high BPTC fees – up to £19,070 at some institutions – certainly don’t help. But there is a lot of help available for talented students, so becoming a barrister need not be financially impossible.
Between them, the four Inns of Court hand out over £4.2million per year in scholarships and awards. Individual law schools may also offer help with funding, and if you wait until you’ve secured a pupillage offer before starting the BPTC, it’s normally possible to request some of your pupillage award in advance (called a ‘draw-down’) to help with the fees.
You will attend some very interesting events
In order to be called to the Bar, as well as passing the BPTC, you will have to complete 12 qualifying sessions at your inn. These are events which are intended to supplement your academic and vocational training, and enable you to become part of the legal community in which you will one day work.
Qualifying sessions can take many forms: lectures on interesting legal topics, advocacy training workshops, fancy dinners, and even karaoke (at Middle Temple, at least.) It might sound odd that having a three-course meal with some of your friends from Bar school counts as part of your training, but it does.
You’ll develop strong muscles
Your bible as a Bar student is the Civil Procedure Rules, also known as the White Book. This is a pretty hefty tome which outlines all of the rules for conducting litigation in the UK, and is essential reading if you want to pass your Civil exam.
It comes in two huge volumes, each of which weighs a tonne (or feels like it, at least) so that by the time you’ve passed the BPTC and are called to the Bar, months of dragging it around from class to class will have left you with some rather impressive biceps.
Those wigs and gowns don’t come cheap
So you’ve joined your inn and enrolled the BPTC. A glorious career as a barrister seems to be within reach.
Time to buy your wig and gown, right? Not so fast.
The gown alone will set you back around £150, while the wig will be yours for the princely sum of £560. That’s before you splash out on a nice bag and case to keep your new purchases looking pristine – yours for just £75 and £270 respectively.
It might be best to hold back on your big shopping trip until you know for certain that you’ll be starting pupillage.
Page by Kate Strange